Spices are the soul of Indian cuisine, and you’ll find a large variety of them in any Indian kitchen. However, it can be a tedious job to set up your spice cabinet from scratch. So, here’s a list of the 21 must-have spices that will keep you equipped for almost all Indian dishes that can be made at home!
1. Cumin (Jeera)
Cumin is one of the essential spices in Indian cooking. It’s used almost all over the country, and the abundance of this spice makes it available everywhere. Cumin has a mild aroma that can make even the most basic lentil fragrant and interesting.
Cumin is used as seeds, roasted powder, and raw powder, and all three have different textures and flavors.
2. Coriander (Dhania)
No, not the leaves! Coriander is another very basic spice that has a pretty strong and overpowering flavor. The aromatic nature of this spice can make your curries way better if used in the right amount.
Like cumin, Coriander is also used as a whole spice and a powdered spice, both of which have drastically different flavors.
3. Mustard (Sarso)
The dark-colored Indian mustard is a magic spice that adds a very subtle but significant flavor to the food. Mustard seeds are predominantly used in the Southern and Eastern Indian curries, and it goes very well with curry leaves.
In the Western part of India, a special variety of small-seeded Mustards are used for a milder flavor.
4. Fenugreek (Methi)
Fenugreek, popularly known as Methi, is used in two forms, the seeds and the dried leaves (Kasuri Methi).
This spice has a slightly bitter taste and thus should be used in very moderate amounts. When used rightly, the effect of the spice can be very aromatic and pleasing.
5. Turmeric (Haldi)
In regular cooking, turmeric powder is way more preferred in Indian cuisine, unlike the South East Asian cuisine. Turmeric gives Indian cuisine the famous yellowish tint and makes it fragrant and flavorful.
Turmeric is also known to have anti-bacterial properties and thus is used widely in cooking meat and organic vegetables. The anti-inflammatory properties of Turmeric are also a factor that makes Haldi-doodh or Turmeric in warm milk is very popular in India as a remedy for sore body, injuries, and fever.
6. Cardamom (Elaichi)
Cardamom/Green Cardamom or Elaichi has a very sweet and subtle fragrance which is why it is widely used in desserts and rice dishes. These come as dried little pods with a green covering that engulf tiny black seeds.
The actual flavor and fragrance are in the seeds, and the best way to use Cardamom is to beat it flat so that the seeds rupture before incorporating it into the food.
7. Black Cardamom (Badi Elaichi)
Black Cardamoms are called Badi Elaichi as the size of this spice is significantly bigger. The outer skin, unlike the green cardamom, is dark brown to black in color. The seeds, too, appear to be bigger and have a stronger flavor. This spice is more used in meat and rice dishes and very rarely in some specific desserts.
8. Clove (Laung)
Cloves are a spice with a firm, sharp, and pungent flavor. The strength and pungency of this spice come from a specific chemical compound, which is commonly referred to as its oil.
Besides utilizing the flavor for cooking, this chemical compound of Clove is also anti-inflammatory in nature and is frequently used as a Toothache remedy.
9. Cinnamon (Dalchini)
Cinnamons are one of those earliest spices that were exported to Europe from India. The Indian Cinnamon has a very overpowering but sweet-ish flavor; the flavor is so overpowering that if used too much, it can kill the taste and fragrance of all the other spices in the dish.
The bark of the cinnamon tree is what is used as a spice. It is used as a whole spice in the form of Cinnamon sticks or as Ground cinnamon in powdered form.
10. Black Pepper (Kaali Mirch/ Golki)
Before the arrival of chilies in India, black pepper was used to increase the hotness of the food. Black pepper is one of the most ancient spices that holds a lot of historical value and was referred to as Black Gold in ancient Southern India.
Black pepper is mainly used as a powder or at least needs to be cracked before using to activate the flavor. The flavor of the spice is a pretty spice but not very overbearing. It also holds anti-inflammatory properties and is suitable for gastrointestinal health.
11. Fennel (Saunf)
Fennel seeds look very much like Cumin seeds but are bigger in size and green or yellowish in color. This spice has a sweet aroma and taste, which is why it goes well with cottage cheese (Paneer) dishes, desserts, and rice dishes.
Fennel seeds are also used in Indian pickles as they have an interesting aroma and are good for digestive health.
12. Nigella Seeds (Kala Jeera)
Nigella seeds or Kala Jeera are extensively used in East Indian cuisine. It has a very subtle taste and is very mild on the stomach.
This spice is used in comparatively lighter and simpler stews. Nigella seeds are also very ‘warm’ in nature and are used as a remedy for cold and cough.
13. Dry Red Chilies (Laal Mirch)
Chilies, as we know them today, came from Europe to India by the Portuguese. However, as Indians possess a very commendable spice tolerance, Chilies soon became main stream. Dry Red Chilies are sundried, which heightens the flavor and color of it.
These chilies can be used as a whole spice or as powder. There are also varieties of powders available according to the spice level e.g. Kashmiri chili powder is used only for the rich red color and has no heat in it; meanwhile, Degi Chili powder is more about increasing the spiciness.
14. Bay Leaves (Tej Patta)
Bay leaves do not have a taste of their own. They are solely used for the aroma that they release when heated. These leaves are dried in the sun and are packed with dormant fragrances.
When heated in a dry pan or fried in cooking oil, it releases a very appetizing aroma that makes meat dishes, vegetable dishes, and desserts very aromatic.
15. Asafoetida (Hing)
As a plant, Asafoetida is very spicy and bitter in taste. But, the gum of the plant known as Hing is one of the most important spices of the Indian Kitchen.
It has heating and healing properties, and the flavors goes very well with Lentil soups or, more commonly, Daal.
16. Carom Seeds (Ajwain)
Ajwain or Carom seeds are a very good spice when it comes to digestive issues. The taste is pretty sharp and the pungent, but the flavor is mild. ‘Ajwain Aloo,’ a dish of Potatoes cooked with Carom Seeds, is one of the trendy dishes.
This spice is an excellent remedy for indigestion and can be chewed after a hearty meal.
17. Star Anise (Pathar ka Phool)
Star Anise comes from the fruit of Chinese evergreen tea Illicium verum. It’s aptly named as it looks like a small star with pods. Star anise has a flavor similar to licorice.
Star anise is extensively used in meat and rice dishes and has a subtle flavor that goes well with such dishes.
18. Dried Ginger (Sounth)
Dried Ginger is a miraculous spice and is used more as a remedy to a lot of minor health issues.
It can be used to make Ginger tea which is very good for the throat and can fight off throat infections. It also helps with digestive problems.
19. Dried Mango powder (Amchoor)
Dried mango powder is a star ingredient in Indian snacks. The sourness that comes from dried mango powder not only makes the dish more interesting but also helps the tongue salivate more.
Dried mango powder is also used in certain curries when that ‘kick’ is needed.
20. Nutmeg (Jaiphal)
Nutmeg is a spice actually comes from the Nutmeg fruit. Yes! It is the seed. Nutmeg is either grated or smashed for bigger chunks to be used.
Usually, they’re roasted and grounded with other species to make spice blends. This spice is used in rice dishes, meat dishes, and even street food!
21. Mace (Javitri)
Mace has a very similar taste to Nutmeg, but the aroma is a bit muskier. The flavor of this spice is very overpowering, and thus it is used in very small quantities in meat and rice dishes.
Spices aren’t just used for flavors and fragrances, but they also impart a whole lot of effect on human health. Indians have always known about these benefits for a fact, and thus the cuisine has developed to be spiced and flavorful as it is today.