Incredible Spices of India

| August 8, 2011

Please welcome back our guest contributor, the amazing Purabi of Cosmopolitan Currymania. If you haven’t checked out her website, we recommend that you do! Born and raised in India, Purabi current lives in Hong Kong with her son, daughter, and husband. She is passionate about food, and delights in sharing the flavors of India. Welcome back, Purabi!

A spread of Indian whole spices

Discovering Indian cuisine is a gastronomical journey through the “spice route”! Indian spices can weave magic to any bland dish with their versatility. The reason why India boasts thousands of recipes is because of its amazing variety of spices and spice mixes (powder or paste of an assortment of spices), along with a plethora of cooking techniques and other ingredients.

The traditional stone is still used for manually grinding whole spices. The texture and taste of the final product are much better, as compared to the modern grinders!

Spices are good for you!

Indian spices have amazing medicinal properties, and the popular ancient Indian medicinal practice known as Ayurveda employs these wonder spices for various kinds of healing, with no side effects!

For example, research has proved now that turmeric (active ingredient: curcumin) has anti-cancer, anti-arthritic and anti-inflammatory properties. Warm turmeric-milk is extremely effective against indigestion and sore throat. Similarly, cloves have healing properties against toothache, gum decay, asthma and acidity. Fenugreek seeds help in easing any kind of pain and are given to women after child delivery. Ginger is very effective against cough and colds. On the other hand, cumin is known for its healing properties against indigestion and other stomach problems.


Popularity of Indian spices

The importance of spices in India and the world is immense.  So much so, that there is a separate authority for the promotion of Indian spices worldwide, called Spices Board India, maintained by the Ministry of Commerce, Government of India. The board does a lot to support and maintain the development of Indian spices, which are the “heart” of Indian cuisine!


Spices in three forms: whole, ground and paste


Whole spices being dry-roasted perfectly: ready for the grind!

The whole spices mainly include fenugreek seeds (methidana), bay leaves (tej patta), dry red chilli (sabut laal mirch), nigella seeds (kalonji or mangrel), aniseed, nutmeg (jaiphal), mace (javitri), cumin (jeera), black cumin (shahi jeera), mustard (rai), coriander seeds (sabut dhania), Cinnamon (dalchini), brown cardamom (badi elaichi), cloves (laung or lavang), fennel (saunff) small and big, white sesame seeds (till), green cardamom (elaichi), tamarind (imli), dry ginger (saunth), black peppercorns (kali mirch), black pepper (kali mirch) and poppy seeds (khuskhus).

The ground spices (powders) are coriander powder (dhania powder), pomegranate seed powder (anardana powder), turmeric powder (haldi), dry mango powder (aamchur), asafoetida (hing), red chilli powder (laal mirchi powder), cumin powder (jeera powder) and mint powder (pudina powder).

Ground spices and masalas

A few masalas (mixture of spices) like paan masala, pav bhaji masala, chat masala, garam masala, chana masala, tea masala, sambhar masala, tandoori chicken masala, meat masala, jaljeera and kasoori methi are very famous and used commonly in Indian households and restaurants.

These are the common Indian spices. However, there are many more too!


Relishing Indian curries!

Curry is believed to have originated in India. A curry is a side dish, cooked with a combination of spices and herbs, along with one or more kinds of vegetables, fish, meat and/or egg and sometimes, the fruits. During the British rule in India, curry was introduced slowly to the Western palate.

Originally, the word “curry” was the British way to pronounce the Tamil word kari, the Punjabi, Sindhi and Gujrati kadhi and the Bengali tarkari! Alternatively, the word curry might have originated from the word “karahi”, which is a cooking utensil, also known as wok in English.

Roughly, there are more than one thousand curries existing in India itself!


Two tried-and-tested recipes of spice mixes (masalas)

Garam masala: This versatile masala is added to increase the richness and aroma of a huge number of dishes in India. You may alter the amount of this masala in a dish to suit your spice tolerance. There is, however, no set measurement for the ingredients in any masala. But I am sharing with you the one I have tried and tested almost on a regular basis for almost seven years now. Store them in airtight containers in a cool, dry place. [Tip: Replace the lid of the container immediately after use to prevent the aroma from escaping.]

For the basic garam masala, two cinnamon (one-inch) sticks, four cloves and six green cardamoms are ground to a fine powder.

For making the special garam masala (used especially in meat dishes), you need the following, to be ground to a fine powder: two cinnamon (one-inch) sticks, four cloves, six green cardamoms, two brown cardamoms, 1 tbsp black peppercorns, 2 tsp caraway seeds, 1 tbsp cumin seeds, ½ tsp nutmeg powder and ½ tsp mace powder.

[Note: The commercially available readymade masalas such as tandoori masala, dhansak masala, sambhar masala, chana masala, etc, have either garam masala or curry masala as one of their constituents.]

Curry powder: This can be made in a couple of ways. The amounts of the ingredients may be varied. The recipe given below gives great results!

Dry-roast 2 tsp coriander seeds, 1 tsp cumin seeds, ½ tsp fennel seeds, ½ tsp  fenugreek seeds,  3 dried red chillies and 3 curry leaves until these become nicely browned and release a rich aroma. Put these (after cooling) into a spice mill or a grinder to grind them into a very fine powder. Now mix ½ tsp turmeric powder and ½ tsp salt with this and store in an airtight container.


Jaljeera: the healthy and spicy Indian summer drink!

The famous Indian summer drink: Jaljeera

The word “jal” means water and “jeera” means cumin. This is an exotic North Indian drink, which is very popular in Indian restaurants worldwide. This is a spicy drink and an appetizer, which is believed to not only cool the body (because of mint in them) in hot weather, but this aids in digestion (attributed to the cumin and rock salt) as well! It is a drink served in Indian get-togethers and cultural ceremonies.

The jaljeera drink has lemonade as the main constituent. This is mixed with the jaljeera powder and finely chopped mint or fresh mint paste is added at the end, topped with unsweetened mini gram-flour balls called boondi (optional). Following is the recipe of light jaljeera.



Cumin seeds: 1.5 tsp

Dry ginger powder: ½ tsp

Dry red chilli (optional): ½

Black peppercorns: 5

Fresh mint leaves (finely chopped): 4

Black salt: ¾ tsp

Dry mango powder (aamchur): ½ tsp

Sugar (optional): ½ tsp

Asafoetida: two pinches

Lime juice: 2 tbsp

Cold water


Method of preparation:

Make a paste of the mint leaves with black salt, dry ginger powder, dry mango powder, asafoetida and sugar.

Dry-roast the cumin seeds and the dry red chilli till these release an aroma and are lightly browned. Add the peppercorns and roast for another 1 min over a low flame. Cool this mixture under open air and grind to a very fine powder.

Mix this powder with the mint mixture and store in an airtight jar. This becomes the jaljeera powder.

To make one glass of jaljeera, put the lime juice and 1 tsp of jaljeera powder into the glass. Add cold water to fill the glass. Check for salt and sugar and adjust if needed.

Sprinkle a few chopped mint leaves at the top or use salted boondi [link:].


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Category: Beverages, Featured, Featured Articles: Travel & Culture, Recipe Vault, South/Southeast Asia, Travel & Culture

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  1. Incredible Spices of India and Guest Post in Zomppa | May 28, 2013
  1. Melissa says:

    HEAVEN! I am so excited to try my own masalas and curry powders! What an informative and interesting article. The drink sounds refreshing, and I love that sugar is not a huge component.

  2. Belinda says:

    Oooooo, I have such a weakness for these spices! Thank you!!

  3. purabi naha says:

    Thank you, Melissa and Belinda, really pleased to know that you liked the article!!

  4. Devaki says:

    What a joy and heavenly scents of spices to celebrate and no better a place to do this in than India 🙂

    I really enjoyed this post. Thanks!

    chow! Devaki @ weavethousandflavors

  5. Summer says:

    Generally I don’t read post on blogs, but I wish to say that this write-up very forced me to check out and do so! Your writing style has been amazed me. Thanks, very great post.