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Spices ABC


Ajowan (ajwain)

Ajowan seeds look very similar to cumin seeds and have a strong, distinctive flavour that resembles aniseeds. The spice is used to add a zing to many fish and vegetable dishes as well as some Indian breads. The seeds are often chewed on their own to alleviate stomach pains.


Asafoetida (hing)

Asafoetida has a very overpowering, almost unpleasant smell, which is calmed when it is fried in oil. Asafoetida is made from a dried gum resin which is ground to a yellowish powder which is used in small quantities in cooking in many lentil and vegetable dishes.


Cardamom (elaichi)

Cardamom has a delicate, aromatic fragrance, which is used to flavour meat and vegetable dishes as well as desserts and drinks. It is an essential ingredient in garam masala. You will see brown cardamom pods as well as the pale green ones but the green ones have a much finer flavour.

Chat masala

Chat masala

This spice mix, made with salt, pepper, cumin seeds, ground ginger and dried mango, is available ready-mixed from Asian grocers.

dried Chillies

Chillies, dried (lal mirch)

There are a confusing number of chilli varieties but the most commonly used dried chillies in Indian cooking are the small, red ones – they will add a fiery heat to any dish. They can be used whole, crushed, flaked or in powdered from. Remove the seeds before using to lessen the heat, if you wish.

fresh Chillies

Chillies, fresh (hari mirch)

Most Indian cooks generally use the long thin green chillies when fresh ones are called for, although they can vary in heat so use with caution. The seeds can be removed to make them less fiery. Always wash your hands after handling chillies.


Cinnamom (dalchini)

The spice used in cooking is the dried inner bark of the cinnamom tree. It is one of the earliest known spices and is an essentia ingredient of garam masala. It is used in its ‘stick’ form as well as a ground spice and its warm, sweet aroma enchances rice dishes, as well as meat dishes and desserts. In Ayurvedic medicine, it is used to alleviate headaches, colds and rheumatic pains.


Cloves (long)

Cloves are the small, dried buds of the clove tree, which have a sweet aroma but a bitter taste. They are used to flavour rice and savoury dishes and are also used in spice mixtures, such as garam masala.

fresh Coriander

Coriander, fresh (hara dhaniya)

Fresh green coriander is used as a herb and has a lovely fresh fragrance. It is used to make chutneys and dips and makes a wonderful garnish.

Coriander seeds

Coriander seeds (dhaniya)

The pungent, slightly sweet, citrus flavour of coriander seeds is used in vegetable, meat, fish, and poultry dishes. The seeds come from a leafy herb bearing lacy flowers – these seeds are dried and used extensively, whole or ground, as an aromatic spice in Indian cooking. The whole seeds are often dry. Roasted and then coarsely crushed with other spices to make a spice mixture. The flavour of the ground spice is not as intense as that of whole seeds.


Cumin (jeera)

The distinctive aroma of cumin seeds is used to flavour rice and curries. Cumin seeds are the fruits of a small annual herb, which grows throughout India. They are used dried and range in colour from light, greenish brown to dark brown. They can be fried in hot oil to intensify their flavour or dry-roasted and then ground with other spices. Ready- ground cumin is available from super- markets but it quickly loses its flavour. Another variety of cumin is black cumin (kala jeera), although black cumin is less aromatic and not as bitter in flavour.

Curry leaves

Curry leaves (kari patta)

This aromatic herb is used to add flavour to many dishes, particularly in southern India, but it also has medicinal properties and can ease stomach pains. Daspite its name, it has no flavour of curry and is actually realted to the lemon family. Curry leaves are fried in hot oil which brings out their nutty flavour. You can freeze curry leaves; first wash them and then leave to dry on tea towels. Then simply put them into a bag and place in the freezer.

Fennel seeds

Fennel seeds (soonf)

Dried fennel seeds are used throughout India, not only to add a sweet, aniseed flavour to a variety of dishes, but also as a mouth freshener. They are similar in appearance to cumin seeds though greener in color.


Fenugreek (methi)

Fenugreek is used to flavour a variety of dishes and is also in bread making. It is one of the most powerful and ancient spices, believed to aid digestion. Its leaves are used both fresh and dried and the dried seeds are commonly used in ground spice mixes. Dried fenugreek leaves are often referred to as kasoori methi.



Ghee is clarified butter that can be used for deep-frying without burning - it has a delicious buttery taste, although vegetable oil can be substituted in most cases. You can buy it in all Indian grocers.


Ginger (adrak)

Ginger has a pungent, fresh aroma and has been prescribed for many ailments- a ginger infusion is great for a sore throat or cold, as well as travel sickness and nausea. It is the underground root or rhizome of a herbaceous plant grown throughout Asia. In its fresh state it is most often used as a pulp to add a distinctive flavour to a variety of dishes. Dried ginger is also available as a ground spice which can be used to flavour drinks as well as savoury and sweet dishes.

Mustard seeds

Mustard seeds (rai)

Mustard seeds are used to flavor a variety of dishes, particularly those from Bengal. Whole black mustard seeds are often thrown into hot oil or ‘popped’ at the beginning of a recipe – this gives them a sweet, nutty taste that enhances vegetables, pulses and fish dishes. There are three types of mustard seeds, of which brown and black are the most widely used in India.


Nutmeg (jaiphal)

Nutmeg has a warm, sweet flavour and is used in small quantities, in desserts, often grated from a whole nutmeg. It is also used in some garam masala mixes. Nutmeg is believed to help overcome bronchitis and rheumatism.


Pepper (kalimiri)

Pepper is the most commonly used spice and is sometimes known as the King of Spices. It is the fruit of a perennial vine which bears berries or peppercorns. The black, white, red and green varieties all come from the same plant – the difference in color occurs in the way they are processed. Black pepper is made by drying green peppercorns in the sun while white pepper is made when ripe berries are softened in water, hulled and then dried.


Saffron (kesar)

Saffron is considered the most expensive spice in the world and is worth its weight in gold. It is actually made from the stigmas of the crocus flower, which are handpicked and dried in the sun. A gift of saffron is something very special and it is often exchanged at Diwali. Saffron, which is sold as strands and as a powder, is used in very small quantities to flavor both savory and sweet dishes, particularly for special occasion.


Tamarind (imli)

The tamarind tree is evergreen and bears long, crescent shaped pods. Within these pods are the seeds, surrounded by a fleshy pulp. It is this pulp, with its fruity sweet-and-sour aroma, that is used in Indian cooking. According to Ayurvedic medicine, it is beneficial as a mild laxative, and tamarind water is often recommended to soothe a sore throat.


Turmeric (haldi)

Although used mainly for color, this Spice imparts a subtle flavor and is also Used extensively for its antiseptic and Digestive properties. Thid bright yellow, bitter-tasting spice is sold ground although the small roots are also available fresh or dried. Like ginger, it needs to be peeled and ground before using. If your hands become stained when preparing fresh turmeric, you can clean them by rubbing them with potato peelings.