Understanding Spices /Herbs used in Indian cooking

These are a few of the spices that are the building blocks of Indian food!

Starting in alphabetical order

ASAFETIDA (hing / हींग)

It’s a gum like resin made from the combination of three giant fennel spices. Its very strong in smell but has a good taste when used in cooking.

This spice is used as a digestive aid, in food as a condiment, and in pickles. It typically works as a flavor enhancer and, used along with turmeric, is a standard component of Indian cuisine, particularly in lentil curries, such as dal. Some of its medicinal uses are anti flatulent, digestive aid, antimicrobial properties, anti epileptic and antidote for opium.

It’s native to the mountains of Afghanistan and is cultivated near India.

BAY LEAVES (tez patta)

In Indian and Pakistani cuisine, bay leaves are most often used in rice dishes like biryani and as an ingredient in garam masala. Bay (laurel) leaves are frequently packaged as tejpatta (the Hindi term for Indian bay leaf), creating confusion between the two herbs. 

Bay leaves are added to Indian food for flavor and are not eaten. It infuses aromatic sweetness when sizzled in oil. Also used by roasting and grinding into powder. It’s a part of Garam Masala. If eaten whole, bay leaves are pungent and have a sharp, bitter taste. As with many spices and flavorings, the fragrance of the bay leaf is more noticeable than its taste. 

The ancient Greeks used bay leaves for flavoring. It is a fixture in the cooking of many European cuisines (particularly those of the Mediterranean), as well as in the Americas. They are used in soups, stews, meat, seafood, vegetable dishes, and sauces. The leaves also flavor many classic French dishes. The leaves are most often used whole and removed before serving (they can be abrasive in the digestive tract). 


The plant has a similarity to parsley. Because of their seed-like appearance, the fruit pods are sometimes called seeds; they are egg-shaped and grayish in color.

The raw fruit pod almost exactly like thyme because it also contains thymol, but is more aromatic and less subtle in taste, as well as slightly bitter and pungent. Carom seeds have a hot taste and strong digestive qualities. It’s used in fried foods since its good for digestion.

Trachyspermum ammi originated in the Middle East and the Indian subcontinent, but also in Iran and Afghanistan. They are indigenous to India.


Cumin was mentioned in Bible not only as a seasoning for soups and breads but also as a currency used to pay the priests.

A native from east Mediterranean to India Cumin is used as seeds or ground into powder .It has a very strong, smoky rich and unmistakable flavor. It’s used as an important part of almost all Indian cuisines.

Cumin treats diarrhea and vomiting. Also supposed to be good for vision and strength.


Cloves add a lot of aroma to the food. Its known for it's numbing effect on mouth tissues. Also clove oil is used for aromatherapy.

Clove has an active component called "Eugenol" which is known to prevent toxicity from environmental pollutants like carbon tetrachloride. In the US Eugenol extracts from clove have been used in dentistry in conjunction with root canal therapy, temporary fillings and general gum pain.

Cloves are an excellent source of manganese, omega-3 fatty acids, Vit K, and Vit C.

Cloves are native to the Moluccas formerly known as the Spice Island of Indonesia. Leading clove producing regions are Zanzibar in East Africa, also West Indies, Srilanka, India and Brazil.


Dried berries of the pepper plant adds a great zing to recipes. World’s top quality peppercorns are grown and processed off the coast of Malabar (Kerala).

Peppercorn is the world's most traded spice. Its added in food as well used in many medicinal and beauty products.


Cardamom seeds are added to sweet and savory dishes. They can be used as a whole or crushed.

They are used in many non-vegetarian dishes and in may desserts too.

A green cardamom is a mouth freshener too along with facilitating digestion.

Cardamom flavor is overpowering in food.

Also green cardamom is the most expensive spice.


Uses whole or ground Cilantro/Coriander is the dry fruit of Coriander plant.

It imparts a distinctive lemony flavor to dishes and provides depth to curries.

Cilantro is one of the most important herbs used in Indian cooking.

Cumin and Coriander seeds go had in hand. It’s a part of the Garam Masala.

Coriander is produced commercially in the Russian Federation, India, Morocco and Holland.

Coriander contains antioxidants in both its seeds as well as in leaves. Also it has anticoagulant and detoxifying properties.

In Europe its used traditionally for its anti inflammatory properties .In the US its recently been studied for its cholesterol lowering effects.

CINNAMON (daal cheeni)

Highly aromatic, the stick is not edible but can be used as powder. It’s a part of Garam Masala, also used in tea.

Mexico is the main importer of cinnamon. It’s cultivated in Indonesia (Java and Sumatra)

Cinnamon is known for its anti microbial properties.

CURRY LEAVES (Kari patta)

It’s a small tree whose leaves are used as the main ingredient in the south of India and the coastal regions of India and SriLanka. When sizzled in hot oil it gives its intense flavor.

These leaves are also used as an herb in Ayurvedic medicine.


Fenugreek leaves are used for Indian cooking .Its used in dry form also in many dishes. The seeds add savory flavor to the curries and pickles.

They are bitter but the bitterness dissipates as the seeds are cooked.


Indigenous to the Mediterranean countries Fennel is a member of the parsley family. Its very good for digestion as well used as a mouth freshener.

Fennel seeds are used in variety of dished as well as desserts in Indian cooking.

The top producer of Fennel is India.


Sun dried green mangoes are ground to create this tangy spice with a very sour taste.

Its used in chaat masala as well as in many other dishes and pickles.


Mustard seeds have a very zesty flavor to them.

Mustard leaves are a delicacy in its season in many parts of India. The seeds are also widely used in dishes and curries all around India.

Mustard seed oil is also used in Indian cooking and as body oil.


Strangely many people haven’t heard about Onion seeds used in cooking.

It has no relation to onions though. Used in Indian food and, in Middle Eastern countries on naans and breads.

Nigella has a very strong, smoky and peppery flavor to it.

Its been used as a herb for years, also pressed into oil in Asia, Middle East and Africa.


Fresh pomegranate seeds are sundried and ground.

They add a lovely tangy flavor with some crunch to the dishes.

Even used in Chutneys in India.


Nutmeg trees are indigenous to Indonesia and are also cultivated along the western shores of India.

Its seed or fruit provides nutmeg as well as mace. It’s best when used fresh in terms of flavor.

Nutmeg is used in many Indian dishes and is a part of the Garam Masala for many people.

POPPY SEEDS (Khus khus)

This legal spice from an illicitly used plant Poppy is off white in color .Its comes from Persia. Some other countries that cultivate poppy seeds are Turkey, Czech Republic and Hungary.

Nutty in taste its used in some dishes. Again like many other spices it tastes stronger when sizzled in oil.

Its used as a pack for skin and its oil is also used in multiple culinary, industrial and medicinal uses.


Best Saffron is grown in Kashmir. Its the most expensive spices in the world .It gives a unique perfume and color to the dishes when used.

Saffron is used in many desserts also in India.


Sesame seeds are in black as well as white color. These seeds have a very nutty, earthy flavor.

It’s grown in India, Japan as well in Burma.

-Sesame seeds are a rich source of oil that is used for medicinal purposes. Its rich in Omega- 6 and Omega- 3 fatty acids.

Navneet Saldhi2 Comments