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Spices often used in Indian Cuisine

Updated on October 12, 2011
Saffron Threads, used in recipes after soaking, or crushing after heating
Saffron Threads, used in recipes after soaking, or crushing after heating
Flag of India
Flag of India

Some spices used in Indian Cuisine

People in India are very skilled at using a combination of spice blends in their cooking. It is an art they have seemed to perfect over time. I am going to highlight a few here that seem interesting. These are the the very flavors that make Indian food what it is. The precise combinations are what make them unique, even though you often see some of these herbs and spices from other cuisines around the world.

A few of the main dishes served in Indian cuisine include, Biryani, Tandoori dishes, Chole bhature, Dal and Rajma.

Saffron, or Saffron Threads

It was very interesting to learn that saffron comes from the saffron crocus flower. In particular, saffron threads , are the thread like stamens of those flowers. They are a dark orange color, and are very highly fragrant. Saffron is a highly prized spice, and very expensive because of the difficulty harvesting the saffron. More than difficult, it is a time consuming and a laborious process. Each crocus has three stamens, and each stamen must be hand picked.

In Indian cuisine, you will find saffron used for dishes including fish, rice and many other things. Saffron is even used in some sweet dishes and recipes like cookies and ice cream. Using saffron isn't as easy as some spices, as you need to soak it in hot milk, water or stock for about 15 minutes or so. After that it can be added to the recipes. Another way they incorporate saffron is to put the threads on a spoon, heat it up until its completely dry and able to be crumbled into a dish. By crushing it this way its flavor can be spread around in the food. See some saffron threads in the below picture.

Woman making Kesaribhat, including the use of saffron threads

Cardamom Pods and Seeds, often used in Indian Cuisine

Cardamom pods, that are housing the tiny black seeds.
Cardamom pods, that are housing the tiny black seeds.

Cardamom Pods and seeds

Cardamom is a member of the ginger family. It is highly aromatic, and the spice is essential to authentic Indian cuisine.

The pod, is a small, light green, and oval shaped, and is protecting little black seeds inside. The pods are not ripe when picked, and then dried and used whole, or ground up. Cardamom helps make curry what it is, as it is one of the main ingredients in curry powder.

You will also find cardamom in rice dishes and pickles, and of course very good in certain sweet dishes. It also is very expensive, as far as spices go, so it has been recommended as using it only sparingly. It is expensive in part, because each pod has to be hand picked. Some even chew on a cardamom seed after dinner as a breath freshener.  Below you will see a woman making Boondi Ladoo, a sweet dessert that is served in India for all kinds of occasions. It uses the seeds found inside cardamom pods. 

Indian woman making Boondi Ladoo, a dessert using cardamom seeds

Dried Red Chiles

Dried red chilies weren't native to India, but brought in from other countries. Still, the tiny red chilies have revolutionized Indian cooking.

These little peppers have quite an intense heat about them. The are even described as fiercely fiery! These chiles were first grown in Mexico, as well as in the Amazon region of South America. They arrived in India, and were then exported to the trading posts where people traded and sold spices. Such a strong fiery spice, would of course revolutionize their cooking!

These dried red chiles are easy to use. First, you may want to wear gloves, especially if you have sensitive skin, and depending on how hot your chiles are.  You just cut off the stalks, shake out the dried seeds, then break them into little pieces. Cover these with hot water, and leave for about 15 to 20 minutes and then drain off the water in a way that you can save the water. You would then coarsely chop them, and put in some kind of blender or electric mill.  You would include half of the soaking water.  Process until you get a puree.  This hot puree, can burn the mucous membranes in people's noses, throats and hurt the lining of their stomachs or intestines if too much is ingested.  If you have had too much, and are feeling the burn from hot chiles, it's a good idea to get some milk, yogurt, and even ice cream to soothe it some. 

One really cool thing about these chiles is that they will store for an incredibly long time, nearly forever, and maintain their color and intensity and taste. 

Indian spices poll

Do you ever incorporate Indian Spices into your cooking?

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    • oceansnsunsets profile image

      Paula 6 years ago from The Midwest, USA

      Thank you so much, Indian Spices! I am glad you stopped by and left a comment.

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      Indian Spices 6 years ago

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    • oceansnsunsets profile image

      Paula 6 years ago from The Midwest, USA

      Glad to hear that, thank you!

    • PhoenixV profile image

      PhoenixV 6 years ago from USA

      Very useful hub thanks!