27 Top Indian Spices: Explained

by Yatin Singal
October 12, 2020
Indian Spices - Singal's - Indian Grocery Store

You’ve surely seen the colorful and aromatic variety of Indian spices somewhere! We love them in our food, and they are world famous. But how much do you really know about them? Here’s an explainer to make sure that next time you discuss about spices with family or friends you will beat everyone at the game!

 

1. Turmeric Powder (Curcuma or Haldi)

Turmeric - Singal's - Indian Grocery Store

Turmeric Powder is probably the most common and well known of Indian spices. It is a bright yellow spice powder with a little peppery and warm flavor belonging to the ginger family. It gives a unique vibrant yellowish color to the food. This spice is omnipresent in Indian food and probably sitting in your cupboard right now.  If you’ve ever eaten Indian food in your life you have almost certainly tasted turmeric powder. In fact, these days some companies are making healthcare and wellness products due to immense health benefits from turmeric powder.

 

2. Ajwain (Carrom Seeds)

Ajwain Seeds - Singal's - Indian Grocery Store

Ajwain seeds also known as bishop’s weed, ajowan or adjwain is a common household spice in an Indian kitchen. It is native to India and is used as an ayurvedic for its strong essence. In addition to its abundant health benefits, it also enriches the flavor of all your dishes. Ajwain seeds (carom seeds) have a bitter and pungent taste with a flavor like anise and oregano. They are commonly dry-roasted or fried in ghee. This allows the spice to develop a more subtle and complex aroma. In Indian cuisine, it is often part of a chaunk or tadka, a mixture of spices fried in oil or butter, which is used to flavor lentil dishes. Ajwain also has a particular affinity to starchy foods like savoury pastries and breads, especially parathas. Snacks like Bombay mix and potato balls get an extra kick from ajwain. It is also good with green beans and root vegetables.

 

3. Amchur (Dry Mango Whole or Powder)

Amchur - Indian Spices - Singal's - Indian Grocery Store

Amchoor is the end process of slowly drying unripe mangoes in the sun and then grinding them to a fine powder. Raw mangoes are cut and dried to obtain whole Amchur or amchoor or aamchur powder. It is used in Indian cooking to bring a tangy flavor to vegetables or curries. A favorite of children, it is also used extensively to make candies and help with digestion. The flavor has a surprisingly complex sweetness that just begs for something savory to complement. It rounds the tongue as well as full-fleshed mangoes do. It's a must for many okra curries and legume dishes, a common ingredient in chaat masalas, and a key flavor in chutneys, pickles, marinades, and complex, layered curries.

 

4. Black Cardamom (Moti or Badi Elaichi)

Black Cardamom - Indian Spices - Singal's - Indian Grocery Store

Black Cardamom or badi elaichi, as it is called in the local tongue, has a smoking element making it an ideal choice for savory dishes. Black cardamom is one of the major constituents of Garam Masala.

A member of the ginger family, black cardamom is a relative of green cardamom, but they're far from the same plant. It has some of the same flavor notes, especially an uplifting menthol element, but it's also smoky, brash and bold. 

Black cardamom plays well with bitter, long-cooking greens. It also elevates relatively bland lentil and rice dishes in an unsubtle but not overwhelming manner. At its most simple, some rice tossed in a rice cooker with some black cardamom pods is a great improvement to a quick weeknight dinner. It's a lot more sophisticated in dry rubs and sauces for braised meats; it's a common player in many North Indian curries.

 

5. Black Salt (Kala Namak)

 

Black Salt - Kala Namak - Indian Spices - Singal's - Indian Grocery Store

 

Black Salt is a type of Indian volcanic rock salt commonly used in India, Pakistan and other Asian countries. It is a pungent smelling salt extracted from the salts found in the regions surrounding the Himalayas. Indian black salt is considered a cooling spice in ayurvedic medicine. It is sometimes recommended to people on low-salt diets due to hypertension because it’s believed to be lower in sodium content compared to regular table salt. 

People love adding a pinch of black salt to their lemon water to beat the blazing summer heat for a breath of freshness. From adding zing to Boondi Raita to flavoring the salad to adding a sprinkle on Lassi, this miracle powder was a natural flavor enhancer that came with a host of health benefits. It can practically replace the regular white salt in most of the dishes.

 

6. Charmagaz (Mixed Melon Seeds)

 

Charmagaz - Indian Spices - Singal's - Indian Grocery Store

 

Charmagaz also called Mixed Melon Seeds in English is a mix of four seeds : muskmelon, watermelon, cucumber and pumpkin seeds. Char means 4 and Magaz means intelligence as it is known to help develop the brain. Char Magaz is known as the secret ingredient in ancient indian kitchens specially in the North of India where it is used in cooking and desserts. Dried Melon Seeds are also used for different Indian cold drinks in summer such as Thandai and Thadal. Char Magaz has a nutty and sweet flavor.

 

7. Cinnamon Powder (Dal Chini Powder)

 

Cinnamon - Indian Spices - Singal's - Indian Grocery Store

 

Cinnamon is the inner bark of a tropical evergreen tree. Cinnamon is indigenous to Sri Lanka and South India. It is one of the oldest of all spices and is mentioned in the Bible and in Sanskrit texts. It has been used in foods as a medicine, a spice, to preserve meats, and was seen as a luxury item only accessible to the wealthy. Ancient Egyptians even used cinnamon as an embalming agent.

To harvest cinnamon, it is peeled from the inside of the bark of the tree. Cinnamon has a sweet-tasting taste, with a warm, woody aroma. The smell of Cinnamon is pleasant, stimulates the senses, yet calms the nerves. In North America, cinnamon is used mostly in dessert dishes and is added to the baking mix of cakes and other baked goods, milk and rice puddings, chocolate dishes and fruit desserts, particularly apples and pears. In India, it is a common spice of the famous Chai Masala

 

 8. Cloves (Laung)

 

Cloves - Indian Spices - Singal's - Indian Grocery Store

 

Cloves are small nailed shaped flower buds that are dried. Cloves are a pungent warm spice with an intense flavor and aroma. They have a sweet, somewhat penetrating flavor. Cloves are a staple in Indian cooking and it derives its distinct taste from the concentration of oils it holds. They contain important nutrients, are high in antioxidants. They are widely used in rice, sauce and meat dishes and are renowned for adding their sweet-spicy taste wherever they are sprinkled. Cloves also feature in any number of desserts, especially ground cloves, and particularly around the holidays. Think eggnog or pumpkin pie spice. Cloves are often paired with cinnamon or nutmeg, but in general, it's a good idea to use cloves sparingly. 

It is also indispensable in 'chai,' a spicy Indian tea which also contains cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, black peppercorn and black tea and also in garam masala, an Indian culinary spice used in curries, containing turmeric and a variety of other spices. 

 

9. Coriander Powder

 

Coriander - Indian Spices - Singal's - Indian Grocery Store

 

Grounded from coriander seeds, coriander powder is an essential condiment in the Indian cuisine. Very few dishes can be made without the touch of coriander powder. It has a pleasing aroma and savour. Dhaniya or Coriander Powder comes from crushing of the coriander seeds. With a distinct aromatic flavor they are enjoyed as a mild spice in Indian cooking with vegetables or curries. Coriander is the dried seed or fruit of the Coriandrum sativum plant, which belongs to the parsley family. Cilantro is the leaf of this same plant and surprisingly, its flavor is vastly different from that of coriander. Coriander has a sweet, aromatic taste with a touch of citrus. The flavors make ground coriander a popular spice across all oceans, from Portugal to Mexico, to India.

 

10. Coriander Seeds

Coriander Seeds - Indian Spices - Singal's - Indian Grocery Store

As a spice, the lemony and floral flavor of coriander finds its way into the many Asian, Latin, and Indian dishes, as well as European cuisine. Coriander seeds have a pleasing lemony flavor and floral aroma. The flavor goes very well with cumin and many recipes include equal amounts of the two spices. The whole seeds are sometimes used in pickling and brining. Coriander seeds are usually toasted and ground before using; otherwise, they can have a tough texture to chew. As with all seeds, toasting them will bring out more of the aromatic flavor. This is also known as dhania in Hindi.

 

11. Curry Powder

Curry Powder - Indian Spices - Singal's - Indian Grocery Store

Curry powder is a spice mix that is used widely in Indian cooking. Spice blends have been prominent in Indian cooking for ages. And, while it’s easy for Westerners to think of “curry” as a dish or spice with one characteristic flavor, at its most basic, curry powder is simply a mixture of spices. You won’t find a single “curry powder” in India. Rather, you’ll find many varieties of curry powders depending on what dish you are looking to make. It gives a warm and robust flavor to whatever dish it is used in.

Traditional Indian curries get their flavor from whole spices that are toasted, and ground as needed for cooking (and vary depending on the dish). You’ve probably seen jars of curry powder in the spice aisle and figured this mix was essential in creating Indian dishes.

 

12. Dhanadal (Coriander Seeds)

Dhanadal - Indian Spices - Singal's - Indian Grocery Store

Roasted coriander seeds, called dhana dal is made by roasting whole coriander seeds and then adding a pinch of salt. Dhanadal is most commonly used as mouth-freshener / after mint, along with fennel seeds, coconut pieces and sugar. Dhana dal is also a main ingredient of the two south Indian dishes: Sambhar and Rasam. Generally, dhanadal is considered as necessity post meal as it also helps digestion apart for being a mouth freshener.

 

13. Curry Leaves

Curry Leaves - Indian Spices - Singal's - Indian Grocery Store

Curry leaves are aromatic herbs used in South Indian cooking. This herb is a signature flavor from South India, and an essential ingredient in Southeast Asian cuisine like curriesdals, and soups. Curry leaves are not a dominant taste in cooking, but their subtle flavor is unmistakable, giving meals a richer, robust flavor. These aromatic leaves have a lemon scent and a distinct, pungent taste that has been compared to anise and lemongrass. Some preparations will call for curry leaves to be removed from a dish, but it's fine when they don't—the leaves are completely edible.

 

14. Fennel Seeds

Fennel Seeds - Indian Spices - Singal's - Indian Grocery Store

India's love affair with fennel needs no introduction. The seed spice dominates a variety of our preparations. Did you know that India happens to be the largest exporter of fennel seeds, widely known as saunf. A common practice in most Indian households is to have few fennel seeds or saunf at the end of every meal. Fennel seeds are the dried seed of the fennel herb, and look like cumin seeds, only greener. They have an aniseed flavour and a warm, sweet aroma. They can be used on their own or in spice mixes such as Chinese five-spice powder and Indian panch phoran.

 

15. Fenugreek Seeds

Fenugreek Seeds - Indian Spices - Singal's - Indian Grocery Store

Fenugreek or Methi (in Hindi) is known for its medicinal qualities and immunological value. Fenugreek seeds is a very common ingredients of many indian curries and indian spice mixes. Fenugreek can be used fresh as a leave like spinach, dried as a herb (also known as kasuri methi) or the seeds can be dried and used as a spice. Fenugreek is grown in North Africa, the Middle East, Egypt, and India.Fenugreek seeds add a certain distinctive bitterness to indian curries. When dry roasted, they develop a nutty maple flavour. In fact, fenugreek seed is one of the primary ingredients for artificial maple syrup. 

The best way to incorporate those healthy fenugreek seeds into your lifestyle is to make it part of your daily diet. Fenugreek seeds is a key part of Indian cuisine. Methi moong dal and aloo are two amazing subzis you can try! If you would like to have a snack, try methi muthia!

 

16. Garam Masala

 Garam Masala - Indian Spices - Singal's - Indian Grocery Store

Garam Masala which literally means Hot Spice is neither a delectable dish from any restaurant nor the nickname of any famous rock star. It is an aromatic blend of magical Indians spices concocted to add passion to your cooking. Garam Masala is one of the most popular Indian spices across the world. It is generally composed of black and white peppercorns, cloves, cinnamon, mace, green cardamom, black cardamom, bay leaves, cumin and coriander. Many cooks prefer to buy garam masala in whole form and crush it as home just before use in order to guarantee purity and freshness. You should always use Garam Masala in small amounts as going overboard can really take over the entire flavor of your recipe.

 

17. Ginger Powder

Ginger Powder - Indian Spices - Singal's - Indian Grocery Store

Dry ginger powder is widely used in the kitchen to add flavor and aroma. Dry Ginger powder is also known as Sonth in Hindi, Sonti in Telugu, Soonth in Gujarati, Suntha in Marathi and Shunti in Kannada. The powder is extracted from the ginger root which is dried. It is a fine off-white or slightly brownish powder that has a strong aroma and a pungent flavour. Easy to store, ginger powder has a long shelf life of about one year. Most herbal medicines that you'll find in the market will have a hint of ginger powder in it. Ginger powder can be consumed regularly by adding it to your herbal tea or chai.

 

18. Kachri Powder

 Kachri Powder - Indian Spices - Singal's - Indian Grocery Store

Kachri is a wild variety of cucumbers. Fresh kachri resembles a brown yellow small melon, which grows wildly in the desert areas and is seldom cultivated as a crop. Dried kachri powder, when used in cooking, adds a tangy taste. Since fresh kachri is rarely available outside Rajasthan, the use of kachri powder is popular. It is the real earth food growing wild, and becoming a protein rich vegetable for people living in the harsh arid areas of Western India, where it is hard to grow conventional vegetables. Kachri powder is used extensively in Rajasthani cuisine.

 

19. Nigella Seeds Kalonji

 Nigella Seeds - Indian Spices - Singal's - Indian Grocery Store

Nigella seeds are hard and crunchy with a flavor between oregano and toasted onions with a hint of bitterness. Nigella seeds are often found in Middle Eastern and South Asian cuisines. Nigella seeds are small and black seeds also called Nigella seeds, kalonji in Hindi or Charnushka seeds in America. Sometimes, they are also named black onion seeds, black cumin seeds or black caraway. But, they are not having any link with cumin, caraway or onions. Nigella seeds are the dried seeds coming from the seed pod of the nigella plant. 

Nigella seeds is a strong aromatic spice traditionally used on naan bread as well as in vegetable curries in India. In Middle East and Eastern Europe, they are sprinkled on Jewish rye bread. Nigella seeds are specially good with potatoes and root vegetables like carrots and parsnips. You can also add them in salads, sauces and soups just before serving. They are a great replacement of sesame seeds without the sweet element. Kalonji seeds is one of the five spices of panch poran, a spice mixture from Bengal. Nigella seeds are usually used after slightly toasting them in a hot pan to release the essential oils. Then, they can be used in powder or whole.  

 

20. Mulethi Liquorice

Mulethi Liquorice - Indian Spices - Singal's - Indian Grocery Store

Mulethi also called liquorice (licorice) is an age-old herb used for its various health boosting and ayurvedic properties. It is a perennial herb mainly found in different parts of Asia, southern parts of Europe and endemic to the middle east. Despite their use in traditional medicines, Mulethi, licorice root, is also used as a natural sweetening agent, about 35 times sweeter than the sugar. Hence, if you are diabetic, this will serve as a great sugar substitute. The health-boosting properties include ant-diabetic, anti-oxidative, antiseptic, decreasing blood pressure and helps fight respiratory tract infections in addition to these properties it also helps in maintaining hormonal balance easing menopausal symptoms. Mulethi can be consumed by boiling its roots in hot water like tea.

 

21. Mustard Seeds

 Mustard Seeds - Indian Spices - Singal's - Indian Grocery Store

When making any Indian curry especially sambarpoha or other vegetables you can lightly fry some mustard seeds along with onion and tomatoes to give a rich flavour to your dishes.

Mustard seeds have been long used in Indian cooking. India has vast agricultural lands and mustard is one of the most common crops. In India we really use almost each part of the mustard plant. It's leaves are used in cooking the famous Sarson ka Saag from Punjab. It is generally best known for it's high quality mustard oil that is derived from these seeds and many people especially in the south prefer to use mustard seeds in cooking a variety of dishes and adding that much craved for kick in the food. Whether you are frying a warmly cooked steaming batch of idlis or doing the hot and sour tangy sambar you can feel the rich flavor of mustard seeds across many dishes in the Indian cuisine. If you grew up in an Indian household you may remember the famous popping / crackling sounds these seeds produce when lightly fried.

 

22. Anardana Powder

Anardana Powder - Indian Spices - Singal's - Indian Grocery Store

Dried pomegranate seeds, also called Anardana, are ground into a fine powder used as a flavor enhancer for a wide variety of dishes from salads, meats, smoothies, and yogurt to hot and cold beverages. Anardana is used in Indian and Persian cuisine as a souring agent, much like sumac or amchoor. Slow air drying makes it more molasses-like than fresh pomegranate, so it adds depth of flavor as well as brightness. Anardana Powder is the ground dried seeds of the sour Pomegranate fruit (Daru) along with pulp, grows wild in the hill slopes of the Himalayas. It has a natural sweet-sour taste & pleasant fruity flavor, used as a souring agent or preservative in Indian and Persian cooking. Mostly used in spice blends, chutneys, curries, relishes, seasoning, lentils, salads & sauces. Anardana are rich in vitamins C, K and 6, thought to be soothing to the stomach, improving mouth-feel and digestion.

 

23. Red Chilli Powder

Red Chilli Powder - Indian Spices - Singal's - Indian Grocery Store

Red Chilli Powder, also known as lal mirch powder is an integral part of Indian cuisine. It not only gives a quintessential red colour to the food, but also has a faint and distinct taste and aroma and your tari wali aloo ki sabzi aur chaat can never taste the same without a hint of red chilli powder. Red chilli powder can set the taste buds on fire and sometime the tummy too! It consists of one or two type of dried red chillies that are ground and pulverized in a fine powder. There is also a Kashmiri variety of red chilli powder which is very mild. It uses milder dried chilies (these chilies are deep red colored and have wrinkled skin) and instantly imparts a vibrant red color to any dish with a hint of heat as well. Used commonly in Indian cuisine.

 

24. Sesame Seeds Til

Sesame Seeds - Indian Spices - Singal's - Indian Grocery Store

Sesame seeds, popularly known as ‘Til‘ in Hindi, ‘Nuvvulu‘ in Telugu, ‘Ellu‘ (Tamil, Malayalam, Kannada), ‘Teel‘ in Marathi and ‘Til‘ in Bengali are the oldest condiment known to mankind. They add a lovely crunch to many Asian and Middle Eastern dishes. It is also a nutrient-dense condiment good for our body. It includes a combination of vitamins and minerals. White sesame seeds have higher iron content than the black ones. Sesame seeds add a nutty taste and a delicate, almost invisible, crunch to many Asian dishes. They are also the main ingredients in tahini (sesame seed paste) and the wonderful Middle Eastern sweet call halvah. They are available throughout the year.

Sesame seeds may be the oldest condiment known to man. They are highly valued for their oil which is exceptionally resistant to rancidity. "Open sesame"—the famous phrase from the Arabian Nights—reflects the distinguishing feature of the sesame seed pod, which bursts open when it reaches maturity.

 

25. Cumin Seeds Zeera

Cumin Seeds Jeera - Indian Spices - Singal's - Indian Grocery Store

Cumin is used frequently whole and in spice mixes to add a characteristic smoky note to Indian dishes. It can be identified by its distinct ridged brown seeds and intense fragrance. It is sometimes confused with fennel, caraway, and anise seeds, but you can tell the difference by looking at its color (brown, as opposed to green fennel) and taste (smoky, as opposed to a stronger licorice taste). Cumin is best used freshly ground for the most intense flavor. One thing to keep in mind while dry-roasting this spice is that it burns really easily, and burnt cumin tastes very bitter and will be very noticeable your dish. Toast this spice until your nose just gets a whiff of smoke and fragrance (about 30 seconds max), and then let it cool before blending into mixes. 

Cumin seeds are primarily used for cooking and it is suggested that they are toasted before use to extract their pure nuttiness to the greatest degree. Cumin can help improve digestion and also possesses anti-flatulent properties. It can be predominantly found as an ingredient in curries, spice mixes, and other savory dishes. Also called jeera. 

 

26. White Poppy Seeds Khus Khus

Poppy Seeds - Indian Spices - Singal's - Indian Grocery Store

White poppy seeds Papaver Somniferum) are native to the Middle East and are most commonly used in Indian cooking. The seeds have a nutty flavor which is brought out by lightly toasting. The toasted seeds can be used atop steamed vegetables, rice or noodles. In India the seeds are used as a thickener in curries and also made into a paste and used as a filling. The seeds have a mellow, nutty flavor with a sweet, rich texture. Curries thickened and enriched with poppy seeds are particularly popular in Northern India. In turkey they are made into halva or deserts and in the Middle East they are mainly used sprinkled over cakes and breads.   

 

27. Goondkatira Tragacanth Gum

Goondkatira Tragacanth Gum - Indian Spices - Singal's - Indian Grocery Store

Goondkatira or Tragacanth gum has amazing cooling properties and especially helpful for the body during the summer months.  When soaked in water overnight, the gum converts in a transparent miss-mash of fibrous content which can then be enjoyed in a flavored glass of milk or as part of a variety of Indian desserts such as falooda! It is also used to make ladoos loved by many Indians across the world. Also called gondh. Gond Katira is derived from the sap of thorny and low-growing tree tragacanth. The tree is commonly found in the mountains of the Middle East, especially Iran. Its peculiar name is derived from Gond, which means gum.

The crystalline herb of Gond Katira or Tragacanth gum is made from the gum of the tragacanth plant. The plant produces this gum naturally, which is collected to form crystals of Gond Katira. This herb is widely used in the Ayurveda form of medicine. It is also used as a thickening agent, coolant, and preservative for many pickles, salad dressings, and ketchups. Ironically, Gond Katira was an integral part of the kitchen just a few decades back but somehow lost its sheen in our modern cuisine. 

 

Disclaimer: Please note this article or its contents have not been written by a medical expert and do not constitute medical advice in any way. You should always consult your own doctor for medical advice.

 

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