Most Common and Flavourful Indian Spices
The vast array of spices used — both whole and ground — that are often combined into complex spice mixes is one of the things that people find intimidating about cooking Indian food.
Here are the 7 most commonly used spices in Indian cooking, along with instructions on how to use them!
While cooking Indian food, green and black cardamom are extensively used. The more common color is green, which is used in everything from spice blends to lassis to Indian desserts. When making spice mixes like garam masala, green cardamom can be blended whole; however, when using them in sweets or desserts, you should pop the pod open and lightly crush the fragrant black seeds before using. Always buy Organic Green Cardamon to preserve its freshness and flavor.
Black cardamom, on the other hand, is a potent and smoky spice that should be used with caution. Normally, only the seeds are used, and if the entire pod is used, it is best to remove it before serving the dish.
Clove is a common spice in Indian cooking, and its anise notes can be detected in a variety of dishes. The high concentration of essential oils in clove gives it a strong, almost medicinal flavor. Cloves are technically flowers, and they are pressed for their oils before being dried and used in cooking. However, they should be used with caution because they tend to overpower more delicate spices.
Cassia bark is a unique spice. It is the genus of the cinnamon tree, also known as Chinese cinnamon. Cinnamon differs from cassia in a few ways, and is usually distinguished by the term “true cinnamon.” Cassia, rather than true cinnamon, is used in Indian cooking because it has a milder flavor and can be used in larger quantities.
Cassia can be ground or used whole in spice blends. It has a rough, tree bark-like texture, and the best way to check for freshness is to rub a small amount between your fingers. If you can detect a cinnamon scent, the bark is still fresh.
Black pepper is indigenous to India, originating in the Western Ghats and the Malabar region. It’s a surprisingly difficult spice to grow, as it’s reliant on many natural cycles, such as a certain amount of rainfall, which explains why fresh pepper prices fluctuate so much.
Before blending, black pepper, like most spices, needs to be toasted. Fresh black pepper, on the other hand, can be ground directly into dishes for the best flavor.
Cumin is frequently used whole or in spice blends to give Indian dishes a distinct smoky flavor. It is recognized for its firm brown shaded seeds and impeccable fragrance. It’s sometimes confused with fennel, caraway, and anise seeds, but you can tell them apart by their color (brown, not green fennel) and flavor (smoky, as opposed to a stronger licorice taste).
For the most intense flavor, use freshly ground cumin. One thing to keep in mind when dry-roasting cumin is that it burns quickly, and burnt cumin tastes bitter and will be noticeable in your dish.
Coriander has a golden-yellow color and a gently ridged texture, making it one of the oldest-known spices in the world. Citrus notes pervade the aroma of the seeds.
Ground coriander is one of the most commonly used ground spices in Indian cuisine, and whole coriander is used as a base for many spice mixes. It, like cumin, needs to be dry-roasted until the seeds take on a light golden-brown tinge and begin to “dance” and pop in the pan.
Saffron is the most expensive spice in the world, and because it is one of the most labor-intensive spices to produce, it is more valuable by weight than gold. Saffron is harvested by hand from the stigma of crocus flowers.
The best saffron comes from Kashmir, Iran, or Spain and is dark-red in color. The deeper the color of saffron, the fresher it is. Saffron has a very distinctive flavor, with each person smelling it differently. When I smell my saffron, I always detect floral and honey notes.
Saffron is a potent spice that is best used in small amounts, dissolved in warm water or milk before adding to dishes.
Although spices do not go bad, their potency diminishes over time, affecting the flavors. Spices that are ground lose their flavor faster than whole spices. So it’s a good idea to buy whole spices in bulk and then grind them or make spice blends with a smaller amount. Ground spices typically last 4 to 6 months, while whole spices last a year.