SHAIBA leaves were another exotic and new spice I was taught about after entering the Kingdom. I had never seen anyone using such a spice before in cooking. At that time I had no idea what lichen was for or that people even used it to flavor foods. A small dried up leaf that looks moldy is not something you would think was a nice flavor after all. I quickly started to research the new find my mother in law introduced me to and told me was a must for Saudi cooking.
I found almost nothing about the leaves online. However, I was able to find out that this particular lichen grows on a small shrub in the Arabian Peninsula and was also referred to as ‘old man’s beard’ since the flowers look like small white beards. The lichen genus Usnea derives its name from Arabic ushnah, “lichen.” The famous Islamic physician Al-Razi (Razes) reports various medicinal uses of lichen in his celebrated book Liber Mansoris (Kitab al-Mansuri).
Some popular Saudi dishes that use lichens are Magazlia, Zurbian Rice, Bukhari Rice and Kabli rice. Anywhere from 2-6 small leaves are thrown into the dish and removed before serving.
Spices shaiba leaves compliment well with: