India is known for its spicy food and its immense use of spices in almost every dish. Spice, known as masala, is the heart of every Indian Kitchen. Indian spices make a dish complete in every way, and it has ruled the hearts and stomachs of every men and women across the world. It is often said Indian food doesn’t contain spices but spices consists of the food. In the past, many countries tried to invade India giving it to the lure of spice but everyone failed to do so. Spices are the first thing to be associated with the sub-continent by the world. Every spice has a distinct aroma and taste and combination of various spices creates a magic in the dish. They are also used for medicinal and health purposes and to preserve food. In India, spices are region specific and differ from region to region. Some spices are used extensively in northern India but are not used much in the southern region. So, here is a list of top ten most commonly used Indian spices:
10. Green Cardamom
Green cardamom is amongst the few most expensive spices found in the kitchen. It is a green colour seed pod having black small seeds in its shell. Having a nice strong aroma and taste, it is often used as a flavoring agent in tea, desserts and dishes. It also has medicinal properties and is used for gum and teeth problems. To get the best effect and typical aroma, the pod is opened at the time of use and the seeds are crushed properly and then added. Cardamom is also found in black colour which is bigger in size than the green one and is mainly used in main course dishes.
Cinnamon is the bark of an evergreen tree and is yellowish brown in colour. Native to India, this spice is widely used as a flavoring agent as well as for medicinal purposes. It is used both in sweet as well as savory foods. The stick of this spice is used in pulaos and biryanis also in curries. Cinnamon oil is also found prepared from the cinnamon bark which is effective in killing mosquitoes. It is a natural remedy for tooth problems and bad breath. Usually the bark is sautéed in oil to have a nice, warm and earthy fragrance and taste. The bark is used in powder form as well as dried sticks in cooking.
Ginger is generally believed to be the stem of the plant than the root. It has a pungent smell,and a bitter taste found all over India. It is known for its medicinal properties and is a great remedy for cold, cough and tonsils. Ginger has a special place in the kitchen and is used in the grounded form. Its use ranges from north Indian dishes to south Indian cuisines like rasam and sambars. It is also used in Chinese dishes. Fresh ginger is used in cooking, whereas the dried form forms part of medicines.
7. Coriander Seeds
Coriander seeds are derived from the dried leaves of coriander leaves. Greenish golden in colour, hollow in shape, it has a fresh crunchy taste. Usually the seeds are used in a powdered form in dishes. Also known as dhania, the powdered form of it loses its smell and taste after sometime. So it is always advisable to either store the powder in an airtight container or to grind the seeds when needed. The seeds are sometimes roasted before grinding to have a different flavor and taste. It is one of the main ingredients in spice mixtures like garam masala and sambar masala.
Also known as the devil’s dung or hing, asafetida is known for its dark colour and pungent smell. Originated in America, asafetida has now placed itself among the top spices in the subcontinent. It is a sap of the stem or root of a plant and is dried to get a hard resin like substance. Almost every dish especially Sambars and Rasams in south India has a special flavor of hing. It is very hard and is usually broken down into powder form with the help of hammer. A little amount of this spice goes a long way and thus is used in a limited quantity for giving a seasoning and tempering flavor to the food.
5. Cumin Seeds
Also known as Jeera, cumin is widely used in Indian Kitchens as a flavoring agent. Native to Mediterranean area, cumin seeds belong to a parsley family. Used in the beginning of the dish as well as in the tadka to give a strong aroma, cumin seeds are used as a condiment in dishes. It is used extensively in the northern part of India. It is a great medicine for digestive problems and helps in reducing acidity. It is highly rich in Iron and is advisable for anemic people and lactating or expecting mothers. Although cumin seeds have a comparatively large proportion of iron, very large amount of cumin would require to be consumed to serve as an important dietary source.
Generally black in colour and round in shape, pepper has made Indian spices famous especially during medieval times. Pepper is found in white and black form derived from the pepper tree. Dried berry of the tree forms black pepper, whereas white pepper is the seed. It is used in powder as well as in whole form. Having many medicinal properties, it helps in reducing cholesterol level and diabetes. It has a pungent taste and smell and is used in salads as well as main courses. Black pepper is a great solution for acne and is a good anti-oxidant. The powdered form of black pepper is used to marinate meat and in curries.
3. Turmeric or Haldi
Turmeric in a yellow colored spice forming an important part of Indian spices. Being in the ginger family, Turmeric has many medicinal properties as well. It is used in various areas like medicine, coloring, dyeing and cosmetics. Turmeric is mostly used in Indian dishes, but western cuisines also use it as part of sausages to add a yellow color to the dish. It is also used as a substitute for saffron and is used in perfumes. Applying turmeric along with besan on skin prevents dry skin, treats acne and is a superb natural fairness cream. Having anti inflammatory properties, turmeric also is a healing agent for liver disorders and other digesting problems. Applying turmeric powder directly on the wound helps in preventing excessive bleeding.
2. Red Chilli or Lal Mirch
Yes! Red chilli is indeed the “King of Spices” Spicy Indian cuisine is just incomplete without hot red chilli powder, also known as Lal Mirch. Not only a spicy taste, but it also adds a beautiful red color to the dish. It was introduced to Indians in the 15th century by the Portuguese. Red chilli is either used in powder form to sprinkle in the food or it is also used in whole form as a part of tadka. Rich in multivitamins and potassium, red chilli helps in controlling diabetes as well as cholesterol levels with their analgesic and anti-bacterial nature.
1. Carom Seeds or Ajwain
Carom seeds also known as Ajwain are dark yellow in color and are very fragrant and light in nature. It is a common ingredient for every Ayurvedic medicine and is also commonly used for getting rid of dandruff. You can find ajwain in almost every Indian kitchen and is often used as a part of tadka. Used in pickles and dishes, ajwain also helps in curing dysentery and diarrhea. Ajwain oil can also be applied to get rid of the pain in a body part. The taste of carom seeds is so pungent that it dominates the dish even if used in small quantity. It is a great stomach ache reliever when taken with a pinch of salt and water.