Common Spices of India

Being one of the world’s most popular cuisines, Indian food is a staple of most major metropolitan cities. With a tantalizing mix of aromas, colors and flavors, Indian recipes are a delight for the senses. With that said, spices are an integral part of any Indian kitchen. Every spice has a unique taste and adds a magical touch of its own.

Spices were key to the Indian Ocean Trade, also known as the Monsoon Marketplace. Dhows and sailboats carried spices to various ports on a trade route that stretched from Java in the East to Zanzibar and Mombasa in the West. And India was fertile ground in the demand for spices.

Aside from giving beautiful flavors to food, spices come with their own health benefits. If you are inquisitive about Indian cooking and/or trying to start from the basics, then you must brush up on some preliminary knowledge of Indian spices. Some common spices of India include:

Turmeric (Haldi)

Turmeric is one of the top staple spices of Indian cooking and is used in nearly every dish from Delhi to Kanyakumari. Belonging to the ginger family, turmeric is distinguished by its bright yellow color. Its primary constituent, curcumin, has many healing properties.

— Anti-inflammatory

— Liver detoxification

— Natural painkiller

— Fights heart disease

— Fights cancerous growth

— Slows the onset of Alzheimer’s

Cardamom (Elaichi)

After vanilla and saffron, cardamom is the world’s third-most expensive spice. The green pods are the go-to spice for many Indian desserts and sweets like Kheer. In fact, green cardamom is one of the ingredients for India’s famous Karak Chai (Masala Tea). On the other hand, black cardamom is used to prepare rice dishes like Pulao and Biryani.

— Fights bad breath

— Cures acidity

— Cures flatulence

Red Chilli (Lal Mirch)

Part of the Capsicum species, red chillies add that fiery punch to Indian food. There are competitons held to see who can consume the most number of chillies. One of the most famous is the Nagaland Chilli Eating Competition where the toughest stomachs from all over the world come to participate. The main constituent of this spice, beta carotene, is known for its antioxidant properties.

— Fights lung cancer

— Improves immunity

— Keeps body metabolic rate up

— Aids in wound healing

— Helps with blood clotting

Clove (Laung)

Best known for preparing India’s famous Garam Masala (hot spice), cloves are characterized by a strong, aromatic taste. In fact, Chinese emperors of the Han Dynasty commanded those in their presence to freshen their breath by chewing on cloves.

— Cures toothache

— Soothes sore gums

— Relief from cough and cold

— Mouth freshener

Cumin (Jeera)

Cumin has been used as a spice since the second millennium BC. Did you know that the ancient Egyptians used cumin seeds as a preservative during the mummification process? Nothing beats the smell of cumin seeds sizzling in heated oil, that blast of aromatic smell hitting the face.

— Anti-fungal

— Laxative

— Flu relief

— Fights anemia

— Digestion relief

Mustard (Rye)

The popping of mustard seeds in hot oil is a familiar sound in Indian homes. Usually, a bottle of mustard oil or Sarson ka Tel is always found in any Indian kitchen. This spice is especially used during winters as it is believed to generate body heat.

— Increases bone strength

— Produces red blood cells

— Improves body metabolism

Asafoetida (Hing)

Also known as the devil’s dung and stinking gum, asafoetida is the resin of giant fennel plants that originated in Afghanistan and Iran. This unique spice was first brought to India in the 16th century by the Mughals. It only takes a pinch of asafoetida to influence any pot of pressure cooked lentils.

— Opium Antidote

— Relief for whooping cough

— Cures asthma

— Soothes stomach ache

Coriander

Coriander seeds and leaves are both used as a cooking spice and a garnish. Also known as Chinese parsley and cilantro, coriander seeds are described as nutty, while the leaves have a lime-like taste. However, a small number of people find coriander leaves to taste like dish-soap.

—Lower blood sugar

— Lower cholesterol — Improved memory

— Relief from anxiety

— Digestion aid

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