Introduction to Indian Spices

IMG_1360Traditional Masala Box (Indian Spice Box)

Turmeric, Black Mustard seeds, Coriander powder, Cumin seeds, Cumin powder, Chili powder (cayenne pepper), Garam masala (in the center)

Indian recipes use a variety of spices – whole, chopped, ground, roasted, sautéed, fried and as topping. Below are the most common spices used in most recipes. All of these spices can be found at your local Indian grocery stores, and many can be found at Whole Foods (check the bulk section for lower prices) or other natural food markets.

The NY Times also has a great short video on how to toast and grind your own spices using a spice (coffee) grinder or mortar/pestle.


IMG_1364Turmeric is a root of a plant from the ginger family. It is dried and ground to fine powder and is bright yellow in color. It should be used in very small amounts in cooking as it has a slight bitter taste.  It is also called curcumin, and it is known to have health benefits for arthritis and anti inflammatory conditions.

Black Mustard Seeds

IMG_1362Black mustard seeds are the small seeds of mustard plants, and available at Indian grocery stores.  These seeds release a pungent flavor when added to hot oil and they “pop”.


Coriander SeedsCoriander also known as cilantro, is an annual herb. The dried seed of the coriander plant (above) is used whole, crushed (below) or ground finely.

Corinader Powder Coriander or cilantro leaves can be used as a garnish or added to various dishes in recipes.

Coriander leaves (Cilanthro)


IMG_1363Cumin is used as the seed or as a powder, and occasionally roasted as well.

Cummin Powder

Chili Powder/Dry Red Chilies

IMG_1365Chili powder is ground from dry cayenne peppers – it is different from Mexican “chili powder’. The intensity of heat can vary depending on the brand, so start with a minimum amount and adjust according to taste.

IMG_1387Cayenne peppers are dried in the sun and are used to flavor recipes with a touch of heat by frying them.


IMG_1381These are pods containing tiny seeds, from a plant of the ginger family.  It can be used whole or the seeds can be removed and powdered. It is used to flavor desserts and other dishes.

Garam Masala

IMG_1366Garam Masala is a blend of various Indian spices and typically consists of: Coriander, Cloves, Cinnamon, Cumin, and Cardamom. It is generally used in meat or chicken recipes.




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