Spices Used in Cooking

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Indian food is known for its strong taste and extensive use of spices. These spices add rich layers of flavours and aromas to any dish. Whether you cook Indian food or simply enjoy Indian fine dining, knowing the main spices used in these dishes can make eating more fun.

Let’s explore them together:


Turmeric is actually a ginger-like rhizome in its natural state. Known by its bright orange hue and a peppery, warm flavour, turmeric can either be grated or roasted and ground into a powder to be used as a spice. Turmeric isn’t just a staple in Indian cuisine-it’s also a powerful anti-inflammatory. Find turmeric in any Indian food with a yellow colour, such as certain fish, meat and chicken curries.


Cinnamon is a great ingredient to use in sweet dishes. It builds flavour and adds a spicy, nutty note to otherwise flat dishes. Order dessert at your favourite Indian restaurant and you’ll probably taste cinnamon. Some curries-such as cinnamon ginger chicken curry-also include cinnamon for a sweeter, more subtle spice.

Mustard Seeds

You can find mustard seeds throughout Indian dishes, especially those from Bengal or southern India. Cooks typically toss them in hot oil to bring out a nutty, warm taste. The oil is then used as a base for many dishes like subz gosht, a delicious lamb and vegetable dish.  Some cooks grind mustard seeds for a sharper flavour and use it for pickling. Brown mustard seeds have a richer, darker flavor while their yellow counterparts have a milder flavor.


Cardamom is the third most expensive spice in the world after vanilla and saffron. This versatile pod is used in things like spiced tea, masalas and a variety of sweets like surti ghari. Some cooks also garnish rice dishes with cardamom.


Nigella seeds have a distinct oniony taste, giving them the alternate name “onion seeds.” North Indian cooks often add nigella in vegetable dishes.  Their bold black colour and curved shape make them a great topping on naan bread. Bengali cooks use nigella in their five-spice mix, panch phoron.


Cloves are used often in Indian cuisine for their rich flavour and spicy aroma. Your mum may put cloves in holiday treats like wassail, a warm spiced cider. But they’re also commonly used in a variety of Indian meat, rice and vegetable dishes. You’ll find ground clove in garam masala.

Curry Leaves

Curry leaves, not to be mistaken with curry powder, are a herb used often in South Indian cooking. They give off a subtle and lemony flavour when cooked. Consider them the bay leaves of Indian cuisine-they’re not powerful enough to be the front runner in most dishes. However, they do help build flavours in dishes like dal, a stewed lentil dish, or vada, fried chickpea flour snacks

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