Indian Spices, Herbs & Masalas used in Indian Food Cooking

Indian Spices and herbs are the very heart of Indian cooking.

Flowers, leaves, roots, barks, seeds and bulbs are used in endless combinations to produce an infinite variety of flavors: sweet, sharp, hot, sour, spicy, aromatic, tart, mild, fragrant or pungent. Their combined tastes and aromas create a kaleidoscope of exotic flavors to delight the palate. It is best to obtain spices in a whole seed form and to grind them just prior to use. Indian spices offer significant health benefits and contribute towards an individual's healthy life. They add flavor and nutrients to dishes without fat or calories! You should also explore Indian spice mixtures and pastes recipes so often used in prepering many Indian dishes.

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Guide to Indian Spices, Masalas, Herbs & Seasonings used in Indian Kitchen

  • Ajwain (Carom) Seeds are slightly green to brown in color and have a stron pungent, bitter taste. They look similar to cumin seeds but they contain thymol oil, which gives a taste reminiscent of thyme. Ajwain is used in lentil dishes, vegetable parathas, pakoras and meat dishes. Ajwain's seeds are very nutritious, rich in fiber, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals.

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  • Asafoetida (Hing) is a distinctive and very strong pungent spice, used mainly for its digestive properties, especially in cooking of beans and lentils, but also for flavoring and food preservation. It's most commonly found in powdered form. When cooked, it has a truffle-like flavor and a roasted garlic aroma. It is useful spice for those who can't eat onion or garlic, as it adds similar savory taste to the food.

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  • Bay Leaves (Tej Patta) are used in their dried form, whole or ground. They are pungent and have a sharp, bitter taste. As with many spices and flavorings, the fragrance of the bay leaf is more noticeable than its taste. When dried, the fragrance is herbal, slightly floral, and somewhat similar to oregano and thyme.

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  • Black Cardamoms (Badi /Kali Elaichi) are medium size dark brown to black in color, tough, dried pods. Inside they have small dark seeds. They have a pungent aroma and characteristic strong smoky flavor. Black cardamom is commonly used in savory dal and rice dishes.

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  • Green Cardamom (Elaichi) has a sweet, lemony, eucalyptus flavor. It is world's second most expensive spice. It is available as a powder, dried pods or loose seeds. It is one of India's favorite spices, used in curries, savory and sweet dishes, ice cream and custards. It is often combined with almonds and saffron. It can be used to flavor tea and also is great with a black coffee.

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  • Cayenne Pepper (Laal Mirch) it is made from the seeds of plants in the capsicum family (ranging from sweet pepper to chili). It includes both the ground seeds as well as the dried flesh. Ground cayenne pepper is eight times hotter than chili powder. Cayenne pepper is used to provide the heat for many spicy dishes.

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  • Chilies (Mirca) It is the hottest flavor on earth. As a general rule, dark green chilies tend to be hotter than red chilies. Small, pointed chilies are usually hotter than larger, more rounded varieties. Whole chilies can be seeded to make them a little less hot. Fresh, green chiles are used in curries, stews, pickles or eaten raw as a condiment.

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  • Chili powder (Mirch) is dried, pulverized fruit of one or more varieties of chili pepper, sometimes with the addition of other spices, like cumin, onion and garlic powder. it can be mild to moderately spicy. It is used to add pungency and flavor to culinary dishes.

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    Chili Powder

  • Chili Flakes (Mirch ke Phlek) are made from crushing different varieties of red chili peppers, but most often with a base of cayenne pepper. They have a hot, spicy and sometimes smoky flavor, like paprika, but they are hotter.

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    Chili Pepper Flakes

  • Cilantro/Corriander Leaves (Dhaniya Patta) - this fresh herb is a fragrant mix of parsley and citrus. The leaves are rather like those of flat-leaved parsley, but darker. They have a very distinctive bitter-sweet taste. The seed of the cilantro is known as coriander. Cilantro it is usually added toward the end of cooking to preserve the fresh aroma. Also it is frequently used as a garnish.

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  • Cinnamon (Dalchini) is the dried bark of various laurel trees in the cinnamomun family. It is a sweet-tasting spice, with a warm, woody aroma. The smell of cinnamon is pleasant, stimulates the senses, yet calms the nerves. The thinnest bark is the best quality cinnamon. Cinnamon is available as a powder but is much better bought in sticks. When ground, the flavor becomes stronger. Whole cinnamon is used for spacing hot drinks, like tea, ground - in cakes, sweet dishes, fruit pies (especially apples). It can also be used in more piquant dishes, such as curries, and combines perfectly with chicken. It is one of spices included in Garam Masala.

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  • **Cloves ** (Laung) are small, dried, reddish-brown flower buds of the tropical evergreen tree of the myrtle family. They have strong, sweet aroma and hot, pungent taste. Cloves are best bought whole and ground, if necessary. They have been used in India for thousands of years, not only in cooking, but to sweeten the breath and to relieve the pain of toothache. They contain a mild anesthetic. Whole cloves are frequently used to flavor meat dishes, curries, and soups.

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  • Cokum / Kokum (Amsul) is usually available as a dried rind, resembling a thick plum skin. Often you can see it in sticky form, dark purple to black in color, with curled edges. The fruit is often halved and dried, so that the dried seeds are visible in their chambers like a citrus fruit. When added to food it imparts a pink to purple color and sweet/sour taste. Cocum has a slightly sweet and refreshing sour aroma taste. It has the same souring qualities as tamarind. It is used to mostly to enhance coconut-based curries or vegetable dishes like potatoes, okra, lentils or sambar. It is also included in chutneys and pickles.

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  • Coriander Powder (Dhania ) is powdered form of the seed of cilantro plant, but tastes different than its fresh leaves. It has a subtle musky, buttery and citrus flavor with floral notes and its flavor deepens as you cook. Used in meat as well vegetarian dishes, curries and even as a secret ingredient in many desserts.

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    Coriander Powder

  • Coriander (Sabut Dhania) is a member of a parsley family. The seeds are oval in shape, ridged, and turn from bright green to beige when ripen. This spice tastes sweet and tangy, with a slightly citrus flavor. Coriander is used in fish and savory dishes as a healthy alternative to salt, and it is basic ingredient of curry powder.

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    Coriander Seeds

  • Cumin Powder (Jeera) is a spice made from the seeds of the Cuminum cyminum plant, which is a member of the parsley family. It is greenish-beige in color, has a warm, nutty aroma and a taste that is bitter, but not hot. They can be ground to a powder. Cumin is usually dry-fried before use (drop the whole seeds into a hot dry pan and cook until the roasted fragrance emerges). It is used to flavor rice, stuffed vegetables, many savory dishes and curries. It combines well with cilantro and is widely used in beef dishes.

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    Cumin Powder

  • Cumin Seeds (Jeera) are oval with ridges, greenish-beige in color, warm, nutty aroma and a taste that is bitter, but not hot. They can be ground to a powder. Cumin is usually dry-fried before use (drop the whole seeds into a hot dry pan and cook until the roasted fragrance emerges). It is used to flavor rice, stuffed vegetables, many savory dishes and curries. It combines well with cilantro and is widely used in beef dishes.

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    Cumin Seeds

  • Curry Leaves (Kari Patta) are small greenish leaves (a bit like bay), relative of the orange. They can be used fresh or dried. Their aroma is released by its heat and moisture. They are sometimes fried in the oil the food is cooked in, and then discarded. They are mainly used as an aromatic and flavoring for curries, raitas and soups.

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    Curry Leaves

  • Curry Powder is a pungent blend of few spices (a great invention of the British to simplify cooking Indian food at home) and is used widely in savory dishes. One of the main ingredients in curry powder is turmeric. Other spices that can be incorporated include coriander seeds, cumin seeds, cinnamon, paprika, chili powder, cloves, mustard seeds, black pepper, and fennel seeds.

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    Curry Powder

  • Fennel Powder (Saumph ka Choora) is a spice made by grounding seeds of fennel, perennial, pleasant-smelling herb with yellow flowers. It is used to add a delicate sweet flavour and aroma to curry.

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    Fennel Powder

  • Fennel Seeds (Saumph) are greenish-brown, small flat oval seeds with yellow ridges of a plant in the parsley family. It has a sweet and aniseed flavor. It gives warmth and sweetness to curries. The seeds combine well with peanuts and the zest of citrus fruit. Roasted fennel seeds are chewed to freshen the breath after the meal. They have digestive properties.

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    Fennel Seeds

  • Fenugreek Seeds (Methee ke beej). Small and oblong shaped yellowish brown seeds of the fenugreek plant have a warm and slightly bitter taste. Ground fenugreek has a warm, yellowish-brown color with a strong curry-like taste. In powdered form, fenugreek is one of the main ingredients of curry powders. Fenugreek is used to add flavor to meat dishes. It is rich in vitamins and minerals and is high in protein.

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    Fenugreek Seeds

  • Fenugreek Leaves (Kasuri Methi) are dried leaves of short, upright plant (related to spinach) with oval leaves. The entire plant has a strong, sweet aroma. The mature leaves taste similar to a combination of celery and fennel, but are much bitter and pungent. Fenugreek is used to add flavor to meat dishes.

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    Fenugreek Leaves

  • Garam Masala is a blend of ground spices used extensively in Indian cuisine. Recipes vary, but some of the most common ingredients are cinnamon, peppercorns, cardamom, coriander seeds, cloves, mace, nutmeg, cumin, bay leaves). It is far better to grind your own spices than to buy the ready-ground blend.

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    Garam Masala

  • Garlic (Lahasun) is a small, white, round bulb of related to onion plant. It has a powerful ,pungent or hot flavor when raw, which mellows when it is cooked. It has very strong odor. Bulbs, whose segments are usually called "cloves" are the part of the plant most commonly eaten. Garlic is used as a condiment and as flavoring in gravies, sauces, soups, stews, pickles, salads, salad dressing and breads. Garlic pickles and freshly ground garlic chutneys are popular side dishes for rice, snacks and chappathis. Garlic powder is made from ground dehydrated cloves and is used widely as a substitute for fresh garlic.

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  • Garlic Powder (Lahasun Paudar) is powdered (a flour-like consistency) form of garlic made from dehydrated and then finely grounded garlic cloves. It doesn’t taste exactly the same as fresh garlic. It is milder, a little sweeter and does not have such a strong flavor. Garlic powder gives flavor without impacting the texture of the recipe. Despite being degydrated, it is rich in vitamins, minerals that make it beneficial to our health.

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  • Ginger Root (Adarak) or rhizome is the part used as a spice. It has sweet aroma and hot, pungent taste. Inside, the ginger is hard and woody, yellow and fibrous. It is easiest to cook with, once peeled and grated. The length of the root indicates maturity, and the longer it is, the hotter and more fibrous it will be. Ginger makes a tasty paste, especially if mixed with garlic. Ginger can be used in baked goods, desserts, beverages, or in piquant dishes such as hot curries, stir-fries.

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  • Mace (Javitri) is the fleshy lattice, covering of the nutmeg (hard nut), which is golden brown in color. Nutmeg has more robust flavor than mace, but thy are otherwise very similar. Mace has a nutty, warm and slightly sweet flavor and can be substituted for nutmeg or cinnamon to complement a variety of foods. Mace is also used in sauces for fish and pickle chutneys.

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  • Mango Powder (Amchur) is made from unripe mangoes. It has a tart, sour, lemony taste, with a slightly sweet edge. It is used in soups, pastries, chutneys and relishes and in vegetarian dishes as a souring additive, More, it is used as a dry seasoning for grilled dishes and sometimes appears in Bombay mix, the Indian version of potato chips or pretzels. Amchur is also an essential ingredient in making Chaat Masala. It gives any dish a tangy, sour flavor, and is the perfect substitute for lemon, tamarind or lime juice. If you do not have mango powder you can use a dash of lemon.

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    Mango Powder

  • Mint (Pudina) is herb with sweet and strong lemony taste. Mint is pleasantly pungent and refreshing at the same time. The warm sweet fragrance of mint is cooling to the palate, leaving a fresh after taste. In Indian cooking mint is widely used in chutneys, relishes, salads, sauces and teas.

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  • Mustard Seeds (Rai) are bitter, hot and aromatic brown or black seeds. The larger yellow variety, known as white mustard are much less pungent. Powdered mustard seeds have no aroma when dry, but a hot flavor is released when it is mixed with water. The seeds can be put whole into very hot oil and popped. Raw food can be cooked in this flavored oil or it can be poured over some dishes just before serving. Mustard helps emulsify liquids use in salad dressing recipes to help blend oil and vinegar and add a spicy zip. Mustards seeds are a popular addition to dishes such as vegetable, beans, pastries and pickles.

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    Mustard Seeds

  • Nigella Seeds (kalonji or kala jeera) are small, irregular shaped black seeds of the plant that grows in India - Kalonji. They also known as black cumin. They have an oregano-like quality, slight bitterness and a warm, toasted-onion flavor. The seeds can be used fresh or dry roasted in curries, and added to vegetables, relishes, pickles and yogurts. Nigella seeds are featured in many spice mixtures such as Bengali five-spice mixture panchphoron.

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  • Nutmeg (Jaiphal) is the seed of the fleshy fruit of an evergreen tree. It has a warm, slightly nutty and sweet flavor. it can be ground to powder and it is used mostly in this form. It is used in savory dishes, curries, custards, pudding, pies, egg dishes, fish as well as beverages.

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  • Oregano (Ajwain, Sathra) is is an herb/spice made of fresh or dried leaves of the oregano plant. It has a strong, pungent aroma and strong flavor similar to pepper and anise. The taste is described as earthy with some mint and hay aftertaste. It can be slightly bitter. They contain thymol oil, which gives a taste reminiscent of thyme. Oregano is one of the most widely-used herbs in the world, known especially from dishes like pizza and pasta sauces or salads. In Indian cooking is used in lentil dishes, vegetable parathas, pakoras and meat dishes.

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  • Paprika (Laal Shimala Mirch) is ground form dried sweet peppers (family Capsicum Annum, relative of chili) the fruits of a tropical evergreen bush. It is milder than chili powder or cayenne. Paprika has bright red color and a mild, sweet flavor with a cardamom aroma. It is highly versatile spice. It is good with eggs, fish, chicken, crab and cheese. It can also be used as a garnish on baked potatoes, salads, rice dishes. Paprika is rich in vitamin C, and so helps colds and influenza. It is also said to treat digestive troubles, cramps, circulations problems, and shingles.

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  • Black Peppercorns/Black Pepper (Kaalee Mirch) are small (about 0.2 inches), black round, berry-like fruits. They are usually dried and used as a spice and seasoning. They have a pungent, woody aroma and hot taste. Pepper is the only spice that is used to flavor food before, during and after cooking. Whole or grounded peppercorns can be added to most non-sweet dishes.

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    Black Pepper Corn

  • White Peppercorns (Saphed Mirch) are simply black peppercorns that have had the skin removed. As a result they have a more distinct and subtler flavor and are lees hot than black peppercorns. White peppercorns' flavor is described as smooth peppery flavor, earthy and musty. They are usually ground and used for cream or in lightly colored sauces and clear broths.

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    White Pepper Corn

  • Pomegranate Seeds (Anaar ke Beej) the dried type of seeds of pomegranate. They have sour, tangy and fruity flavor. Thety are used as a souring agent, much like mango powder. Slow air drying makes it more molasses-like than fresh pomegranate, so it adds depth of flavor.

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    Pommegranate Seeds

  • Poppy Seeds (Apheem ke Beej/ Khus Khus) Poppy seeds have a high, flavorful oil content. In the North poppy seeds are mainly used to thicken sauces adding a nutty texture such as the Korma. Ground poppy seeds, along with coconut and other spices, are combined into a paste added during cooking.
    Rosted seeds Poppy seeds are used as a garnish on breads and pastries, added to wegetables, salads and dressings. In Bengali cuisine the seeds in dishes with potatoes, prawns and chicken.

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    Poppy Seeds

  • Saffron (Kesar) - orange colored dried stigmas of the especially cultivated crocus (75 stamens are needed to make 100 g (4 oz) of the spice.) It is the most expensive spice of all. It has a distinctively pungent, honey-like flavor and aroma. It is available as whole threads or powdered. When ground they form a russet powder. The filaments can be lightly roasted, crumbled in a little hot water and left to infuse to bring out their full strength. Saffron is used to color rice dishes, sweets, puddings, sauces and soups to bright yellow.

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  • Star Anise (Chakri Phool) - is the seed pod from fruit of the Chinese evergreen tree. They are tough skinned and rust colored, they measure up to 3cm (1-1/4”) long. Star anise is available whole or ground to a red-brown powder, and oil. Despit beeing a litte sweet, it is used in savory recipes, particularly with meats. It often is added whole to soups, curries It has antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties.

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    Star Anise

  • Tamarind (Imalee) is the sticky, dried, brown pod of the evergreen tree. It has a sour taste and very tart, citric flavor. The pulp must be soaked before usage. In India, tamarind is mostly combined with meat or legumes (lentils, chick peas or beans). It adds a distinctive cooling quality to curries, chutneys.

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  • Turmeric Powder (Haldee) It has a deep, yellow color, a pungent, gingery/peppery taste.t is mildly antiseptic. it is best known as the spice that gives food appetizing color. Although it becomes bitter if too much used. Ground turmeric is a major ingredient in curry powder. Turmeric it is used in curries, meat as well vegetables and beans because of its digestive properties.

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    Turmeric Powder

  • Turmeric Root (Haldee kee Gaanth) is the root of Curcuma longa, a leafy plant related to ginger. It has a bright yellow color and a pungent, warm, earthy and peppery flavour and a slightly bitter taste than its powdered version. The flavor is mild, and it goes well in many dishes.Turmeric is also used to make medicines as it has many powerful anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and antibacterial properties.

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    Turmeric Root

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