Types of spices in India
India is known as the land of spices, and rightfully so. Often people find spices as the most terrifying thing for them to understand Indian type cooking due to the huge variety and complexity of the same. On top of that, Indian cuisine often uses complex blends of multiple spices to make some different spice mixes altogether to give a unique flavor, taste, and texture to a certain food. For those who want to understand Indian food, master its cooking process, and savor one of the best traditional food cultures known to mankind – knowing Indian spices and their distinctive characteristics should be the primary stepping stone. Once you start to be familiar with their diverse taste and aroma, you will find it not very hard to cook some delicious Indian dishes to enjoy with your near and dear once. In this article, we will try to introduce you with some most common Indian spices that are absolutely necessary to complement most of the Indian cuisine – so, let’s start without wasting time any further.
How to use Indian spices in Indian cuisine
Except for a few types, like nutmeg, the vast majority of spices to be used by dry-roasting first so that they can release the essential oils, and then be grounded to make a fine blend. Indian people often make use of a mortar and pestle traditionally to make spice mixes, but it would be better if you use a powerful spice grounder appliance for finer and more even blends. It’s especially true for some very hard spices, for example, cassia bark, as they are too tough to be perfectly grounded with merely a mortar and pestle.
1. Turmeric: One of the commonest Indian spices is turmeric, and you can either use it as fresh or it can be dried and grounded into a fine powder. The aroma is pungent, and it is strong for the fresh turmeric. The powered turmeric has a milder flavor; though it is mainly used to give an amazing golden color to the food. Apart from being used as a spice in cooking, turmeric has lots of health benefits as well. Turmeric is a potent source of curcumin that is regarded for its antioxidant properties, and it is anti-inflammatory too. Researches found that curcumin in turmeric can help in preventing coronary diseases, cancer, and Alzheimer’s disease.
2. Cardamom: Cardamom comes in two varieties – black and green. Green cardamom is the more common type that we use in many dishes, especially in biriyani, lots of non-veg preparations, Indian type desserts, and popular spice blends, like garam masala. Cardamom has a sweet eucalyptus flavor, but not very strong. That’s why when you need the aroma to be more profound, particularly in sweet dishes, you want to open the green outer part and crush the black seeds inside a little bit.
However, black cardamom isn’t very commonly found or used in usual cooking due to its strong spicy taste. There are not many dishes that call for it, except a certain few recipes.
Cardamom is a magical spice with a vast array of medicinal features. Studies found that cardamom can be very useful for people with a high risk of developing cardiovascular conditions as it can significantly lower the blood pressure level if used on a regular basis.
3. Cumin: Cumin can be used as a whole or in various spice mixes for many Indian preparations. It adds an intense smoky flavor in the cooking, and most of the time, it is freshly grounded to bring out the aroma. However, if you’re dry-roasting cumin, make sure to be careful as it gets burned really quick and it will leave a bitter taste in your dish if used. Rule of thumb is to toast it not more than 30 seconds and then let the toasted cumin cool before you put that in a blender for grounding.
Cumin is a great source of dietary iron as just a single teaspoon full of powdered cumin can give you 1.4 mg iron which is more than 17% of the daily requirement for an adult. But traditionally cumin is known for its digestive properties. It helps to soothe your stomach in case of indigestion, increases secretion of digestive enzymes and helps the liver to release bile. IBS patients can be hugely benefited by cumin, according to a recent study.
4. Coriander: It’s a very popular spice, not only in India but worldwide. Corriander is the seed of the Coriandrum sativum plant, which comes under the parsley family. All parts of this plant, including leaves, stems, and roots, can be used as spices, and people often say Coriander to mean any part of it or even the whole plant. However, mostly coriander word refers to the whole dried seed or the finely powdered spice made from the toasted seed. It has a strong floral flavor and can be used in a lot of Indian dishes separately, or as part of the most popular Indian spice mix, garam masala.
Coriander is loaded with a host of nutritional goodness which makes it an essential element in many home remedies. It contains protein, fiber, iron, magnesium, manganese, vitamin C, K, and trace amounts of potassium, calcium, phosphorus, niacin, and thiamin.
Coriander helps to lower LDL and increase HDL, maintains blood pressure, assists liver functions and promotes gut health. It has some powerful antioxidant properties that can fight against some particular type of malignant tumors, like lung cancer. Its strong anti-inflammatory feature has proven to be useful in arthritis.
5. Red Chili: Chili is actually a fruit that belongs to the plant family named Capsicum. Once Chili is ripened, it goes through a drying process and the color becomes red, hence the name. Like many other spices, it can be used as a whole in many recipes or can be grounded further to make a powdered form to be used separately or part of multiple spice mixes. Red chili is known for its unique pungent flavor and taste that closely matches with black pepper. Unlike other cuisines worldwide, red chili is more prevalent in Indian cuisine than black pepper.
Although red chili is an integral part of Indian cuisine, it has various medicinal applications as well. It helps to maintain good digestive health and promotes red blood cell production. Above all, it has an abundance of vitamin C which is a crucial nutrient in order to prevent various diseases and plays a vital role to build a strong immune system.
6. Ginger: Ginger is another widespread spice that is being used in many regular Indian dishes since time unknown. It’s the root of the ginger plant that we use as a spice, and this plant was primarily originated from some regions of Asia before spreading in many other parts of the world. Ginger can be used as fresh, dried, or grounded, and apart from cooking, it is also used in making confectionaries, sauces, carbonated drinks, cocktails, and many more – thanks to its strikingly hot and spicy flavor, yet a mild sweet taste.
Ginger is one herb or spice that has enormous nutritional and medicinal value. Traditional Chinese medicine and other home remedies use ginger for many ailments, including, cold, flu, fever, nausea, irritable bowel syndrome, and loss of appetite. Ginger has chemical properties that reduce inflammation, researchers believe. Ginger can be used effectively to control the after-effects of chemotherapy and HIV treatment, such as nausea and vomiting.
7. Mustard seeds: There can be as much as 40 different kinds of mustard, but only black, white and brown variants of mustard seeds are used in the Indian culinary scene. In India, mustard is used as a spice and we get edible oil from the same as well. Mustard oil is the most popular edible oil in India which is used for almost every type of cooking. Mustard has a strong pungent flavor and the pungency in the black variant is most prominent than the rest two. White mustard is the least pungent and the heat is short-lived than the black and brown.
Mustard seeds offer multiple health benefits as it’s packed with loads of minerals and other crucial nutrients including, phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, and calcium. Mustard seeds are an integral part of various home remedies, mainly to relieve the cold symptoms, ease the respiratory pathway in case of cold and flu, soothes body pain and muscle cramp, and help digestion.