13+ essential Indian spices and herbs and why they are used in Indian food

13+ essential Indian spices and herbs and why they are used in Indian food

Indian cuisine is defined by the vast smorgasbord of spices used. While the rest of the world scratches their heads when it comes to cooking with Indian spices, Indian kitchens are brimming with a spectrum of flavour profiles, colours and aromas these condiments bring to the table.

While you are probably getting used to cooking Indian food at home, here are some of the spices you might want to pick up on the next grocery run.

Check out this list of essential spices in the Indian pantry which make Indian cuisine divinely mouthwatering.

Essential spices and herbs for cooking Indian food

1. Cardamom

Dishes like Lamb Rogan Josh and Biryani would be incomplete without this fragrant spice. There are two types of cardamom used in Indian cooking- green and black. The more common, green cardamom is used for curries, kheer (sweet porridge) and everything in between. Black or brown cardamom is rarely used and has a powerful, smokey flavour profile.

2. Clove

The overpowering, almost medicinal notes of this dried flower lends an easily recognizable flavour to many Indian foods. It lends a warm, intense flavour and aroma to curries, sauces and sometimes even desserts.

3. Black pepper

Black peppercorn is a difficult spice to grow and is primarily from the Western Ghats. Its earthy and sharp taste lends heat to classic dishes like Goan or Kerala fish curry, and Chicken curry. Furthermore, it has medicinal properties which makes it the King of Spices.

4. Cinnamon

Cinnamon is an important ingredient in Indian cooking. However, in some places it is substituted for Cassia bark (also known as Chinese cinnamon and true cinnamon). Cassia bark has a milder flavour profile. Cinnamon is used for its woody fragrance and sweet-spicy taste that balances out tartness of certain vegetables.

5. Coriander seeds

These are aromatic with mild, citrus tones and are commonly used in Indian households in a finely ground, powder form.

6. Fenugreek seeds

Fenugreek seeds are a quintessential element in Madras curry. It has a strong aroma and a slightly bitter, albeit nutty taste which is heightened by dry roasting before adding it to various dal (lentil), pickle and curries.

7. Turmeric

Its pungent, earthy flavour is easily recognizable in almost any Indian dish. It is a medicinal herb that finds a spot on almost every Indian recipe. The flavour of fresh turmeric is slightly stronger than the dried one, but is seldom used as it stains easily. A dash of freshly powdered dry turmeric can add a gorgeous golden colour to your food while also boosting its nutritional value.

Indian spices like coriander, cumin and turmeric are essential in cooking Indian food. Ravintola India Palace restaurant Finland.

8. Cumin

Cumin is another common spice in Indian cuisine. It is frequently used whole, and lightly toasted for a smokey flavour. Freshly ground cumin is also in spice mixes and curries for a more intense flavour.

9. Ginger

This slightly sweet and pungent herb mellows down with cooking, but bitter when burned. It has a warm bite and is a prominent ingredient in many dishes.

10. Coriander leaves

This herb is mostly known for the burst of freshness it lends to any dish that it is added to. You could finely chop it and add it to any curry or use it simply for garnishing purposes.

11. Mustard seeds

Although they have a faint, subtle flavour, mustard seeds (both yellow and black) are used as a condiment in a variety of recipes.

12. Curry leaves

Another herb primarily found in the tropical and subtropical region has made its way into Indian kitchens, thanks to its unique, albeit subtle flavour. It lends a nutty aroma with citrus undertones that is comparable with anise and lemongrass. It is more popular in South Indian cuisine, but North Indians also use it on occasion.

13. Saffron

The most expensive spice in the world, saffron is not exactly an essential one in Indian spice racks. However, it is quite popular and irreplaceable in certain recipes like kesar kulfi and Biryani. It’s subtle floral notes elevate the dish considerably.

Essential Indian spices used in Chicken Biryani. Ravintola Indian Palace restaurant Finland.

Notable mentions:

  • Kashmiri  chilli powder
  • Fennel seeds
  • Bay leaves
  • Tamarind
  • Nutmeg and mace
  • Star anise

Most of the above mentioned spices are ground before adding to spice mixes like garam masala and Indian five-spice.

We, at India Palace Restaurant, use these above-mentioned spices and herbs to present to you authentic Indian culinary experience.

P.S. If cooking feels like too much work, you can always order authentic Indian food from Ravintola India Palace Restaurant. We are available for online orders, home delivery, and takeaways.