A map of india made with spices'names in the states in which they are mostly produced

Indian spices: a complete list with descriptions and their uses

What are Indian spices?

Spices are the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about Indian cooking, and after all India has been for centuries the center of spice trade (Malabar, a region now part of the state of Kerala is considered the native land of Pepper, Cardamom and many other spices)

Every Indian dish includes spices, but if you are not Indian it can be difficult to understand, and even more difficult to master, their use. Have you ever asked yourself: “which spices are used for curry?” (HINT: it is not curry powder) or “what spices to use in Rice Biryani?” or “What is the difference between Tellicherry and Malabar Pepper?”

If you answered YES to one of those, you’ll find your answers:

In this post I will guide you to all the secrets of Indian spices, if you want to discover the chilli varieties used in India (from the mild Kashmiri chilli, and the very hot bird's eye chili, to one of the hottest in the world, the bhut jolokia chilli), the uses of turmeric, cumin, ajwain, fenugreek, and all the rest, read on!

The cultivation and use of spices in India

Many of the spices grown in India are native of these lands, like pepper, cardamom, ginger and turmeric, others have been imported centuries ago and are now traditionally Indian (like chilli and coriander) and others yet are grown for export (like celery seeds and dill).

In this article I will consider Indian spices only the ones that are grown and are commonly used in the country, and list them according to their origin and their importance in Indian cooking.

the basic spices

Chilli, Cumin, Coriander, Turmeric

these 4 essential spices  are present in almost every Indian kitchen and are used daily:

the AROMATIC spices

Black Pepper, Cinnamon/Cassia, Clove, Cardamom, Nutmeg and Mace

these spices are native of the tropical south (the Malabar coast in actual Kerala, South of India, or Sri Lanka, or the Maluku Islands in Indonesia) - incidentally they also are the most aromatic of all spices

the SEED spices

Fenugreek, Fennel, Mustard, Ajwain, Nigella

"seed spices" are so called  because the used part is the “seed” (even if botanically they are fruits, for sake of simplicity I’ll stick to the common usage). They are cultivated in the arid and semi arid regions of northern India; many of them originates in the Mediterranean basin and were brought in India by the Arabs centuries ago and are now an integral part of Indian cooking:

the OTHER spices

Saffron, Asafoetida, Curry Leaves, (dried) Ginger, Indian Bay-leaf

I created a fourth category to include those spices that aren't part of any of the previous ones.

For each of these spices you will find information about their history, the varieties grown in India, and their uses in the kitchen and in Ayurveda.

If you are interested in only one group or one spice you can take a shortcut using the table of contents just down here:

The basic spices

Chilli (capsicum annuum)
description and a bit of History 

Chili peppers (mirch in Hindi), even if they are part of the culinary tradition of India only since when the Portuguese brought them to Goa from the Americas in the early XVI century, are now an integral spice of Indian cooking, present in every region, and in nearly every savory dish. Suffice to say that for criticizing a bland dish, you say that it does not have enough salt or chilli, enough to state the importance of chilli in Indian cooking. The main characteristic of chilli is its hotness, obviously, due to its component capsaicin, but there are varieties that have also a lot of aroma and flavor.

cultivation & varieties

India is now the biggest producer, consumer, and exporter of dried chilli in the world, and many different varieties are grown, let’s look at some of the most important:

  • Kashmiri chili, sold usually as a powder and used mostly for its great brilliant red color and pleasant aroma. It is very mild, barely spicy at all (2000 SHU), like Hungarian Paprika, but more aromatic and capable of lending its brilliant color to dishes. It is native of Kashimir, the northern mountain state, but most of what is sold as Kashmiri Chilli is almost never the real deal and often some other mild, deep-red-colored variety (like Byadagi)
  • Bhut jolokia pepper, also known as the Ghost Pepper, grown in Assam in the north-east of the country, is one of the spiciest chili peppers on the world. This variety is absurdly hot, and when grown in the special climatic condition in Assam it is even hotter, reaching values of over 1 Million SHU (SHU, Scoville Hotness Units, is the standard unit used to measure hotness )
  • Jwala pepper is one of the most consumed chillis in India, both fresh (green) and dried (red); its called finger chilli for its long and slender shape. Hotness rated at 20-30k SHU (k=thousand)
  • Guntur; Guntur is the district in Andhra Pradesh in which most of the chilli production in India is concentrated, and it gives the name to a variety (Guntur Sannam) that is very popular and hot (40k SHU). Improved hybrids of Guntur are Teja, 334 and Wonder Hot.
  • Dhani, or bird’s eye chilli is another favorite in India for its hotness (up to 250k SHU), it also has a nice red color. The curious name has no clear origin, someone suggest it is because they are spread by birds (that do not perceive hotness and so eat even the spiciest of chillis) or because they are very small (1 cm) and resemble a bird’s eye.
uses in the kitchen

Chili (called chillies in India) are generally used dried in powdered forms, and also fresh (green or red) to prepare pastes (garlic, ginger, fresh chilli is a classic) for marinades. Both dried (in flakes or whole) and fresh can be used in curries.

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knowledge box: HOW TO MAKE CURRY

Curry in India is a generic name that indicates many preparations that have a rich sauce or gravy. For cooking curries you generally begin with tempering the spices in hot oil (this process is called tadka, and can be made at the beginning of the cooking, or a the end). You heat the oil or ghee in a skillet, and then shallow-fry (at medium heat) whole spices like cumin, coriander, chili, cinnamon, clove, fenugreek, mustard seeds... then after a few minutes you add chopped onions, and after a while garlic and ginger (finely chopped or in paste). Ground spices like turmeric, or ground cumin or coriander, are added after this phase; when the aromatics are cooked you add a binding agent like tomato puree or coconut milk (sometimes yogurt) and the the main ingredient of the dish (meat or pulses or vegetable). When the main ingredient is cooked a finishing touch can be added in form of garam masala, chopped cilantro, crushed nuts, or tadka.

Cumin (Cuminum cyminum)
description and a bit of History 

Cumin (jeera or zeera in Hindi) is a plant of the Umbelliferae family and its seeds are used as a spice since at least 4000 years ago; there is evidence of its use in ancient Syria and Egypt and it is mentioned in the Bible.

It has a strong aromatic odor, and an earthy, savory, slightly bitter taste. It is one of the basic spices in Indian cooking but also in Middle Eastern and Mexican cuisines.

cultivation & varieties

It is grown in the semi-arid lands of Gujarat and Rajasthan, because the cumin plant thrives in the poor, sandy soils of these regions (it is native of the arid regions of Mediterranean basin, after all). 

A special variety (in fact is a different species at all, called Bunium persicum) that grows wild in Kashmir is called kala zeera, or shah zeera (black cumin), has a more flowery flavor, and has a gentler aroma; the black cumin from Gurez valley (that grows at an altitude of more than 2500m) is especially sought after from the best chefs in India.

uses in the kitchen

it is used in curries and masalas, in breads, and in nearly every savory dish in India; as you already know if you have ever opened an Indian Cookbook, or browse the internet looking for Indian recipes: cumin is everywhere! Dry roasted and ground and sprinkled over a raita, or fried in ghee with other spices as a base for curries, or in tadka (tempered spices added to a dish at the last moment), cumin always finds its place in Indian dishes. It adds savoriness to vegetable dishes, and complements well with all meat dishes. It is (almost) always included in masala, from garam masala to chaat masala.

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Coriander (coriandrum sativum)
description and a bit of History 

Coriander (Dhania in Hindi) is one of the oldest used spices; seeds of this plant were found in Egypt in the tomb of Tutankhamen and it appears in Indian history as far back as the 4th century BC, in the Ashtadhyayi (the first Sanskrit grammar, written by the scholar Panini).

Its aroma is warm, lemon-like, sweet, and mild; it is very pleasant and complements well with many other spices, so that it is often the base of many blends and masalas.

cultivation & varieties

The majority of Indian coriander is produced in Rajasthan (the plant prefers dry weather) but the spice is used in every part of the country. There are in the world many cultivars but they can be categorized in three broad varieties: Moroccan, Indian and European.

  • Indian coriander is the stronger of the three, richer in essential oil and slightly sweeter, with a color varying from brown to light yellow and green; the longer the drying time, the darker the seeds, and the lower the value (dark seeds are called Badami); the finest qualities are called green and green special. The shape is more oval.
  • Moroccan has a more lemony note and it is more woody, light yellow, large and round.
  • European (mostly cultivated in Romania, Bulgaria and Russia) is darker in color,   and milder in flavor.  
uses in the kitchen

Roasted and ground coriander seeds make the base for many masalas or spice blends;  roasting gives the seeds a certain nuttiness, and reduces the herbaceous flavor. Whole or roughly crushed seeds are used in the beginning of a dish with other whole spices, and form the aromatic base; finely ground coriander, less pungent, is added later on and it is also used to reduce or mitigate the level of spiciness in a dish because it has the ability to "tone-down" and balance the other tastes.

NOTE: it is always better to use freshly ground coriander, as for every other spice, and even better to grind your own when needed.

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Turmeric Curcuma longa)
description and a bit of History 

Turmeric (haldi in Hindi) is native to South India, where the tropical wet and hot climate is ideal for its growth. In India it is a condiment but also a medicine and its antiseptic properties make it ubiquitous in Ayurveda. The active component that gives turmeric its properties is curcumin, and it also gives its color, so the darker the yellow, the higher the curcumin level.

The earthy, pungent, slightly bitter taste of turmeric defines Indian cooking in a way that no other spice does, and only in India the role of turmeric is so important.

cultivation & varieties

Two major varieties are grown, and they take their names from the major producing regions: Alleppey, in Kerala, and Madras, in Tamil Nadu (the city of Madras now is called Chennai). Alleppey is higher in curcumin (up to 6,5%) and has a bolder yellow color and stronger taste, Madras is lighter, sweeter, and has a percentage of curcumin around 3%.

uses in the kitchen

In some part of India (Goa, Gujarat and Maharashtra) even the leaves of the turmeric are used, to wrap fish fillets that are baked and to make a delicacy called patholi, a rice-flour-based sweet dough that is then steamed.

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The tropical/aromatic spices

Black Pepper (Piper nigrum)
description and a bit of History 

Pepper is the spice derived from the berries (or to be botanically correct: drupes) of the piper nigrum plant; according to the time of harvest and the post-harvest process we have the three most common types of pepper: green pepper, black pepper and white pepper.

cultivation & varieties

India, from where piper nigrum is native - in the southern region of Malabar, now part of Kerala - produces mostly Black Pepper, that is obtained harvesting the green drupes just when they are mature and just starting to become red, and then drying them under the sun or in an oven till the moisture content is under a specific limit. During the drying phase a process of oxidation occurs, that gives the peppercorns their black color.

The grading of black pepper in India is made according to peppercorn quality and size, in the following table you can see the definitions and characteristics of all the best grades, and finally discover what really are Tellicherry pepper and MG1 pepper:

Name

Code

Bulk Density (g/lt)

Extraneous matter (%).

Light berries (%)

Moisture content (%)

Size (mm)

M​alabar

Garbled 1

MG1

550

0,5

2

11

3,75

Tellicherry Garbled Extra Bold

TGEB

500-530*

0,5

3

11

4,25

Tellicherry Garbled Super Extra Bold 

TGSEB

500-530*

0,5

3

11

4,75

Tellicherry Garbled

TG

0,5

3

11

4,00

*500 for standard grade, 530 for special grade

Lesser quality grades exist, with a higher percentage of light or broken berries and less rigorous sifting (garbling): they are called Malabar Ungarbled (MUG) and graded from 1 to 4

The two most known and most sought-after grades are MG1 and Tellicherry: the former has the highest level of volatile oils, and the higher level of piperine, while the latter is defined by its bigger size but is a little less flavorful.

uses in the kitchen

Black pepper is used in many spice blends (garam masala, chaat masala, chai masala… but always keep in mind than no single recipe exists for these blends) and in the north in meat (lamb and mutton) and poultry dishes but its role in Indian cooking is not a primary one anymore.

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Green and Black Cardamom (Elettaria cardamomum and Amomum sublatum)
description and a bit of History 

Green cardamom (Choti Elaici), native of Southern India and Sri Lanka, is the dried pod of an herbaceous plant that thrives in the wet hillsides of Kerala. Inside the pods there are small dark/black seeds that are very perfumed and aromatic, pungent but sweet with citrus notes and with menthol properties like eucalyptus. 

Black cardamom (Badi Elaici) instead is obtained from a plant of the genus Amomum, that grows in the northern region of Sikkim (near the Tibet, Nepal and Bhutan borders). It has a smoky flavor (thanks to the drying process it receives, over a fire smoke) and a pleasant camphor-like aroma.

cultivation & varieties

Both cardamoms love shade and are cultivated in forests; green cardamom, typical of the tropical regions of the south of India, is often grown in combination with pepper (pepper is a vine that climbs on trees, so it is the perfect complement). India was for years the biggest producer of green cardamom but in the last years Guatemala has taken the lead in production (nearly all of it for the export).

The so called white cardamom is obtained blanching the green pods; the color fades and the flavor is milder; this practice originates in ancient times when cardamom was exported from India to Northern Europe and blanching helped the pods to sustain the long journey

uses in the kitchen

The aromatic profile of green cardamom makes it well suited to flavor chai and sweets, but it is also an important ingredient in biryanis and is used in curries and other savory dishes (mostly in its native land Kerala).

It is also one of the main ingredients in garam masala and is eaten and chewed after meals as a breath freshener.

Black cardamom is used more sparingly in India: it is used whole in meat stews (and removed before serving), and the seeds are used in biryanis and pulaos (dishes of rice cooked like pilaf).

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Cinnamon and Cassia (Cinnamomum zeylanicum and C. cassia)
description and a bit of History 

Cinnamon and Cassia are often mistaken one for the other but they are obtained from the bark of trees of two different species of the same genus (Cinnamomum).

The so-called true cinnamon (c. zeylanicum from Ceylon, the old name of Sri Lanka, from where it is native) is the milder, sweeter, and generally more valued variety, while Cassia (c. cassia) is stronger, more spicy, and harder to grind.

cultivation & varieties

Both varieties are grown in India - even if in small quantities, in Kerala - but most Indians when talking about Dalchini (that means Chinese Bark in Hindi - because most of the cassia in ancient times came from China) refer to the thicker Chinese version (while in other countries, like Europe and Mexico, the Sri Lankan Cinnamon is more common).  

uses in the kitchen

In Indian cooking only the pungent cassia, with its stronger flavor, is used, often in combination with other spices, in curries and savory dishes, rarely in sweets; it is also commonly included in garam masalas

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Clove (Syzygium aromaticum)
description and a bit of History 

This sweet spice is the dried unopened bud of a plant in the myrtle family, native to the Maluku islands (Moluccas). It was only in these remote islands of the Indonesia archipelago that it grew, as well as the nutmeg tree, and to these island merchants from everywhere came to buy the precious harvests: Chinese, Arabs, and then Portuguese and Dutch in the XVI century. Everybody tried to control the profitable trade of Cloves and Nutmeg to the rest of the world. 

Only at the end of XVIII century the cultivation of clove spread outside Moluccas (thanks to the smuggling of small clove and nutmeg plant from french adventurer Pierre Poivre) and the monopoly was broken. Now clove is still grown mainly in Indonesia, but also in Madagascar and Tanzania.

cultivation & varieties

Cultivation in South of India started in 1800, but most of the clove consumed now is imported from Sri Lanka and Madagascar.

uses in the kitchen

Very strong in aroma and flavor, clove (laung in Hindi) use in Indian cooking is limited to blends and masala; it is also used in biryani and other rice dishes but not much more.

Clove possesses one of the highest level of volatile oils compared to other spice (approx. 15%) and for this a small amount goes a long way; clove is also the spice with the highest antioxidant power.

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Nutmeg and Mace (Myristica fragrans)
description and a bit of History 

Nutmeg (jaiphal in Hindi) and Mace (javitri) are two spices derived from the same tree: the nutmeg is not a nut, but the kernel of a fruit that resembles the apricot, and mace is the aril, a “coating” that covers the seed. Mace is a deep red when fresh and becomes orange/yellow when dried.

The two spices share a similar flavor profile, both are sweet, lightly floral and warm, but mace is more delicate, with citrus notes.

cultivation & varieties

The tree is native of the Maluku Island like Clove, but it grew only on five tiny islands of the archipelago (that consists of hundreds of Islands) called Banda Islands

(read the story of the banda islands)

uses in the kitchen

In Indian cooking nutmeg and mace are used in small quantities, often the two together (a balanced proportion is six part of nutmeg to one of mace) and in combination with cinnamon, cloves, and cardamom.

They are used in biryani, kormas, and often (nutmeg more than mace) included in Garam Masala.

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The northern/seed type spices

Fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum)
description and a bit of History 

Fenugreek (the scientific name means greek wheat but apparently the use of the spice has completely disappeared from Greece nowadays) is a plant of the Fabaceae family (legumes) and both leaves, fresh and dried, and seeds are consumed. Methi is the Hindi name.

Its taste is nutty and bitter (toasting the seeds reduces the bitterness) and its use is as frequent as a medical remedy as it is in the kitchen

cultivation & varieties

The seeds as a spice are used mostly in India, Turkey and Egypt, but India is the biggest producer and consumer of it. 

uses in the kitchen

In the kitchen it is an important part of curry powders and it is used in pickles (often in combination with fennel seeds and ajwain); it is used in Punjab to balance the sweetness of vegetables like pumpkin, and in the South it is added to dosa batter - dosa are delicious Indian pancakes made with rice and dal (split lentils). It is also part of the Bengali five spice mixture Panch Phoron.

According to traditional medicine it helps digestion, and reduces sugar level, it is also used to treat sinusitis and it is indicated for breastfeeding mothers, because it possesses a substance that increase milk production.

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Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare)
description and a bit of History 

Fennel seeds are called Saunf in Hindi, the same name used to call Aniseed; both spices aren't used very much in India, they are often mistaken one for the other and are used interchangeably and mostly as a digestive aid, after meals. 

cultivation & varieties

Two varieties of fennel are grown; the Lucknow, which is darker in color and more delicate in flavor (this one is used in muckwas), and the Rajasthan version, fatter, lighter in color that is vastly used in the cooking of Kashmir.

uses in the kitchen

Fennel seeds are used as a mouth freshener in mixes called muckwas: the seeds are mixed with coconut flakes or rock sugar (in what is called muckwas), or are coated with sugar and eaten like a breath mint.

In cooking they are used only in the northern state of Kashmir and in the spice mix panch phoron (cumin, fennel, nigella, mustard, fenugreek in equal parts), typical of the West Bengal.

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Brown Mustard Seeds (Brassica juncea)
description and a bit of History 

Mustard (Rai) is one of the few spices that are as famous in the west as in the most spice-consuming countries like India; in Europe and America mustard seeds are almost exclusively used to make the condiment of the same name, derived from the Roman concoction of must (mustum in latin) and ground mustard seeds, with their characteristic pungency (ardens means burning). In Indian cooking mustard seeds (of the brown/black variety) are used in masalas, are added to tadka and to curries, but most of the production is used to extract mustard oil, that is the preferred cooking fat in north-east India.

cultivation & varieties

There are three varieties of mustard, the yellow (brassica hirta), the brown (b. juncea) and the black (b. nigra); of these the yellow one is the milder, while the other two are the most pungent. 

uses in the kitchen

Mustard is also part of the spice blend panch phoran, typical of the north-east; in this region exists a Indian version of mustard sauce, called kasundi, made with a paste of mustard seeds that are fermented for a few days.

Mustard seeds develop their pungency only when ground or crushed and mixed with a liquid (water, vinegar, must…); using a hot liquid retards the pungency, and using an acidic liquid stabilizes it (if using only water, for example, the pungency will decline after 15 minutes).    

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knowledge box: what is tadka?

Tadka, or tempering in English, is a technique used in Indian cooking to release the flavor of spices. It consists in heating a bit of ghee or oil in a skillet (in India this is made in  a specific cookware called tadka-pan - it resembles a large ladle with high walls) and frying (at quite high temperature) whole spices like cumin seeds, mustard seeds, chilli flakes until fragrant; this flavored spicy oil is then  added to the dish just before serving. The spices used in tadka vary according to regions, but cumin and mustard seem to be a favorite everywhere. In the south people often add curry leaves (kadi patta), elsewhere also nigella seeds, fresh chillies and urad daal (hulled black lentils) are used.

Ajowan (Trachyspermum ammi)
description and a bit of History 

Ajowan (or Ajwain), also known as Carom, is another seed spice that comes from a plant of the family Umbelliferae (like cumin, fennel…); it has an herbaceous slight bitter taste, and an aroma that is similar to thyme’s (their volatile oils have the same major component: thymol) but more powerful. The cooking process (baking in particular) mellows the bitter compounds in Ajwain thus creating a very peculiar nutty flavor.

cultivation & varieties

Rajasthan is the main producer of Ajowan in India, accounting for 90% of total crop.

uses in the kitchen

It is used often in Indian cooking for savory snacks and breads (naan, puri, poppadams, parathas…), to add a savory tone to many vegetarian dishes; and in pickles.

Its medicinal properties range from helping digestion to treating colds (boiling some ajwain in water and then inhaling the steam is a classic home remedy), and to reduce bloating.

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Nigella/Kalonji  (Nigella sativa)
description and a bit of History 

The black triangular seeds of this plant, often wrongly called black cumin, have a warm and slightly bitter flavor, with herbaceous notes and an onion-like pungency (hence probably the other wrong name used for nigella: onion seeds).

cultivation & varieties

India is the biggest producer of Kalonji (grown mostly in Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh); other producing countries are Morocco and Egypt

uses in the kitchen

The seeds are used in panch phorom masala (five spice: fennel, mustard, nigella, fenugreek and cumin seeds in equal proportions) a blend typical of eastern India, as a pickling spice in northern India, and sprinkled on naans before baking; this tradition of using nigella seeds on baked breads is found also in Turkey, Iran and other Muslim countries, probably because Prophet Muhammad once said that “Black granules are the cure for everything except death” thus creating the fortunes of nigella seeds.

Apart from the legends, nigella seeds are indeed a powerful antioxidant and are credited with many medical properties, against asthma, headache, influenza and other winter diseases.

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The other spices

Saffron (Crocus sativus)
description and a bit of History 

Saffron (Kesar or Zaffron in Hindi) is by far the most expensive spice in the world. It is obtained from crocus sativus, a flower with purple/mauve petals and crimson stigmas (threads) there are dried and used as a coloring agent but mostly as a precious condiment in cooking. 

cultivation & varieties

Probably native of Iran or Syria, saffron is cultivated now in many regions (Iran the major producer, then Spain, Morocco, Italy, Greece, and a little in France, and in India the state in which the production is concentrated is Kashmir. Saffron grown here is reputed for its aroma and taste, containing large amounts of picro-crocin and safranal (the compounds responsible for flavor and aroma, respectively) while the other compound crocin, is responsible for the coloring power.

uses in the kitchen

In Indian cooking saffron is used extensively both in sweet and savory preparation, and milk is often used as a medium (saffron aromatic compounds are soluble in water, so soaking the thread in water, or milk, to extract its color and flavor) as well as rosewater for desserts

More used in the north and the west for obvious reasons (saffron is grown in the north, in Kashmir), it is a fundamental ingredient in biryani and is often used in kormas and kebabs but only when other spices aren’t used in great quantity, because saffron taste would be overpowered in presence of lot of chillis, cinnamon, clove or cardamom. In Kashmir a special tea called khava is made with green tea leaves, saffron, cardamom and rose petals, sweetened with sugar or honey and served after meal to improve digestion.

Saffron is also used for religious purposes, and for medicinal uses; Ayurveda considers it good for the skin, and it has aphrodisiac and brain-stimulating properties.

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Asafoetida (Ferula assa-foetifda)
description and a bit of History 

This gummy resin (called Hing in Hindi), normally sold already powdered, has a strong unappealing sulfurous smell that disappear when cooked; the taste in the final dish is reminiscent of garlic and onion, so asafetida is greatly used by those that do not/cannot use garlic (Brhamins).

cultivation & varieties

It is grown in Kashmir and Punjab, but considering the vast amount consumed in India it is mostly imported from Afghanistan and Iran

uses in the kitchen

It is used in curries, sauces and pickles; one technique consists in sticking a small ball of asafetida (in its gum form obviously) to the lid of the pot, so that it releases its flavor more subtly.

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Curry Leaves (Murraya koenigii)
description and a bit of History 

Curry leaves (kadipatta or karipatta in Hindi), that have nothing to do with curry, are the leaves of a small tree in the family Rutaceae (the same of citrus plants), that is native of India and Sri Lanka. These leaves are very aromatic and pleasant aroma 

cultivation & varieties

The curry tree is grown now in every part of India, but is more typical in the south. It is easy to grow so many families have a plant in their garden.

uses in the kitchen

Fresh curry leaves are generally part of Southern Indian tadkas to accompany vegetable curries or dal dishes. The leaves are used also in the north (for exemple mixed with stuffing for potato and peas samosa), and in Sri Lanka, where they are used in meat and chicken stews.

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Ginger (dried) (Gingiber officinale)
description and a bit of History 

Ginger (adrak is the Hindi word for fresh ginger, while dried ginger is called saunth) is one of the most important crops in India, with more than one million tons produced every year; most of the ginger produced is used fresh, and dried ginger is only used in a few Indian states, like Goa, Kashmir and Tamil Nadu

cultivation & varieties

There are two main varieties of ginger, named after the port from where they were shipped: “Cochin” in the south of Kerala, and “Calicut” in the north Kerala. Both are highly aromatic (Calicut having a more lemon-like taste) with an essential oil content around 2% and have a low fiber content.

Indian ginger (and Cochin over Calicut) is considered superior to ginger grown in other countries (China, Nigeria, Jamaica) due to its milder, more complex flavor

uses in the kitchen

Dried ginger is not as ubiquitous in Indian cooking as fresh ginger, but nonetheless it appears in the regional cuisines of Goa, Kashmir and Tamil Nadu.

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Indian Bay Leaf (Cinnamomum tamala)
description and a bit of History 

Indian Bay-Leaf, Tej Patta in Hindi, is very different from European Bay Leaf, even if both are part of the family Lauracee. Tej Patta are the leaves of a relative of the cinnamon tree, and are recognizable from their three light veins running along the leaf. They are light in color but have a strong spicy aroma (similar to cinnamon and clove)      

cultivation & varieties

In grows in the north of India, on the slopes of the Himalayas, and in Nepal, Bhutan and northern Burma. The major producer in India is the small state of Sikkim, but Tej Patta are more often foraged from wild or semi wild trees.

uses in the kitchen

In is a fundamental ingredient in Moghul cuisine, and in famous dishes developed in the imperial courts of Agra and Delhi, like Biryani and Korma. Indian bay leaves are used whole in stews (mostly meat-based but also vegetarian) and dried in the Northern Indian garam masalas.

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This post was updated on March 4th, 2019

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