indian spices

Indian spices explained…

Ever since I can remember when deciding on the brand name of Indianspice, I promisedindian spices myself that I would eventually write an article on spices. That day has finally arrived. Apart from Indianspice the premier Indian lifestyle website being your non profit website of information of everything Indian and Indian alike, what is the Indian spice?  Spices have been used for enhancing flavour to meat, roots, leaves and pulses. During the 1400’s, there was an apt expression: “No man should die who can afford cinnamon.” This referred to the lucrative spice trade that existed between India and the rest of the world.

Cassia, ginger, turmeric, pepper and cardamom as well as the coveted cinnamon established this land on the global market, even centuries ago. The origin of the spices was kept a strict secret by those bringing these spices into different parts of the world, which caused the merchants and consumers to come up with intriguing tales and legends, lending the spice trade a sense of deep mystery. This industry played a key role in various events and developments, one of which was the very discovery of America. This discovery was as a result of the European determination to establish their own spice trade, so that the Arab merchants no longer had the monopoly.

Indian spices have a variety of spices and herbs that are grown across the Indian subcontinent.  A spice is grown in a variety of climates all over the Indian diaspora. Over time Indian spice has been taken to other countries where some are able to produce Indian spices successfully.


How are spice prepared for cooking?

Spices are typically heated in a pan with ghee (a vegatable cooking oil)  ghee or your normal off the shelf cooking oil before being added to a dish. Lighter spices are added last, and spices with strong flavor should be added first. Curry is not a spice, but a term which refers to any side dish in Indian cuisine. It could be with a gravy base or a dry item. A curry typically contains several spices blended together. But its term is used loosely these days where you will be able to buy a mix masala or generally known as chilly powder to make cooking apparently easier to cook.

We have learnt from our parents over the years especially the Durban to Joburg residents that ‘buy in bulk’ from the Spice Emporium at Gateway so you are stocked up until your next drive or fly down to Durban. Don’t cringe at my statement as you know I am right.

I travelled to Mauritius recently and spent time with two amazing chefs from the five star hotels of Long Beach and Le Touessrok and according to them spices should be acquired weekly and never in bulk as the temper of the flavour is degraded if you stock in bulk. Now watch out for my next column on the legendary cook book known as the ‘Indian Delights’. A must have in every woman and man’s kitchen!

Here is a list of spices that originally come from India.

Indian Name

English Name


AdrakGingerUsed as fresh and also Dried Powder form, see “Sonth”
Aamchur/Amchoor powderSour mangopowdergives fish curries tartness
AcharIndian pickleHundreds of varieties exist. All are interesting.
AjmudCelery /radhuni seed
AmlaIndian gooseberry
AnardanaPomegranateseedDried not fresh. Is ground in Middle East.
Bazil / BasilFresh basil
mayur BadamAlmond
Choti ElaichiGreen cardamomMalabar variety is native to Kerala.
Badi ElaichiBlack cardamomVery earthy and darkly aromatic.
Chakra PhoolStar aniseExotic, chinese influenced flavors
ChironjiCharolia type of nut particularly used in making desserts
DalchiniCinnamonGrown commercially in Kerala in southern India. Two types, cassia (common) and royal.
Garam MasalaSpice mixtureBlend of 8+ spices. Each family has their own secret recipe.
Gulab JalRose waterFlavors desserts. Heavily used in Middle East.
GurJaggery(unrefined sugar)from the sap of the sugarcaneor date palm
HaldiTurmericSource of “yellow color” in many curries.
Hari dhaniyaFreshcorianderFresh green leaves. AKA Cilantro.
Harad / himeTerminalia chebula
Hari MirchGreen chili pepper
Dhania powder/ Pisa DhaniaCorianderpowder
HingAsafoetidaIntensely aromatic – related to Truffle and Garlic
ImliTamarindProvides tartness in South Indian curries
JaiphalNutmegWhole nuts last forever. Powder, only a month.
JavitriMaceMace is outer covering to nutmeg nut. Similar aroma.
JeeraCumin seedSee Kali Jeera.
Jeera GoliCumin seed grounded into balls
KachraCapersalso known as Kabra, Karer in Hindi
KadipattaCurry tree orsweet neemleafCannot retain flavor when dried. Only use fresh.
KajuCashew nut
Kala Namak / SanchalBlack saltRock salt, but with very sulfury smell.
Kali ElaichiBlack cardamomEarthy, much used in North Indian curries.
Kali MirchiBlack pepperLargest producer is the southern Indian state of Kerala.
KalonjiNigella seed
Kasoori Methi DriedFenugreekleaf
Katira GoondGumtragacanthA thickener and coating for desserts
Kebab CheeniAllspiceTastes of Clove + cinnamon + nutmeg + bayleaf
Kesar, mayurSaffronWorld’s most expensive spice. Flavoring for rice.
Kesar mari mariSaffron pulpActually, safflower concentrate
KokumGarcinia indica
Khus KhusPoppy seed
KudampuliGarcinia gummi-guttaUsed in fish preparations of Kerala
Lal MirchiRed chili pepper
LavangClovesAndhra Pradesh, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka are largest producers in India.
Kali MirchPeppercorns
Methi leavesFenugreekleaf
Methi seedsFenugreekseed
Naaga KesharCinnamonbuds
NimbuLemon / Lime
Pyaz / KandaOnion
Panch PhoronThis is a Bengali spice mix that combines aniseed, cumin, fenugreek, mustard and nigella
Pathar Ka PhoolKalpasiAlso known as black stone flower
PippaliLong pepper
Peeli MirchiYellow pepper
RaiBrownmustard seed
Ratin jotAlkanet root
Safed MirchiWhite pepper
Saji na phoolCitric acid
SarsonMustard seed
Sarson TelMustard oilshorsher tel
Saunf/SanchalFennel seed
Shahi JeeraCarawayseedssmaller in size than regular
Soa sagDill
SonthDried gingermostly powdered
Suwa or ShopaAniseed
Tej PattaMalabathrum,bay leafBoth Malabathrum and Bay Leaf are similar and called as Tej Patta in Hindi. however, they are from two different families with difference in taste
TilSesame seed
Shimla MirchCapsicum
Kali ZeeraBlack cuminSweet, floral and smoky cumin and anise-like flavor.
TulsiHoly basil

About Naufal Khan

Publisher & editor of Indian Spice.

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