Stop feeling overwhelmed by the long list of Indian spices a recipe claims you need to make an Indian dish. This list of 5 essential Indian spices is all you need to start your Indian pantry.
A common confusion for most new to cooking Indian food, is the complexity of spices used to make an Indian curry.
Most common or popular Indian recipes will include at least a minimum of 5 spices to be added.
Little do they know that there are few basic Indian spices that can be used to make most of those dishes with ease.
All you need to follow this standard process to make the dish taste authentic.
Here is a list of 5 must-have Indian spices that you need to start cooking Indian food at home without being overwhelmed with all the other spices!
The idea is to start small and built on your Indian spice pantry only after you become comfortable cooking with spices.
Spices Used In Indian Food
Spices in Indian food is indispensable.
And if you ask an Indian cook, condensing a spice list to just 5 basic Indian spices can be quite challenging.
You see Indian food is not just limited to one type of food.
It’s varied, vast and fascinating.
Traditional Indian cuisine and each region within India have their own unique dishes and choice of spices that go to make that dish.
However, there are few spices that are common across the subcontinent and used in all the regions.
So when I was to consolidate a selection of most commonly used Indian spices, I picked these top 5 Indian spices based on the frequency of their use in cooking Indian food.
If you think that all Indian dishes use an arsenal of spices to get that unique taste then there is a surprise in store for you.
A regular home-cooked Indian meal will normally have a small selection of spices that goes in a dish.
The selection can range anything from using 2 spices to as many depending on the complexity of the dish.
You really do not need to buy every single spice and overload your spice rack.
Start with these basic Indian spices to make any curry.
Tips To Buy Best Indian Spices For Maximum Flavour
Spices come in many forms; whole, ground, roasted and roasted ground.
My suggestion for buying spices to add some fresh long lasting flavour to your dishes is to buy whole spices instead of ground spices.
Grinding fresh whole spices have a much better, robust taste and stronger flavour than the already ground one.
But if you are new to using spices for cooking then buying ground spices too is good and maybe easier for you.
What are The 5 Essential Indian Spices
In my quest to zero on spices most frequently used in Indian cooking, I consolidated the list to the 5 most used Indian spices.
It may surprise you to see that I have not listed Red Chilli Powder in the list.
Its because in my personal opinion using fresh green chillies or birds-eye chilli will give that spicy kick you need for your dish
I am not a great fan of red chilli powder as I don’t think it does much to the taste apart from making the dish hot, an important aspect of Indian food which can be achieved with fresh chillies.
They are good on flavour and better for health.
So here’s the list.
Cumin seeds are whole spice very frequently used in Indian cooking to add a characteristic nutty, smoky note to dishes.
They are tiny brown seeds with a very intense flavour. They can be used whole, roasted or in ground form.
Cooking Process: Used whole during the very first step of cooking known as tempering in hot oil.
It is also used to make freshly ground cumin powder for fresh, robust flavour.
It is also very commonly used to blend with other spices to make spice blends.
Used for: Popularly used in rice dishes, lentils, legumes and vegetables. Flavouring for raitas and Indian beverages.
Cooking Tip: You need to be careful when using these tiny seeds as putting them in too hot oil will burn them.
It is best to oil the seeds just before it starts to smoke. Care must also be taken when dry roasting the spices as they tend to burn fast.
Read here for the many benefits of using cumin seeds.
Dish to try: This Spinach Mushroom Rice uses whole cumin seeds as the only spice to add flavour to the dish.
This simply is cumin seeds ground into powder.
You can buy the already powdered ground spice from the store or make your own from whole cumin seeds.
Ground cumin tends to be smokier in flavour as opposed to the woody flavour when in the whole form.
Cooking Process: Use directly during the cooking process or sauteing.
Can also be used to make marinades and other spice blends.
Used for: Popularly used for making many Indian dishes such as vegetables, legumes, meat and fish.
Cooking Tip: It is important to make sure that the raw smell of cumin powder goes away during the cooking process. Leaving the spice uncooked will make the dish pungent with a harsh flavour.
Dish to try: The Next time you make a chilli beef or something similar try adding a teaspoon of cumin powder and lift the flavours like this recipe of Corned Beef Hash
Made from dried coriander seeds, this powdered spice is a must-have in any Indian kitchen.
My recommendation would be to make it fresh from whole coriander seeds but stick to the powdered version if that of convenience to you.
Coriander powder is woody and aromatic, this gives the dish a very typical Indian taste.
Cooking Process: Use straight into the dish during the cooking process and saute well.
Can also be used to make marinades and other spice blends.
Used for: Just like cumin powder, it is also used in many Indian dishes such as vegetables, legumes, meat and fish.
Read here to find out why should you use ground coriander in your food.
Cooking Tip: Like most ground Indian spices, coriander powder too can leave a pungent strong raw smell to the dish if not sauteed well.
Dish to try: Try adding coriander powder in your quinoa and taste the difference. Here is a recipe of Quinoa stuffed peppers for you to try.
The King of Indian spices.
This is one spice that no Indian kitchen can do without.
It’s simply a must-have to make your Indian pantry.
Garam masala powder is essentially a blend of different spices.
Different regions of India have their own garam masala blends but its the North Indian Garam Masala blend which is broadly used in most dishes.
Cooking Process: It can be used directly during the cooking process or sauteing or right at the end of cooking to impart flavour to the dish.
Can also be used to make marinades.
Used for: Popularly used in many Indian dishes such as rice, vegetables, legumes, meat and fish.
Cooking Tip: As Garam masala is a blend of spices adding too much of the spice will overpower the dish and make it taste quite sharp.
Do not exceed more than 2 tsp of this spice in your recipe if making a dish for a minimum of 6 people.
Read here for a complete guide on using Garam masala powder.
This is the famous ‘yellow spice’ which gives an Indian dish the characteristic yellow colour.
More of a colouring agent than a flavouring agent, this spice is now considered the new ‘Super Food’.
It is an offshoot of the ginger family, known for its anti-inflammatory and antiseptic properties.
Cooking Process: To be used directly during the cooking process or sauteing.
Also used to add colour to dishes.
Used for: Popularly used to give a vibrant colour to dishes such as rice, vegetables, legumes meat and fish.
Cooking Tip: Just like Garam masala adding too much of Turmeric powder will lead to strong colour in your hands and also give the dish a pungent taste. Care should be taken not to overuse the spice.
There are numerous benefits of adding turmeric to food. This post explains it in detail.
Dish to try: Adding turmeric powder to this Egg Curry with cashew paste gives the dish a pleasing yellow colour.
Get Your Spice Pantry Started:
This list of 5 essential spices is a good starting point for you to cook home-style Indian dishes.
If you are new to using spices, my suggestion would be to stock up on these essential everyday Indian spices.
Prepare simple easy dishes using them and slowly work your way into using others.
This will help with getting familiar with spices and understand what the primary flavour is and its usage.
It will help you with understanding the texture, smell and the overall impact of the flavour on the dish when cooking with spices.
Once you overcome this initial hurdle of ”Spices are confusing’ you are on your way to Spice Haven!
All you need is a bit of practice with spices.
Starting simple often leads to greater things!!
Your Favorite Indian Spices
There are many Indian spices that you will find in any Indian kitchen. Not all are used everyday.
I am sure you have some of your favourite that you like to use in your dishes?
Do let me know your favourites and share this post and join me to break the myth that cooking Indian food requires an arsenal of spices!