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


Adrak Ginger Used as fresh and also Dried Powder form, see “Sonth”
Aamchur/Amchoor powder Sour mangopowder gives fish curries tartness
Achar Indian pickle Hundreds of varieties exist. All are interesting.
Ajmud Celery /radhuni seed
Ajwain Carom/thymeseed
Amla Indian gooseberry
Anardana Pomegranateseed Dried not fresh. Is ground in Middle East.
Bazil / Basil Fresh basil
mayur Badam Almond
Choti Elaichi Green cardamom Malabar variety is native to Kerala.
Badi Elaichi Black cardamom Very earthy and darkly aromatic.
Chakra Phool Star anise Exotic, chinese influenced flavors
Chironji Charoli a type of nut particularly used in making desserts
Camiki Mangoextract
Dalchini Cinnamon Grown commercially in Kerala in southern India. Two types, cassia (common) and royal.
Dhania Corianderseed
Garam Masala Spice mixture Blend of 8+ spices. Each family has their own secret recipe.
Gulab Jal Rose water Flavors desserts. Heavily used in Middle East.
Gur Jaggery(unrefined sugar) from the sap of the sugarcaneor date palm
Haldi Turmeric Source of “yellow color” in many curries.
Hari dhaniya Freshcoriander Fresh green leaves. AKA Cilantro.
Harad / hime Terminalia chebula
Hari Mirch Green chili pepper
Dhania powder/ Pisa Dhania Corianderpowder
Hing Asafoetida Intensely aromatic – related to Truffle and Garlic
Imli Tamarind Provides tartness in South Indian curries
Jaiphal Nutmeg Whole nuts last forever. Powder, only a month.
Javitri Mace Mace is outer covering to nutmeg nut. Similar aroma.
Jeera Cumin seed See Kali Jeera.
Jeera Goli Cumin seed grounded into balls
Jethimadh Licoricepowder
Kachra Capers also known as Kabra, Karer in Hindi
Kadipatta Curry tree orsweet neemleaf Cannot retain flavor when dried. Only use fresh.
Kaju Cashew nut
Kala Namak / Sanchal Black salt Rock salt, but with very sulfury smell.
Kali Elaichi Black cardamom Earthy, much used in North Indian curries.
Kali Mirchi Black pepper Largest producer is the southern Indian state of Kerala.
Kalonji Nigella seed
Kasoori Methi Dried Fenugreekleaf
Katira Goond Gumtragacanth A thickener and coating for desserts
Kebab Cheeni Allspice Tastes of Clove + cinnamon + nutmeg + bayleaf
Kesar, mayur Saffron World’s most expensive spice. Flavoring for rice.
Kesar mari mari Saffron pulp Actually, safflower concentrate
Khajur Dates
Kokum Garcinia indica
Khus Khus Poppy seed
Kudampuli Garcinia gummi-gutta Used in fish preparations of Kerala
Lahsun Garlic
Lal Mirchi Red chili pepper
Lavang Cloves Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka are largest producers in India.
Kali Mirch Peppercorns
Methi leaves Fenugreekleaf
Methi seeds Fenugreekseed
Naaga Keshar Cinnamonbuds
Namak Salt
Nimbu Lemon / Lime
Pudina Mint
Pyaz / Kanda Onion
Panch Phoron This is a Bengali spice mix that combines aniseed, cumin, fenugreek, mustard and nigella
Pathar Ka Phool Kalpasi Also known as black stone flower
Pippali Long pepper
Peeli Mirchi Yellow pepper
Rai Brownmustard seed
Ratin jot Alkanet root
Safed Mirchi White pepper
Saji na phool Citric acid
Sarson Mustard seed
Sarson Tel Mustard oil shorsher tel
Saunf/Sanchal Fennel seed
Shahi Jeera Carawayseeds smaller in size than regular
Sirka Vinegar
Soa sag Dill
Sonth Dried ginger mostly powdered
Suwa or Shopa Aniseed
Tej Patta Malabathrum,bay leaf Both Malabathrum and Bay Leaf are similar and called as Tej Patta in Hindi. however, they are from two different families with difference in taste
Til Sesame seed
Shimla Mirch Capsicum
Kali Zeera Black cumin Sweet, floral and smoky cumin and anise-like flavor.
Tulsi Holy basil

About Naufal Khan

Publisher & editor of Indian Spice.

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