Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Indian Spices.....The Heart Of Any Indian Dish

From last few months I had been continuously asked by my Non-Indian readers about the various spices used in Indian cuisine. I always try to answer all the queries of my readers but then I realized when I'm getting so many questions on a particular thing why not to make a blogpost about it. This will be very handy for my current and future readers.

Now, coming onto today's post Indian spices serve as the heart of every Indian dish. We can't imagine any of our dish without some of the very basic spices. There is a misconception about Indian Cuisine that it's very spicy. I lived in USA for quite sometime where I used to meet people who wouldn't eat Indian food because of its spiciness.

Let me correct this misconception: Using spices doesn't mean it makes the dish fiery hot. It's used to induce the flavors into the dish and make it aromatic. Each spice has it's own flavor and aroma but when they are added in a right proportion, believe me thwy can create a magical flavors. Blending increases the fragrance and flavor of the dish exponentially.

These spices are not only used in cooking but they have medicinal properties too. They are used to make many Ayurvedic medicines as well as to preserve food items. Here, I'm writing about very basic spices used in an Indian kitchen. Moreover, they are region and climate specific. Some of the spices can be found and used in North India but not in South India and vice versa.

When I was in USA I used to buy these spices from an Indian grocery store whereas, here in India you can get these spices in any local grocery store or in a supermarket. So, let's begin the journey to unfold the treasure of Indian Spices:


  • Commonly known as "Hing" in India
  • It is a latex (gum) discharged from a plant which is then dried into hard resin
  • Has a pungent smell and flavor due to which it is also known as Stinking Gum or Devil's Dung
  • This pungency almost disappears when added to hot ghee or oil
  • The aroma in it's raw form is very strong and can contaminate other spices so it should be stored in airtight containers
  • A pinch of it is enough to flavor any dish so a little bit of it goes long way
  • Usually found in powdered form

Bay Leaf:

  • Commonly known as "Tej Patta" in India
  • These fragrant leaves are used to flavor various curries and rice preparations.
  • Usually found in dried form

Black Cardamom:

  • Commonly known as "Badi Elaichi" in India
  • They are not actual cardamoms but comes from a similar family
  • They have much more strong flavor than their green counterparts
  • The aroma comes when it's cooked slowly and for a long time that is the reason it is generally used to flavor the curries and rice pilaf
  • It is an essential part of Indian Garam Masala

Black Pepper:

  • Commonly known as "Kali Mirch" in India
  • Usually dried and used as a spice or seasoning
  • They are commonly found in two colors:
        • Black Pepper which is more aromatic
        • White Pepper which is more stronger and hotter
    • It is the only spice which can be used before, during and after cooking

    Carom Seeds:

    • Commonly known as "Ajwain" in India
    • It is often mistaken for Bishop's Weed
    • It has a very pungent smell and bears close similarity to fresh Thyme
    • They have a very strong flavor which can overpower any dish so it's used as a whole rather than in powdered form
    • They are usually used in "Parathas" (Fried Indian Flatbreads) 
    • They are mixed with lemon juice, rock salt and then dry roasted which helps in digestion 


    • Commonly known as "Dalchini" in India
    • It is obtained from the inner bark of a tree
    • It has a sweet and mild woody aroma
    • It is available in powdered form but it's much better when bought in sticks
    • It is widely used in cakes, fruit pies and perfectly combines with Indian chicken recipes


    • Commonly known as "Loung" in India
    • They are full grown unopened flower buds which are picked when they turns pink in color and then sun dried
    • It has a rich, sweet and sultry flavor
    • It is generally used to flavor the spicy food where the whole clove is cooked in oil or ghee.
    • It has medicinal importance too and used to numb the toothache


    • Commonly known as "Dhania" in India
    • It is grown for both the seeds which is the dried fruit of the plant which is then grounded to get the coriander powder and the leaves which is a herb used for garnishing
    • Even the roots are edible which is used in Thai cooking
    • The seeds are golden in color and are hollow, crunchy with a nice earthy flavor
    • Usually used in powdered form

    Cumin Seeds:

    • Commonly known as "Jeera" in India
    • It is very widely used in any Indian household
    • The seeds are oval with ridges and has a warm, nutty and bitter flavor but not hot
    • It is generally used for tempering and can also be used in powdered form to flavor the dish
    • The roasted and fried cumin seeds imparts a very unique smoky flavor   

    Fennel Seeds:

    • Commonly known as "Saunf" in India
    • It has a very sweet flavor
    • Used rarely in Indian kitchen but gives a very mild and sweet taste to the curries
    • Roasted fennel seeds are chewed to freshen the breath after a meal


    • Commonly known as "Methi" in India
    • The seeds are dark yellow or amber in color
    • It is also grown for both seeds and the leaves
    • The seeds leaves a very nice aroma when used in hot oil but they should be removed otherwise it will leave a bitter aftertaste
    • The leaves have a distinctive bittersweet taste and are also bought in dried form which are often crushed and used in curries

    Green Cardamom:

    • Commonly known as "Hari Elaichi" in India
    • They have a very delicate and sweet flavor
    • The pods holds tiny black seeds which are taken out and used whole or in powdered form.
    • They are very commonly used in curries and Indian deserts are incomplete without adding powdered green cardamom seeds


    • Commonly known as "Javitri" in India
    • It is the outer covering of Nutmeg (Jaiphal)
    • Usually used in as a whole to flavor a very popular Indian dish called Biryani
    • It is a very important part of Mughlai Cuisine

    Mustard Seeds:

    • Commonly known as "Raye" in India
    • They comes in three different color: white (usually yellow but called white), brown and black
    • They have a very pungent taste black being the highest and white the mildest
    • The seeds are used as a whole or grounded and most importantly for making mustard oil
    • Mustard paste are very commonly used to make pickles and fish curries

    Nigella Seeds:

    • Commonly known as "Kalonji" in India
    • Also known as Onion Seeds
    • Usually used in making breads: Naan, Tandoori Roti etc
    • They are widely used in Eastern India for tempering fish curries


    • Commonly known as "Jaiphal" in India
    • It is the seed of a fruit
    • Usually used in grounded form to flavor a very popular Indian dish called Biryani
    • It is a very important part of Mughlai Cuisine

    Poppy Seeds:

    • Commonly known as "Khaskhas" in India
    • They are very tiny little seeds and comes in two colors: blue and white
    • We Indians generally use the white variety
    • They have a sweet and slightly spicy nutty flavor
    • Usually used as a topping on breads
    • It's paste is widely used in cooking in the eastern parts of India

    Red Chili Powder:

    • Commonly known as "Lal Mirch Ka Powder" in India
    • Dried Red Chillies are usually grounded to make the powder
    • There are different varieties of Red Chili Powder are available depending upon the color, aroma and spice/heat level of the pepper/chili
    • Kashmiri Red Chili Powder is a mild chili powder which gives a very nice color to the curry


    • Commonly known as "Kesar" in India
    • It is considered to be the King of all spices and the most expensive spice too
    • They are tiny little red/orange colored threads which are actually the stigma of a flower called Crocus
    • It gives a very beautiful color and flavor to any dish or desserts


    • Commonly known as "Haldi" in India
    • It is a rhizome in its raw state which has a deep orange-yellow color
    • Raw turmeric is often made to a paste which is said to improve skin complexion
    • It is considered to have a very strong medicinal properties
    • In cooking it is widely used in every Indian household in powdered form to give a nice color to the dish

    Garam Masala:

    • It is the combination of different spices.
    • Also known as "Curry Powder" outside India
    • Different spices (Cinnamon, Cloves, Coriander, Cumin, Green Cardamom, Black Cardamom, Pepper, Red Chillies) are dry roasted and then grounded to a fine powder
    • It is easily available in any Indian Grocery Store but tastes better when made at home and stored in airtight container


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