Indian Spices

Excerpts from Smplifying Indian Cuisine

India has been known as the land of spices. In fact had it not been for the famous “spice route”, India would not have been the preferred trade destination for the Portuguese, British, Persians and other people from all over the world, and neither would it have been invaded by so countries as well.

Indian cuisine without spices holds little meaning, and no Indian dish is complete without a smattering of spices. However, each region loves to use specific spices in its dishes, so much so that no state can manage to replicate what the other state has to offer to your taste buds. While South Indian states are known for their excessive use of tamarind, Northern states are known for their attachment to cumin seeds, similarly the eastern part is known for its preference to a mixture of 5 spices known as ‘panchforan. and use of mustard seeds & curry leaves are prominent in western part of the country.

However, here’s a list of spices that you will se on every Indian shelf, irrespective of what state you are in:

Turmeric or Haldi powder

Native to tropical South Asia, when mixed with a little red chilli powder, turmeric adds a distinct flavour and colour to the dishes. This powder is made from grinding turmeric root. Turmeric is well known as an antioxidant and as a natural cure for cough, cold and even cancer.

Cumin seeds or jeera

Native to Syria, cumin seeds are used in all kind of dishes worldwide, but Indians seem to have a special fondness for it. The English "cumin" derives from the French "cumin", which was borrowed indirectly from Arabic Kamm┼źn via Spanish comino during the Arab rule in Spain in the 15th century.

A majority of Indian dishes (barring some south Indian dishes) start with a tempering of cumin seeds in heated oil. Cumin seeds apart from adding flavour to the dishes, also helps in aiding digestion.

Red Chili Powder Lal Mirch Powder

A native of the Americas, chillis have become so much a part of Indian house-holds, that they are no more associated with the Latin American countries. Contrary to the popular belief, red chili powder is not “hot”. It depends on the kind of red chili used to make the powder. Some are not very hot but have a rich color and the others may be hot.

Aamchur or Dry Mango powder

Aamchur powder is another very essential part of the Indian cooking since it adds a tangy flavor to the dish. It is made after slicing unripe mangoes, which have been left to dry in the sun for a long period of time, and then ground into powder. It is also used in chats around India.


Most Indian dishes like curries and other vegetarian and non-vegetarian preparations usually start with a tempering of cumin seeds followed by onion in heated oil. Onions are also rich in anti oxidants and have cholesterol-lowering properties.

Garlic and Ginger

A combined paste of ginger and garlic adds a zing to all kinds of Indian dishes. Garlic and ginger are known for their anti oxidant properties and also used in various herbal preparations.

Mustard seeds

Ranging from Reddish brown to black in appearance, this seeds are used after their upper coating has been removed.

They are commonly used in Indian cooking, and even in the preparation of pickles, and other condiments, and sometimes even as curry. The paste made from it has a very pungent taste. It is believed to be native to the southern Mediterranean region of Europe,

Asafoetida or Hing

It is the dried gum resin of an east Indian plant.It should never be eaten raw, as it has a completely pungent taste and odour when raw.Only when it has been dried overt a long period of time, does it become fit for use in dishes. Usually just a pinch is used for cooking mainly fish, vegetables and making "Indian pickles".

Tamarind paste or Imli

Tamarind is found in bean like structure used mainly to add a sour taste to many Indian curries.

Fresh mint leaves or Pudina

Although there are many varieties, the common, round-leafed mint or peppermint leaf is the one most often used in cooking. It adds flavor to many curries, and mint chutney is a favorite accompaniment to kebabs and a great dipping sauce for snacks.
Curry Leaves or Kaddipatta

Sold dried as well as fresh. They are as important to curries as bay leaves are to stews, but never try to substitute one for the other. The tree is native to Asia, the leaves are small and very shiny, and though they keep their flavor well when dried they are found in such abundance in Asia that they are generally used fresh.The leaves are fried in oil, until crisp, at the start of preparing a curry.

Fennel seeds or Saunf

These light green oval shaped seeds have been known to posses digestive qualities. In India, they are roasted, sometimes lightly coated with sugar and eaten after meals as a mouth freshener and to stimulate digestion. They are also recommended for nursing mothers, as they have been known to increase the milk supply. Used successfully in many curries and "indian pickles". Today you will find sugar coated "green supari" mixtures containing "saunf" in Indian Grocery stores. Try it!
Fenugreek seeds or Methi seeds

These small, flat, squarish, brownish-beige seeds are essential in curries, but because they have a slightly bitter flavor they must be used in the stated quantities. They are especially good in fish curries, where the whole seeds are gently fried at the start of cooking; they are also ground and added to curry powders; The green leaves are used in Indian cooking and, when spiced, the bitter taste is quite piquant and acceptable. The plant is easy to grow.

Nutmeg or Jaiphal

It is usually used in its powdered form. Grated freshly, using the whole or half nutmeg with a very fine grater. Many times it is used in flavoring Indian sweets. But it may be used in savory dishes as it is used in the making of some Garam Masalas. It is recommended for insomnia, irritability and nervousness.

Sesame Seeds or Til: Sesame seeds are used in many masalas or are used to flavor the recipe by giving a "tadka" with the seeds. It is also used in some chutney

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