A sensational trip on the Indian spice route.

Spices are the first thing Indian cuisine is known for. In this blog, we will introduce you to the finest spices to help you make the most of them.

Indian food is a delicious mix for the senses: tantalizing aromas, vibrant colors, and of course those spicy, sweet, tangy flavours. The key to successful Indian dishes is using the right spices. And the most important step is “blooming” them.

Blooming just means cooking them in some oil, butter or, most preferably, ghee. This brings out the flavor of the spices. And once you’ve stocked up on the essentials, you’re ready to jump right in and cook fragrant, aromatic dishes with all the subtle, lingering, deep flavors of great Indian food.


Indian spices can be divided into 5 groups.

Spices that colour and flavour 

Turmeric powder gives the food a golden yellow hue. Since It has antibacterial properties, Turmeric is used when cooking fresh vegetables. Then there is Kashmiri chili powder (paprika). It is added to gravies and lends a beautiful red colour.

Spices that heat and flavour

Red chilli powder (cayenne) is very spicy. It gives the food that extra kick. Then there are Indian green chilies. They are very spicy too. They are used to make chutneys and sauces. Indian food also uses freshly ground Black Pepper to add extra depth of flavour.

Spices that thicken and flavour 

Coriander powder and Cumin powder are very important in Indian  cuisine. They emit a wonderful aroma. They are added to almost every Indian dish to thicken and flavour them.

Spices that are fragrant and flavourful

Indian food is known for its aromas. The well-known aromatic spices are garam masala, curry powder, and chaat Masala. Each spice mix is made with different ingredients and has a unique taste.

Aromatic Spice Blends 

Garam Masala 

The star of all the spice mixes is garam masala, which is a dry roasted, powdered blend of cumin, coriander, fennel seeds, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves and whole black pepper.

Curry Powder 

South Indians use a lot of curry powder. It has virtually the same ingredients found in garam masala, save for red chilli and turmeric instead of pepper to give it a different colour and taste from that obtained when you use garam masala.

Chaat masala 

In this spice mix, in addition to the spices used in garam masala, black salt and dry mango powder are the key additions. This spice is used in vegetables and fruit salads – known as fruit chaat.

Spices that give the finishing touc

Black mustard seeds and cumin seeds are vital to Indian cooking. They are the prime seasoning ingredients. Both are popped in hot oil to release the flavour and garnished on the prepared. This is what gives a unique final touch and flavour to the dish. You will find this being done most frequently to sambar, dhal, and rasam.

Other spices you are likely to find in an Indian kitchen
Dried fenugreek leaves (methi leaves)  are used as garnish. They can also be used to flavour Indian flat breads. Also, toasted fenugreek seeds/powder is added to south Indian curries as a finishing touch. This spice is also a key ingredient in Indian pickles. Do keep in mind, though, that when it comes to fenugreek, less is more.

Saffron and Edible Camphor are very potent spices. They have a strong aroma. Just a pinch of these two spices goes a long long way.  These spices are used mainly in pilafs and desserts. Speaking of pilafs, desserts, and festive dishes, ground nutmeg and cinnamon are also used to enhance this category of dishes.

Last but not least
There is Asafetida. This has a very pungent odor – almost fetid. It is added when cooking lentils or beans. It is added because it prevents flatulence, indigestion, and intestinal irritation. It is also a key ingredient in Indian pickles.

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Avinash Subramaniam

Avinash has been an advertising writer, fiction writer, poetry writer, freelance writer and serial wronger. Other roles he has been in include those of an editor, brand builder, and teacher. His interests include advertising, scrabble, body building, chess, cinema, making money, reading, internet culture, cricket, photography. To hear him air his thoughts, follow him on Twitter @armchairexpert.


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