When spicy Indian food is mentioned, the first thing that strikes a person’s mind is undoubtedly the mouthwatering curries in Indian cuisine and the flavorsome ‘masalas’. It can be said that Indian cooking is popular for its distinctive varieties of flavored spices and food diversity. It is the spices in Indian cuisine that define the taste of Indian food. The specialty about Indian food lies in the fact that it uses distinct varieties of both, dry and fresh spices in varying proportions and combinations to make exquisite dishes. There are innumerable types of spices that are used in Indian cooking, viz, turmeric, cumin, black pepper, mustard seeds, cardamom, cloves, fennel seeds, ginger, garlic, bay leaves and chilies. The manner in which the spices are used to add taste to the dish differs from recipe to recipe, like in some dishes, spices are used ground or whole, while in others, the spices are either roasted or fried. In some dishes, the spices are used in the form of pastes. From one region to another in India, differences can be spotted in terms of the usage of spices, but despite these diversities, the ingredients, more or less, tend to remain the same.
Popular Indian Spices
Indian food is synonymous with colors, piquant taste, richness and heady aromas. If one goes to the market, ready-made and fresh spices will be readily available. Heralded as the ‘land of spices’, India offers a diverse range of cuisines that burst in the mouth and mostly use common spices that are used in all parts of the country. No Indian dish is complete, regardless of the region it comes from, without spices. Listed below are some of the spices used in the typical Indian kitchen.
Cumin seeds, also known as ‘jeera’ in India, are some of the most widely used spices, both, in North and South India. It is often used for tempering, and is popularly used in the preparation of dry masalas and curry dishes. One of its greatest health benefits is that it is known to improve the digestive processes.
Turmeric powder also known as ‘Haldi’ in India is also one of the most commonly used spices that contains numerous health benefits, one of which is healing wounds and curing topical related diseases. It is known for imparting a distinctive yellow color to the curry or rice dishes and has numerous medicinal properties. Other benefits include curing cold and the fact that it is rich in anti-oxidants.
Red Chili Powder
Red chili powder, commonly used along with turmeric powder, is a deadly combination of flavor and color. No Indian cuisine is complete without using the red chili powder. Different chili powders manufactured in India vary in coarseness, spice and color. For eg: the chili powder from Kashmir is known for its vibrant red color but is known to be moderately spicy.
Ginger and garlic go hand-in-hand in Indian cuisine. They are used to impart a distinctive pungent flavor to the dish and are also known to have various medicinal properties. Ginger helps in the digestive activities of the body whereas garlic is known to have antioxidant properties.
Mint, coriander and bay leaves are some of the most common leaves used in cooking. They are mainly used for garnishing purposes in curry or rice dishes, and can also be made into sauces in a blender, which is then consumed in combination with popular dishes like ‘tandoori chicken’ or other grilled varieties. Mint leaves are mostly used in the preparation of the dipping sauce. Curry leaves are also widely used in preparation of curries.
These seeds are known for their medicinal value, particularly in the case of digestive problems. However fennel seeds are roasted and then ground to make a fine powder, which are later used in preparation of curry dishes and even rice dishes like biryani.
There is an old classic belief that if nursing mothers take fennel milk with jaggery, it will help in the production of breast milk. In South India, it is mostly used in the preparation of dishes like ‘sambar’, ‘rasam’ etc. It is roasted and ground to powder and used in these dishes. Whereas in North Indian dishes, it is used in cottage cheese, commonly known as ‘paneer’ dishes and is also used in its leaf form, known as ‘kasoor methi’.
Listed above were some of the predominantly used spices in India that is common to both, North Indian and South Indian dishes. These spices are known to add spice, color and flavor to the dish and are also packed with numerous health benefits.