10 Essential Spices for Indian Cooking

July 2, 2011

Indian cookery is known for the plethora of spices used in its dishes.  Here are the ten most used spices that should always be in your spice cabinet to make your favorite Indian foods.

Ajwain Seeds: Small seeds that resemble celery seeds.  Usually only available in Indian markets.  Its aroma lies between dried thyme and oregano.

Cardamom: A spice generally sold in its pod form.  Indian cookery utilizes the green pods but if unavailable in your area, use the white or brown pods.  When cooking with them, take care to remove the seeds from their pods.

Cayenne Pepper: The ground version of the cayenne chile

Cumin Seeds: This spice is readily available in most grocery stores in its seed and ground form.  It has a smokey flavor.  It is best to purchase to the whole seeds and grind them as needed.

Curry Powder: a mixture of spices usually including turmeric, cumin, and cinnamon.

Fennel Seeds: Similar to cumin seeds but with an anise flavor.

Fenugreek Seeds: These seeds squarish yellow seeds give curry powder its unique odor.

Garam Masala: A spice mixture that is used in many Indian dishes.

Kalonji Seeds: Black tear-dropped shaped seeds that have a carrotlike flavor. Exclusively sold in Indian grocers.

Black Mustard Seeds: These seeds can be found in black or reddish brown.  The yellow mustard seeds are a good substitute if you cannot find the black seeds.

Turmeric: A bright yellow powder that is the key ingredient in curry powder.


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Gregory Mitchell's picture

I love Indian food! I sometimes make a few things here at home such as Naan and some aloo dishes. It never quite reaches the same flavor as those in my favorite Indian Restaurant, however.

Janet Vandenabeele's picture

"Exclusively sold in Indian grocers" kind of forgets that whole online shopping thing. Plenty of spice vendors online sell to a global palate, and have fresh, reliable Indian as well as Arabic, Asian, European and good old Ah-mur-ican spices for sale. Pay attention and they may even offer organic and/or wild-crafted herbs and spices.