five essentials : indian spices

I get a lot of emails and questions about Indian food, recipes and spices. Not only from you all, but even from some of my friends here. I don’t think I post enough Indian recipes on here to satisfy you, do I? Well, I thought I’d share five essential spices to have on hand when cooking Indian food, and then perhaps we’ll work from there. Sound good?

Ground turmeric was often put in food in traditional Indian meals because of its medicinal purposes. Now it has become a staple spice in Indian cooking and provides more than just great health. It is developed from a dried ground root of fresh turmeric, which is a member of the ginger family. It has a mild, but smokey flavor and provides great color with the red chili powder.

Red Chili Powder
This is an absolute staple. One cannot have Indian food without red chili powder. It is made by drying out and finely grinding red chillies. The spice level of every single packet you will ever find and/or purchase will vary, so be sure to add accordingly, and not directly to the recipe. The red chili powder will also add a great traditional deep red color to the curry.

Garam Masala
This is a very strong spice mixture made up of ground cinnamon, pepper, coriander, cumin, cardamom, cloves, and mace. The variations of the spice vary, but the bold taste is usually the same. Be careful not to add too much of garam masala to the food, the flavor of the spice develops the longer it cooks and sits in the curry.

Beware! Cumin seeds can be easily mistaken for fennel seeds if you don’t know your spices too well. Cumin seeds are small, pale brown long seeds with ridges on its shell. It has a strong, pungent earthy flavor, but has fantastic taste in Indian food. You can also find cumin seeds ground but they lose their taste faster than ground coriander. You can use cumin whole or ground in Indian recipes.

You can have the whole coriander seeds if you would like, but most Indian dishes ask for it grounded. It is a small, light brown-yellow color. The seed has a rough exterior. Though it has a mild taste and fragrance, its flavor is very different from any other spices used. The purpose of ground coriander is to thicken the curry and bring out the other spices of the curry dish.

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  • this is so great! i admit, i get mixed up on which spice is which every now and then. 🙂 thanks!

  • this is so great! i admit, i get mixed up on which spice is which every now and then. 🙂 thanks!

  • haha, you are not alone Marissa! xx.