Add a pinch and see the difference…

There are numerous dry spices in Indian cooking that are used as a prepared mix or on their own. Dry spices can be used as whole or powder form to give a definite taste and aroma to a curry dish. Supermarkets sell various types of dry spices as original or as part of masala mixes for our convenience. Garam masala, Madras powder, Balti masala and other curry powder mixes are some examples of spice blends you can try. To get the best out of a dry spice, Curry2Night recommends to roast it and then either crush or grind to add to a recipe. The aroma and the taste added to your dish is far superior, but only if you have time and effort to do so!


Ancient Indians believed that the kitchen is a source of health and ailments for the whole family. In Ayurveda, dry spices are greatly used to cure many seasonal ailments. Take turmeric, the main ingredient of Indian cooking for its brilliant colour and subtle taste, is a miracle healer and antiseptic ingredient for good health. Fenugreek seeds used in vegetable curries and sambhar, the south Indian delicacy, believed to be curing diabetes. Recent study and research found that eating these spices in our daily diet help maintain a healthy lifestyle and contribute to longevity.

Curry2Night introduces you to the wide range of dry spices and their use in Indian recipes.

  • Clove

Just adding a one clove as a whole or crushed into an Indian recipe like homemade chicken curry or any other vegetarian curry lifts the taste and gives immense flavour and aroma to it. Cloves are dried flower bulbs with dark brown body and give a fierce taste and aroma. A main ingredient in many masala blends where it roasted and powdered to give that inviting fragrance. Native to Indian subcontinent, cloves are called ‘Lavang’ and grown all year around. A must in flavoured rice dishes like Pulavs and Biryani preperations and also widely used in meat and veg recipes. No celebrative meat recipe miss this spicy ingredient.


Care must be taken while adding cloves to a curry along with fresh chillies and red chilli powder since its hotness can be too much to handle. Essential oil of cloves is well know for its medicinal properties. Ayurveda prescribes many forms of clove extracts for treatments and help maintain a healthy lifestyle. Traditionally clove oil is used to heal dental pains and the regular use of clove flavoured toothpaste believed to be helpful to maintain oral health. In the west clove is a festive spice, Christmas main meals are spiced with whole cloves clipping them into lamb, ham or turkey joints.

  • Cardamom

This is an another original spice of India, where grown for centuries and then exported to the world. Green cardamom is the most commonly used spice in Indian cooking although black cardamom, that has stronger smokey flavour also available and sparingly used. Cardamom and clove pair well and generally used together to balance the hot and fierce clove with sweet and aroma of cardamom. One of the most expensive spice, cardamom is a light green colour pod that contains dark seeds. Like clove, this aromatic spice is also used in celebration dishes like Biryanis and Pulavs. Indian tea, called chai is flavoured with crushed cardamom seeds. When preparing a communal tea party whole cardamoms or even just the skin of the pods are generously added to flavour the tea for guests. Most of the south Indian curry recipes use cardamom powder or roasted and crushed pods of cardamom to bring the dish to life. Many Indian sweets and desserts use the cardamom extracts to give special fragrance to finish of a great meal in a celebration.

  • Cinnamon

Known as sweet spice of Shri Lanka, Cinnamon is the dried inner bark of a tree group known as Cinnamomum. Cassia, the brown bark of different tree group native to China is also loosely called ‘Cinnamon’, but the golden yellow curly quills are the original cinnamon from Shri Lanka and also grown in parts of Kerala state of India. Cinnamon in its powder form is used as spice in Indian dishes and added to variety of sweet dishes worldwide. Cinnamon’s sweet taste and aroma gives a counter effect to hotter spices and used as whole in special recipes like sambhar and dals. In the west cinnamon is a main ingredient in baking and desserts. Northern Indian states add cinnamon sticks to milky tea known as masala chai. Many of the savoury items from Gujarat use cinnamon in their recipes to give the sweetness for the addictive taste.

A miracle spice of Indian cuisine that gives life with its bright yellow colour, turmeric is now rigorously researched for its healing medicinal properties. Essentially turmeric is a root like ginger, but looses its strong taste and smell once dried and finely powdered. Any Indian main curry dish is cooked with this special ingredient that gives an appealing colour and subtle taste to it. Turmeric is synonymous to Indian cooking, if you plan to prepare a nice Indian dish, your kitchen spice box must host this ingredient. While marinating a meat dish, turmeric powder is added to it along with the other aromatic dry and fresh spices – to give that inviting bright colour and the antiseptic properties keep the curry fresh and safe. In Ayurveda, turmeric is well known as an important ingredient due to its healing properties. Indian festivals and Hindu traditions use turmeric as ornamental and ritual element to celebrate the goodness of turmeric and give festive colour to the occation. Adding a pinch of turmeric to a curry is not only flavorsome and tasty, but also healthy for us too.

  • Coriander Seeds

The seeds of coriander plant, dried and used in nearly every curry for aroma and warm taste. These are brown coloured rugby ball shaped small seeds with ribbed texture. Roasting of these dried seeds before either used as whole seeds or powdered to add gives beautiful aroma and releases their taste into the recipe cooked. Unlike the parent plant’s leaves, the coriander seeds flavour and fragrance is not offensive, rather welcoming to enjoy the dish. Coriander seeds powder is the main ingredient in masala blends, taking major portion of the blend. The south Indian delicacies like Sambhar or Rasam, the soup type dishes every household prepare for their meals, uses roasted coriander seeds in whole. Plenty of vegetarian recipes are available for you experiment here which use coriander seeds either whole or in the form of powder. The health benefits of coriander seeds also plenty, especially, their goodness help relieve the stomach related pains and indigestion problems. Research shows that the seeds also got antioxidants and bacteria inhibiting properties.

  • Mustard Seeds

The dark brown or dark reddish small ball sized seeds are called mustard seeds, they are mainly used in Indian cooking to give texture and taste. Mustard seed in its paste form is used in the western cooking to give strong taste. Like Jeera, mustard seeds are also fried in hot oil during the beginning of the recipe to give a popping texture to the dish. Apart from infusing nutty taste, the mustard seeds also give a pleasurable feeling to bite into the cooked seeds while enjoying the dish. Mustard seeds, oil and paste form an important ingredient for pickles and recipes in south India. Most of the breakfast items, like Upma and Poha require mustard seeds in cooking to give that addictive texture and taste.

  • Cumin seeds

Known as Jeera in Indian languages, cumin seeds are used as whole or ground in Indian curries. Primarily it is fried in oil during the starting of the recipe, mostly along with mustard seeds when used as whole seeds. It might be added as part of masala powders in the middle of cooking as ground form to give warm and earthly taste. The whole seeds give a nice texture to the dish and aroma once cooked. Cumin seeds are slightly dark brown in colour with nice ribbed texture. Cumin seeds are part of home baking and some western soups. The popular dishes prepared using cumin seeds are: Jeera Rice, Kachori, Chole, Raita, etc. Nearly all the vegetable curry recipes use cumin seeds to flavour and enhance the spicy taste. Cumin seeds release their aroma at its best when fried in ghee. Health benefits of Jeera are mentioned in Ayurveda – for its antifungal properties. Boiled jeera water is used to treat digestion problems and to cure tummy upsets.

Shahi Jeera, or black cumin seeds or caraway are used in festive dishes like meat, fish and biryani dishes. Chicken Pulav is a good example of Shahi Jeera dish.

  • Ajwain

Ajwain has the strongest flavour amongst the other similar looking seeds. The aroma is similar to Thyme. The small oval seeds of ajwain are pale yellow in colour and used in special dishes in Indian cooking. Ajwain is mostly considered as an important health spice rather than for a day to day cooking ingredient. Its medicinal properties are noted since ancient times in Indian and in Ayurveda, many health problems are treated using ajwain seeds. In Indian cooking, a small amounts of ajwain is used to mostly flavour the dish. For treating digestion problems, acidity, migraine relief and earaches, the home remedy is to use ajwain seeds.

  • Black pepper

Black pepper is a very popular and the most traded spice of the world. Not just Indian, but almost all of the world cuisines use black pepper to marinate or spice up recipes to their perfection. Originated in South of India and most exported, black pepper dominates the spice trade in every corner of the world. This black textured ball shaped spice is well known to Indians since ancient times and a main health spice in Ayurveda to cure diseases. Black pepper is added as whole or crushed using a mill or dusted in powder form into a recipe. While cooking Indian soup like dishes called Rasam or Sambhar, black peppers are added to give a beautiful aroma and kicking taste to open up the taste buds. In the western cuisine, black pepper along with salt is used to marinate the meats and fish. It’s the pepper heat that sometimes makes the curries hotter to handle rather than that of the chillies.

  • Fennel seeds

Fennel seeds are sweet tasting with intensely aromatic spice seeds that give a nice twist to spicy Indian recipes. Particularly, Gujarati and Kashmiri cuisines use this light green textured seeds in abundance to transform their dishes for the inviting and addicting flavours. Apart from using in savoury snacks and many vegetarian curries, fennel seeds are also added either whole or ground to the desserts for enhancing the sweetness and give fragrance. Roasted or sugar coated in various colors, the fennel seeds are also taken as after meal to refresh breath and considered as very good digestive aid. These colourful sugar coated fennel seeds are enjoyed by adults and favourite for the children in the feasts. Fennel seeds are a part of the five spices (Paanch Phoran) in North eastern states of India – Assamese, Bengali and Odiyan cuisine. Our vegetarian section got numerous tasty recipes that use fennel seeds. Try yourself, if you are fan of fennel seeds.

  • Star Anise

This good looking dried spice is a natural wonder. With its appealing shape and sweet fennel type taste, star anise decorates the festive rice recipes of Indian cuisine. Biryanis or Pulavs become aromatic and seductive with the addition of star anise spice. The masala chai (spiced Indian tea) comes to life when crushed star anise is added while boiling the tea with milk. The health benefits of star anise were realised since ancient times by Chinese. In modern times also star anise played an important role to control epidemic outbreaks of swine flu. Curry2Night recommends star anise to spice up your recipes to achieve nice aroma and subtle sweet taste.

  • Fenugreek seeds

Known as the spice of pickles, fenugreek seeds are an important part of the annual pickle preparations in South India. The dark yellow cuboid shape seeds are bitter in taste when bitten into. These seeds are used in many vegetable curries and sambhar dishes to spice them with a hint of bitterness. From health point of view, fenugreek seeds are considered as the healer of diabetes. In Indian traditional medicine, fenugreek seeds take important position for better health and advised to take small amounts on a daily basis. Called ‘methi’ in India, fenugreek seeds are part of the ‘Paanch Phoron’ (five spices) of north east India and roasted ground to use in Sambhar powder.

  • Asafoetida

Known as Hing in Indian language Hindi, asafoetida is an important spice in traditional cooking. It has unpleasant smell in raw form, but gives distinct flavour and aroma once cooked. Tasty dals, tropical vegetable curries, some meat and fish dish use hing in small quantities to give a definite flavour. Just a pinch of hing or asafoetida transform the south Indian favourites like Sambhar or toor dal recipes into aromatic and addictive dishes. Preferably added during the initial cooking process along with turmeric, asafoetida gives a sudden pungent smell, but after a while the recipe spreads welcoming aroma to invite hungry crowd. Sold as raw chunks or ground powder, this dried gum of a particular tree originate from Iran but made an important ingredient in exotic cooking by Indian curry culture. The colour of dried chunks of asafoetida is darker yellow but becomes light yellow when ground to fine powder.

  • Saffron

Word’s most expensive spice that gives brilliant colour and rich metallic honey taste to celebration recipes. You can’t get more natural than saffron to colour your food. Considered as rare and luxury spice, saffron is basically the dried stigma of a particular crocus flower. Luxury recipes like Biryani, some exotic vegetarian curries and some meat recipes use saffront to colour as well as to give rich taste. The mouth watering festive dessert of India called Rava Kesari is the finest example of saffron inspired dish. Suggested use is to soak the threads of saffron in water and add to the recipe during the final cooking process. North Indian state of India, Kashmir produces high quality saffron. Recent research into this appealing spice found it is also good for treating mental illnesses like Alzheimer. Use it Indian curries and make them colourful and tasting even better!

Want to know more about spices used in Indian Curry Recipes? Check out the Fresh Spices too!