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My Indian Spices 101

As I have mentioned before, Indian cuisine – flavors, methods, textures, colors and aromas, all vary from one region to another in India. There is a strong influence of locally available produce, grains, meats and seafood on what people cook and eat in any part of India. To a person who is new to Indian cooking, the list of basic spices needed for any recipe can be unnerving. But please don’t be intimidated by the spice list, once you’ve stocked up your pantry with the basics, you’re set. If you think, you won’t be cooking Indian foods as frequently, I would suggest buying your spices at the bulk section of your grocery store. This way you can buy as much or as little as you like. Or pick the smallest package that is available at your Indian/Asian grocery store. Also, you can store your spices in the freezer to maintain their freshness and flavor for a longer time.

My spice essentials, in order of frequency of use and liking are:

  1. Coriander powder – Made from coriander seeds. These come from coriander/cilantro plant and help in digestion. I cannot function without fresh ground coriander powder in my kitchen. I buy coriander seeds and then grind them to a powder using my coffee grinder – which I don’t use for grinding coffee…:P. I like my coriander powder to retain some texture so I don’t grind it to an absolute powder. This way it adds a nice texture to the curries/lentils that I use it in.
  2. Cumin – Cumin seeds along with asafoetida (known as Heeng) are the absolute starting point of my most vegetarian dishes. Toasting cumin seeds in oil to release its earthy and warm flavor is Indian cooking done right from the very beginning. Cumin seeds can be dry roasted and ground to a powder to be used in certain curries or flavoring yogurt to make raita. Cumin seeds also form the base of garam masala, which is a magical blend of various spices and is used to finish a dish.
  3. Turmeric – This deep yellow spice comes from the dried root of turmeric plant. Growing up, my father would plant turmeric and it would sit neglected in a corner of our vegetable patch for months. When it was time to harvest, tiny, almost ginger like roots would be dug out and set to dry. Fresh turmeric is very potent and has a very strong flavor. It can be added to smoothies (in a very small amount) to reap its health benefits. Using turmeric in your foods daily is really good for you with the benefits ranging from it being anti-inflammatory, immune-boosting, anti-depressant, good for your bones, can be used in managing diabetes, among others. A cup of steaming milk with some turmeric and honey mixed in it is a go to remedy for coughs, colds, and provides comfort if you have any sort of injury. Turmeric adds a distinct yellow tinge to any dish it’s added to. I use a tiny bit of turmeric in almost all of my recipes.
  4. Red Chilli powder – There is wide range of ‘hotness’ in which you can buy chilli powders, ranging from burning hot to extremely mild. I do add chilli powder to my Indian recipes but mostly for color so I normally use a mild red chilli powder.
  5. Ajwain – or carom seeds is another indian/middle-eastern spice that promote digestion and over-all gut health. These look like a smaller version of cumin seeds, just more round. It has a strong pungent flavor and a small amount of ajwain used in any dish can result in an “ajwain-flovored” dish..:P. Its great to be used in flat breads made for breakfast to give your day a kick-start and is also used in dishes that are ‘heavy’ or difficult to digest.
  6. Mustard Seeds – are not traditionally used in North Indian dishes and is more prominently used in South India. I often make south Indian recipes too and that’s where I use mustard seeds for tempering. They are added to hot oil in the beginning of a recipe and they split and pop with heat to release a beautiful smell and flavor the oil.
  7. Green Cardamom – A very potent spice with a beautiful, fresh but strong flavor. It is used a lot in desserts and also in most of rich, and creamy gravies or curries. Dr. A. also uses it in his tea and can also be added to a lot of rice, biryani and pulao dishes. The pods can be used whole to flavor the oil in whic a curry is being cooked or the pods can be opened to get the seeds out, which can be then ground to use as a powder.
  8. Others: Other similar spices, each with its own flavor profile and health benefits include whole cloves, cinnamon, fennel seeds, fenugreek seeds, bay leaves, dried fenugreek leaves (kasuri methi) etc.

Traditionally, the everyday used spices are kept in a masaaldaani/masala dabba, also simply called a spice box. It is your go-to box and has an assembly of spices that you need to quickly temper a daal, make a curry or any dry dish. It is a must have if you cook Indian food 4-5 times a week. Here is mine:

I can go on and on about all other masalas used – which are basically mixtures of the above spices plus some others in different combinations and quantities..but that’s a post for another day!

Love – Vaishali.


  1. Urmila deven

    September 15, 2018 at 5:44 pm

    Great information about all Indian spices…
    I love photo actually


  2. Stephanie | Adventures in Aussieland

    September 16, 2018 at 4:01 am

    I have severe gastrointestinal disorders and recently have only been able to stomach liquids. I was in Bali for two weeks for work and oh my goodness, the food totally helped out my stomach. I really need to learn some more Indian dishes because they were incredible and totally settled my stomach issues.

  3. The Mami Cam

    September 16, 2018 at 10:57 am

    This is so cool! thank you for sharing I now know where to used them, I have a few of those at home 🙂

  4. Annie Cho

    September 16, 2018 at 11:43 pm

    I love all these spices, especially turmeric! There’s so many health benefits to it as well!

  5. Casey

    September 17, 2018 at 2:00 am

    I love spices for all my cooking. They have so many health benefits as well as taste amazing too. No matter what type of protein, veg, you can always find the right spice combinations to the best taste. Shame that we cannot always get everything in the market but enough for the most popular ones.

  6. Rosey

    September 17, 2018 at 4:50 am

    I feel a little out of the loop but I thought chili powder was only one type of hotness. I guess I need to get with it and explore the flavors available besides traditional.

  7. LavandaMichelle

    September 17, 2018 at 7:18 am

    I love to eat these nicely and sometimes Spicy foods. Never tried at home, but I have several lovely restaurants in my area. I think I might add some seasons into my food.

  8. Erica

    September 17, 2018 at 8:11 am

    very interesting… ive always been into herbs and spices.. really wanna know the science behind their effects on food/ taste… really hope to learn more from you!

  9. Devyani Ray

    September 17, 2018 at 2:41 pm

    You covered the basics well! Lovely post.

  10. Stacey

    September 17, 2018 at 7:08 pm

    The only one I have’t tried in Ajwain. I’ll have to look for recipes that use it in the future.

  11. Evelyn Hernandez

    September 17, 2018 at 9:27 pm

    We love turmeric and use it often. I even use it in our golden milk every evening

  12. LiveLoveAndAdventure

    September 17, 2018 at 11:34 pm

    I don’t use many spices in my cooking but recently found a few recipes that include tumeric, and love it! It has definitely made me want to be a little more adventurous with my cooking!

  13. Oana Durican

    September 18, 2018 at 11:26 am

    Though I am not used to adding many spices in my food, I must admit that some of them are very healthy too.

  14. Katherine G Beck

    September 19, 2018 at 8:42 am

    I have not tried Ajwain, but will look out for it. I have to tell you, I have only recently discovered how truly wonderful Indian spices are- and the cuisine overall. Most of my life I always assumed I did not like, but never really gave it a chance. But boy was I ever wrong…turmeric is now one of my favorites and I love coriander – i have even found ways to incorporate into a few sweets I make too.

    1. Vaishali

      September 19, 2018 at 11:09 pm

      Thanks Katherine for your kind words. My kitchen cannot function without coriander.

  15. Mommy Sigrid

    September 19, 2018 at 11:02 am

    I have never tried the cardamom and mustard seeds ever. I wonder how they taste. Well, I have yet to come across a recipe using them anyway. So for now, I don’t need them.

  16. Acupofassamtea

    September 19, 2018 at 1:37 pm

    I can’t imagine my kitchen and cooking without those spices. Lovely informative post.

  17. Lenna

    September 28, 2018 at 8:09 am

    Indian cuisine is very interesting. A lot of things ade happening to my mouth when eating Indian food. Nice to know the spices behind ☺️

  18. Magen

    June 7, 2019 at 3:04 pm

    I discovered cardamum a few years back and absolutely fell in love with it. It’s probably one of my favorite spices now, right up there with cinnamon and ginger, and clove. I actually add it to most of “fall” spiced baking now for just that little bit of an added zing. It never fails to get compliments.

  19. oreoluwa moronfola

    June 7, 2019 at 5:29 pm

    I love spices, in my country the spicier the food the better that’s why i love Indian food. And spices are really good for you.

  20. Janet E Rose

    June 7, 2019 at 9:06 pm

    I am very glad to learn about this. I enjoy cooking, but I do not always try new things. You have inspired me to try something new. Thank you for sharing.

  21. Sophie

    June 7, 2019 at 11:44 pm

    We Indians can never be tired of using or showing off our masala dabbas. Such a beautiful post.

  22. Neil Alvin

    June 8, 2019 at 12:17 am

    Now I know why Indian dishes tastes awesome. 🙂

  23. Megan

    June 8, 2019 at 9:34 am

    I already have a few of these, and am definitely adding the rest of them to my spice collection so I can try new recipes. Thanks for sharing!

  24. siennylovesdrawing

    June 8, 2019 at 8:31 pm

    enjoyed my read & learnt a lot of spices ideas & benefits from this sharing. Thanks for sharing this! cheers, siennylovesdrawing

  25. Pool Operator Talk

    June 8, 2019 at 9:32 pm

    the medicinal properties of Indian spices are amazing and vast. I’ve recently began investigating the use of Turmeric and so far I have been super impressed with the results,

  26. Jessie

    June 9, 2019 at 8:46 am

    I love cooking with spices, especially ones I can grow in my yard. Thanks for sharing this information, I can’t wait to try some of your recipes!

  27. Ashli Ferguson

    June 9, 2019 at 8:11 pm

    I’ve never really used a lot of herbs or spices but these sound really good!

  28. Alexa Pilo

    June 9, 2019 at 10:39 pm

    Spices are a great ingredient in all meals, they put that gourmet touch! However, using some spices in infusion or teas also helps health. thanks for sharing.

  29. Thuy

    June 10, 2019 at 1:45 am

    I love eating foods with varying spices and flavors. My mom has a majority of these spices at home for when she cooks

  30. Blake Ancell

    June 10, 2019 at 7:39 am

    Wow I never knew this… thanks for the info!

  31. Blairvillanueva

    June 10, 2019 at 8:12 am

    Thanks for sharing lots of this info. Indian spices are really good 🙂

  32. Ukiyoto

    June 10, 2019 at 9:52 am

    Love reading your posts more so the comments underneath.. Is really a good freshener after a hard day.. 🙂

  33. Hailey

    June 10, 2019 at 10:14 am

    Such great basic spices! I’ll definitely try to incorporate these more into my everyday eating 🙂

  34. pooja Malkani

    June 10, 2019 at 1:03 pm

    amazing post!Medicinal properties of spices are quite surprising.

  35. Samantha Flores

    June 10, 2019 at 3:59 pm

    Interesting choices in spices! My cupboard is very bland, unfortunately. I just may need to spice it up (pun intended) with some of your selections mentioned here!

  36. Hackytips

    June 10, 2019 at 4:26 pm

    Now I can show this post to my foreign friends who keep on asking about Indian spices. Great work!

  37. Sarah Meh

    June 11, 2019 at 11:13 am

    I love Indian spices. The aroma is just awesome! * smeh

  38. Reshma

    June 18, 2021 at 11:24 am

    This blog is very informative and easy to understand .Thanks for sharing!!!


    Organic Turmeric
    Organic Cardamom
    Organic Pepper
    Organic Dried ginger
    Organic clove

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