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  • Writer's pictureHonest Cooks

Basics of Indian Spices: How to Add Flavor to Your Cooking with These Primary Ingredients

There's nothing quite like the taste of Indian food. The spices used in Indian cuisine are unique and can transform a dish into something special. If you're interested in adding some flavor to your cooking, using Indian spices is a great way to do it!


There are many different spices that are used in Indian cuisine, each with its own unique flavor profile. In this blog post, we will discuss the primary spices used in Indian cuisine and how to use them to create delicious dishes. We'll also explore some of the most popular spice combinations and their effects on food. So, without further ado, let's get started!

Indian Spices Enhance the Flavor of any dish

Let's take a look at 7 of the primary spices most commonly used in Indian dishes and then discuss how you can use them to bring your dish to the next level.


Turmeric:

Turmeric is a spice that is commonly used in Indian cooking. It comes from the root of the Curcuma longa plant and has a deep yellow color. It has a warm, slightly bitter flavor and is often used to add flavor and color to curries, as well as other dishes. Turmeric is a good source of antioxidants and has anti-inflammatory properties. In addition to that, it is also known to boost cognitive function and memory.

turmeric- basics of Indian cooking

To use turmeric, it is usually used in powdered form. The fresh root is used in pickles. To use it in one of your curries, you can use it as part of your marinade or dry rub, and you can also add it to your sauce/gravy for the curry. When adding it to the sauce, it usually goes in after the onions, with the rest of the powdered spices. When using turmeric, it's important to be aware that it can stain surfaces, so be sure to use it with caution.


To pair turmeric with other spices, you will not go wrong with any spice really. As long as turmeric belongs in the dish, it will not interfere with other spices. Most commonly, it is used with red chili powder and coriander powder.


Fun Fact: In Indian culture, turmeric is considered to be auspicious and is used in many religious ceremonies since it also has medicinal properties such as being an antiseptic and antibacterial agent.



Cumin:

Cumin is another spice that is commonly used in Indian cuisine. It comes from the seeds of the Cuminum cyminum plant and has a dark brown color. It has a warm, earthy flavor and is often used to add flavor to curries, as well as other dishes. Cumin is a good source of iron and has been shown to aid in digestion.

cumin - indian spices basic knowledge

To use cumin, you will, ideally, the seeds add it to the hot oil, before adding anything else. It will immediately be followed by vegetables (like onions and tomatoes) so it does not burn. If you burn cumin, best to start again as the burned taste is hard to hide. You will know it is burned if it turns black and smokey. When using powdered cumin, you will add it with other powdered spices such as turmeric.


To pair cumin with other spices, you will see cumin seeds are mostly paired with black mustard seeds. But there are some dishes where mustard seeds are not added. So, cumin seeds are a pretty good stand-alone spice. It is used in many curries. When used in powdered form, it is best paired with powdered coriander seeds. In fact, some households in India keep a 50-50 mix of powdered cumin and coriander seeds in their spice boxes. This mixture goes into almost all of the everyday dishes.


Fun Fact: Cumin is also used in traditional Ayurvedic medicine for a variety of purposes, such as treating respiratory problems, indigestion, and fever.


Coriander:

Coriander is another spice that is commonly used in Indian cuisine. It comes from the seeds of the Coriandrum sativum plant and has a light brown color. It has a sweet, citrusy flavor and is often used to add flavor to curries, as well as other dishes. Coriander is a good source of vitamins A and C, and also has anti-inflammatory properties.

coriander seeds - how to use them in cooking

To use coriander, you can use the whole seeds as well as the powder. Remember, the seeds do not go in a lot of dishes - since they can quiet overpower the entire dish. When used whole, you will see it in snacks such as samosas where coriander seeds are used in the potato filling. When used in powdered form, the taste is a lot milder and you will see it used several everyday dishes including curries and dals.


To pair coriander with other spices, you will usually pair the seeds with cumin seeds. In powder form, it is paired with turmeric, cumin powder, and red chili powder.


Fun Fact: Coriander seeds were found in the tomb of Tutankhamun and have been used for culinary purposes for over 3000 years!



Cardamom:

Cardamom is another spice that is commonly used in Indian cuisine. It comes from the seeds of the Elettaria cardamomum plant and has a light green color. It has a sweet, floral flavor and is often used to add flavor to curries, as well as other dishes. Cardamom is a good source of vitamins B and C, and also has anti-inflammatory properties.

cardamom - how to use it in recipes

To use cardamon, you will mostly use whole cardamoms in some lavish curries and rice dishes such as Biryani. However, in some curries, you will see the use of bigger pods that are black in color. The green, delicate ones are used either sparingly or in pair with the black pods. In powder form, cardamom is used in sweet dishes, such as rice pudding a.k.a kheer. When powdered for sweet dishes, only green cardamom is used.


To pair cardamom with other spices, your safe bets would be small amounts of cinnamon and nutmeg for most sweet dishes. It also pairs really well with saffron.


Fun Fact: Cardamom is the second most expensive spice, after saffron!


Cloves:

Cloves are another spice that is commonly used in Indian cuisine. They come from the flower buds of the Syzygium aromaticum plant and have a dark brown color. They have a sweet, yet pungent flavor and are often used to add flavor to curries, as well as other dishes. Cloves are a good source of vitamins C and K, and also have antiseptic properties.

how to use cloves in recipes

To use cloves, you will see them added in the beginning of the cooking process when whole spices are tempered in oil. Cloves are also used in powder form in several dishes like Rajma or as part of garam masala.


To pair cloves can be tricky. So it is best to stick to the recipe with this one.


Fun Fact: Cloves were once used as a form of currency!


Bay leaf:

Bay leaves are another spice that is commonly used in Indian cuisine. They come from the bay laurel tree and have a dark green color. They have a bitter, yet slightly sweet flavor and are often used to add flavor to curries, as well as other dishes. Bay leaves are a good source of vitamins A and C, and also have anti-inflammatory properties.

how to use bay leaves in cooking

To use bay leaves, you will add it to the hot oil with other whole spices. It is essential to be quick with bay leaf as it can burn quickly. Sometimes, a single bay leaf can be the saving grace of your dish. It is the kind of the spice that you don't acknowledge unless it is missing. Feel free to add a small piece when cooking plain white rice to see what I mean!


To pair bay leaves, you can't really go wrong with any combination. Unless, of course it is something totally daring, such as saffron in a sweet dish! Your modest option for savory dishes will be cinnamon sticks.


Fun Fact: Bay leaves were used by the ancient Greeks to make wreaths!



Cinnamon:

Cinnamon is another spice that is commonly used in Indian cuisine. It comes from the bark of the Cinnamomum verum tree and has a brown color. It has a sweet, yet slightly spicy flavor and is often used to add flavor to curries, as well as other dishes. Cinnamon is a good source of vitamins A and C, and also has anti-inflammatory properties.

To use cinnamon sticks, you will add it to your dish with any/all of the whole spices. Cinnamon sticks are used generously in almost all meat curries and rice dishes such as Biryani or pulaos.


To pair cinnamon sticks, much like bay leaf, you can't go wrong with any of the whole spices.


Fun Fact: Cinnamon is one of the oldest spices in existence! It has been used for over 4000 years.


These are just some of the most common spices used in Indian cuisine. By using a combination of these spices, you can create a delicious and flavor-packed dish that is sure to please. Do you have a favorite Indian spice that you like to use in your cooking? Let us know in the comments below!



If you enjoyed reading, subscribe to our newsletter to get more great content delivered straight to your inbox! And be sure to check out our other blog posts for more tips on how to make your cooking more flavorful. Happy cooking!



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