Essential Spices of Indian Cooking

Spices are the soul of Indian food. A variety of distinctly flavorful spices give rise to the aromatic and unique foods that define Indian cuisine. Each spice is carefully chosen to create a specific flavor profile; and when combined these spices complement each other and deliver rich, delicious dishes. More importantly, many of the essential spices of Indian cooking are chosen specifically for health benefits and medicinal purposes so that they promote good health, prevent disease, and also preserve and flavor food. So let's take a moment to discuss some of the most common spices of Indian cuisine.

Carom Seeds

A small, grayish seed, Carmon delivers strong, pungent flavors. Somewhat sharp and slightly bitter, Carom is usually dry roasted or tempered in oil before seasoning a dish. Though common in curries, Carom is also popular in Indian breads, especially in northern regions of the country.


Cinnamon is a popular spice the world over, and there are several different varieties of cinnamon. Chin and Ceylon are the most common types of cinnamon used in India. They have similar flavors, though Ceylon is considered somewhat sweeter and less readily available. Cinnamon tends to be used in stick or powdered forms to flavor savory dishes. Cinnamon sticks may be heated in oil to flavor the cooking of a dish, or it may be added in powder form during the cooking process.


Cloves are one of the most common spices used in Indian cooking as it helps develop strong, warm flavors. This spice is typically used in spicy dishes and the whole clove is cooked in oil or ghee. Alternatively, cloves in ground form are a main ingredient in Garam Masala.


Generally utilized in seed form, coriander provides a more earthy or nutty flavor to foods. Usually ground into powder for cooking purposes.


Also known as Jeera, cumin is common to cuisine all over India. Cumin has an earthy aroma and it is usually used in its raw form.


Fennel seeds are similar to cumin except that they are greener and wider. A standard ingredient of Panch Foron, fennel seeds are dry roasted and especially favored because of their digestive qualities. Fennel is also commonly added to sugar candies as a palate cleanser after meals.


The three main types of mustard utilized in Indian cooking include black mustard, white mustard, and brown mustard. All three varieties may be used in the same dish, though black mustard seeds are generally used in dishes with stronger flavors. Black mustard tends to have the strongest flavor, then brown mustard, and finally white mustard.

As you can see, just a brief introduction to essential spices of Indian cooking highlights the diversity of the cuisine. Depending on what region you are in and the type of food being cooked, there are a wide range of spices you may come into contact with on a daily basis.

Source of Essential Spices of Indian Cooking by Alex Pupkin – author of Essential Spices of Indian Cooking article

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