Asafoetida (Hing)

This is a seasoning used primarily as an anti-flatulent, and has a strong aroma. It is a resin from the plant ferula asfoetadia, imported mainly from Iran. Minute quantities are used in cooking.

Bay Leaf(Tej Patta)

Tej in Hindi means sharp and patta means leaf. So it is presumed in India that tej patta refers to the leaf with sharp and strong flavor.But tej is actually a corruption of the word tuj in Gujarati (the language used in Bombay and Gujrat) which means cinnamon, so tej patta is the cinnamon-flavored leaf from the tree which is similar to the cinnamon tree.

The tej patta leaf is usually fried in the initial stages of making a curry and does not burn even if fried over a low to medium heat for 10 minutes, as it browns and releases its flavor gradually.It can also be put in a boiling gravy or rice.
Before serving remove it from the cooking pot.

Cumin Seeds (Jeera)

An essential spice, cumin gives a distinctive warm flavor to an enormous range of savory dishes in India..

Cumin seeds are used whole or ground as powder. It should be roasted very briefly for only a minute on a hot tawa or griddle and then ground into a powder to release its flavor more fully.Whole or powdered jeera burns quicker than most spices and turns black quickly and become bitter, and should therefore be fired for less than half a minute or until you see it is turning a blackish color, at which point add the next ingredients, be it tomato, yogurt, or any other ingredients containing moisture. then the burning process will stop . Cumin seeds are used in the cooking of dry vegetable dishes like jeera aloo( with potatoes).Fried in a little oil and made into a wagar or seasoning, the seeds are sprinkled on top of the boiled rice or dal.

Cumin is considered to be a digestive. The drink known as jeera paani or cumin water, is basically an infusion of the cumin, lime juice and fresh coriander leaves. it also has cooling properties.

Coriander Seeds and Coriander Powder (Dhania)

The principal spice in this category is coriander powder. This is made by grinding coriander seeds.To enhance the flavor the seeds should be roasted on a hot tawa or griddle or frying pan without oil for 3 minutes or so, and ground just before use. This can be done in a dry grinder or coffee grinder kept especially for this purpose.Frying the coriander powder in oil gives the characteristic 'curry' flavor .It takes a minimum of 5 minutes cooking in a hot oil over a low heat for the full flavor to be released from the spice into the mixture. Frying over high heat means the powder will burn and become sticky more quickly. It tends to catch on the bottom of the pan unless there is a substantial amount of oil or fat.

Coriander seeds have diuretic properties. Coriander is grown all over India but Rajasthan and Central India produce the most.

Cinnamon(Dal Chinni) and Cloves(Lavang)

One of the first spices sought in the exploration of the 15th and 16th centuries.These spices contribute to both taste and aroma but have a specially strong impact on taste.They are used whole in some meat recipes,and along with cardamom   when boiling rice to make a simple pulao, or ground together with black cardamom and made into garam masala powder.

Cinnamon is a thiner, tan-colored bark,while cassia is a rougher,dark brown bark.


Cardamom is one of the most ancient spices in the world and one of the most highly valued: It is the third most expensive spice after saffron and vanilla. There are two types of cardamoms  :Black cardamoms and Green cardamoms.

    Black cardamoms(barra elaichi)
Barra means large and this cardamom is about 4-5 times the size of the small green cardamom. Black cardamom is used only in Indian curries and is grown in North East India and Sikkim.It has a strong  aroma, the flavor being in its seeds.  It is used in small quantities and should form a part of any recipe for Garam Masala Powder.

    Green Cardamom (choti Elalichi)
Green Cardamom, apart from having a unique aroma, also contributes to flavor. Avoid using white cardamom which is a bleached version of the green cardamom and has less flavor. Powder made from the whole green cardamom, sprinkled at the end of the cooking process on a delicate dishes just a few minutes  serving gives  a wonderful aroma.

Cardamom in crushed form is also used in sweet dishes and cooling drinks like the almond-flavored thandai.It can be used in Garam Masala too.

Chilli And Chilli Powder(Lal Mirch)

It is important to understand the use of chilies in making of curries, since they are an important ingredient and their use is limited in the west.But chilies are becoming increasingly popular in some parts of America.

In Indian Cooking two kinds of chili are used-- the green variety which is used fresh and the Red, used in dried form. The varieties of green chilies differ in their size and pungency.

Red chilies are sometimes used in addition to green chilies in curries, for their hot taste and to give a reddish color.On the Western and Southern coasts of India the skin of red chili is ground together with coconut to give the curry texture.

India is the largest world producer of chilies.


The name Dill comes from old Norse dill meaning to lull Dill water was believed to have a soothing effect on the digestive systems and was given to babies to relieve hiccups and colic>Grown for both its seeds and its leaves,dill has been known since antiquity.In medieval times,it was considered a magic herb to be used against witchcraft,and as an ingredients in love potions.While it was popular in the kitchen as a condiment.It was cultivated in England from the 16th century but was not introduced into the United States on a commercial scale until the 19th century.Anethem sewa,Indian dill,resembles the European plant,but the seeds are longer and narrower,the ridges are paler,and they taste slightly different.

Fenugreek Seeds(Methi)

These are usually used whole,and only in a few recipes.In Southern Indian cuisine,methi seed are the second ingredients arter mustard seeds to be put in a hot oil fried few seconds before the other ingredients are added.

They are also used roasted and powdered along with red chili and other spices in a condiment mix known as muligapuri,to be eaten with idli and dosas.


This sometimes forms part of garam masala powder.Fennel powder features in Kashmiri cuisine,both Hindu and Muslim,and also used by the Mapla Muslim of Kerala.It is not essential to fry fennel powder as it is very aromatic.In Kashmiri curries,fennel powder is always used without the frying process. In Chettinad cuisine whole fennel seeds are used as one of the main spices.

Many Indian cookery books mention aniseed as a spice,but actually it is fennel that is being referred to -there is no aniseed in Indian cuisine.

Garam Masala

As mentioned above ,garam masala contributes to both flavor and aroma,but I feel the latter is predominant.Garam masala heating in this context(through in Hindi the literal translation is Hot) Masala,of course,refers to the spices.So garam masala is a mixture of those spices which create heat in the body- cinnamon,clove,blackPepper and black cardamom.Interestingly,the first two were exported to India at the time of the spice trade!Nowadays housewives making garam masala mixture sometimes include the cooing green cardamom,tej patta or Indian bay leaf,and fennel(saunf).To get the best flavor,grind a small quantity in a coffee grinder just before use.Keep it in a air tight jar.

Mustard Seeds(rai or sarson)

Mustard Seed are used whole in Southern Indian curries and vegetable dishes,almost always as thee first ingredients to be fried for a few seconds in the cooking oil. Mustard seeds are the favorite spice of Bengal, where mustard grows in abundance; the seeds are ground into a paste and used to flavor Bengali fish dishes. Mustard oil is also widely used in Bengal and Kashmir.In the Panjab, the leaves of the mustard plant are a favorite vegetable.

If frying mustard seeds whole, do so for 10-15 seconds when they begin to splutter and crackle.then add the next spices or ingredients according to the recipe.In the Indian cooking the use of mustard powder or prepared mustard is insignificant,through the letter if added to some curry preparations could enhance the taste.So feel free to innovate.

Mace Powder(Javitri)

Mace is the net-like covering of nutmeg.Like cardamom,Powdered mace gives a wonderful aroma when sprinkled on meat dishes towards the end of the cooking,and on pulao dishes in which rice is cooked along with the other ingredients, for example lamb or mixed vegetables.Its a favorite condiment among the Muslim court cooks of Lucknow, who use it during the cooking of hot Korma as well as sprinkling it on the top when the dish is almost ready. It is important to keep the lid on,so that the aroma is incorporated in the dish,aided by the heat within.


Nutmeg originates from the Moluccas in Indonesia and in earlier times was exported to India.Today it is grown in Kerala.

Nutmeg is used sparingly in Indian cooking,in both curries and sweet dishes.Always used in its powdered form,it is normally added during the cooking process,and is not fried along with the main spices.Try putting jaiphal powder on pureed spinach-it transforms the dish.

Poppy Seeds(khus-khus)

These are almost always used in a ground to a paste with a little water. They do not grind easily and should be lightly toasted on a griddle for 3-4 minutes,then ground in a coffee grinder with a little water added if necessary. They have a very mild flavor.Used as a coating for potatoes and fried savory items they import a nutty taste,as they do to curry,in which they ar3e used as a thickening agent.

Pepper(kali mirch)

Pepper grows mainly in Kerala.It was a highly priced item in the world trade as far back as the second century Ad, When pepper from Malabar was exported to Rome in exchange for gold.Christopher Columbus setoff on his journey of discover in search of the source of pepper and cloves.In those days Columbus was especially prized for its preservative qualities.

Peppercorn was boiled in water along with Indian Basil leaves(Tulsi) is drunk in India as an infusion to cure cold in the chest or asthma.Pepper is used lavishly in Kerala cooking.When frying the peppercorn is always used whole and should be fried for not more than1 minute if no other ingredients with moisture is present.

In India,spices cooked whole do not dissolve during the cooking of curry,and Indian are quite used to them appearing on their plate or in their mouths and will discretely put them aside. They can be tied in a Muslin bag during cooking and removed from the pan after frying.


Saffron has a delicate fragrance,and is the most expensive spice in the world .It is the stigma of a flower of the crocus family which originated in West Asia and grows in Kashmir and Turkey,and in Mediterranean counties-the largest quantity now comes from Spain. The use of saffron is very much part of Indian Cooking,especially in Moghlai dishes since it was a favorite ingredient in the Mogul courts.It is now popular in India for biryanis,Pulaos, Kesary chicken(a creamy saffron curry dish)and desserts such as kesari kulfi.Saffron comes in strands which need to be soaked in a little warm water or milk to infuse.It also gives off a golden-yellow dye which imports a pale yellow hue to white rice or a milk based dessert.It loses its flavor after a month,and is best stored tightly sealed in a refrigerator.

Star Aniseed(chakraphool or badian)

This a native of china and is not commonly used in Indian cooking.Its widest use is in Kashmir and Chettinad cooking-the chettiar community of the South-East coast of India treaded with China and South West Asia for many hundreds of years.It is also incorporated in the East Indian bottled masala and in a few Goan dishes.


A member of ginger family,turmeric is used throughout southern Asia for its musky flavor and attractive golden color.on his travels in china, Marco polo noted that" turmeric was a fruit that rasembles saffron;though it is actually nothing of the sort,it is quite as good as saffron for practical purpose".

This is a root and is mostly used as a powder made from the dried root.Fresh turmeric root available from December to march in India, gives an even better color and flavor than dried.turmeric has antiseptic qualities and is therefore used to marinate fish before cooking. In the making of curries,turmeric is used more by the Hindus than the Muslims.It sticks very easily to the bottom of the pan during the frying.The biggest market in the world is in Sangli, where the turmeric is stored in pits in the ground.

Powdered Rose Petals

Powdered Rose Petals are used for their aroma and marinade qualities when cooking meat dishes. This tradition can be seen today in the Lucknowi court dishes, particularly in light-colored delicate kormas such as the white korma. The Indian rose is small with a double row of petals, and has a mcuh more intense gragrance than Weatern roses. The best-quality India roses for culinary purposes are the small ones( gulabs ), fromthe Udaipur region ( where they were specially cultivated to make a rose liquer called Gulab), from Mysore and near Kanauj in North India.

The rose-petals are sun dried and then powdered for cokking. Gulab has cooling properties, ans is also astringent and anti-inflammatory. Rose essence is used in making sherbets. Rose water is used for aprinkling, after cooking, on biryanis and pulaos, and also for soaking saffron. Rose water is available in speciality food shops in the US.

Screwpine flower essence ( Keora essence )

Pandanus odoratissimus is a yellow flower from the screwpine family, with a very strong, sweet aroma. The male flowers are valued for their fragrance. It grows in Orissa and to a lesser degree in Kerala. Keora ( sometiems spelt in Kewda ) attar and Keora water are made using an extraction of this flower. Keora oil is believed to be stimulant.

Keora attar is made for culinary purposes in Lucknow, ans just a drop diluted in little water before using is enough to flavor 21/4lb of meat. A more diluted version of this Keora water. Lucknow coojks use it in biryanis, kebabs and kormas, and are now being imitated by Muslim cooks all over India. It is ot easily available in the US.

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