Written by Ashwin Dewan and published on 01 June 2021.
Do you love the woody intensity of cinnamon? Or swear by the immunity-boosting effects of turmeric? Spices are integral to the Indian family kitchen and bestow a host of aromatic, healthful benefits
Sudha Krishnamoorthy has a prized possession — her intricate spice box, which she carries with her, wherever she goes. Sudha believes that traditional Indian spices can turn any bland and boring dish into an aromatic, flavourful masterpiece. And, she is not alone. There are numerous culinary enthusiasts who swear by the magic of spices to enliven the food they serve their families. Many parents also believe in the power of spices to build their children's immunity and promote overall good health.
In any Indian kitchen, the spice box occupies pride of place. A container with several small compartments, each for a particular spice, the spice box can elevate any dish from everyday food to simply sumptuous. In fact, the richness and range of Indian cuisine can be directly attributed to the spices used in each and every dish. And, just like Krishnamoorthy, most Indians find it well nigh impossible to imagine food prepared without our treasured spices and spice mixes!
From turmeric to coriander, pepper to cardamom, cinnamon to cumin ... there is a range of spices found in every Indian kitchen. Let's look at some of them.
|1. Cumin (Jeera)|
A popular spice used in cooking, cumin is known for its distinctive warm and earthy flavor. Since it has a strong aroma and taste, cumin is usually used in small quantities.
Place of origin - Middle East stretching to East Indian
Scientific name - Cuminum Cyminum
Properties - An excellent source of iron, calcium, phosphorous, magnesium, amino acids, and dietary fibers.
Benefits - Consuming cumin on a regular basis can aid in weight loss, lower cholesterol, reduce stress, regulate digestion, etc.
Uses - It is an essential ingredient in most curry powders.
|2. Cinnamon (Dalchini)|
A healthy flavorful spice with the characteristic of woody intense flavor, again used sparingly.
Place of origin - Sir Lanka
Scientific name - Cinnamomum verum
Properties - Important source of vitamins B and K and the antioxidants choline.
Benefits - Cinnamon is anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, regulates blood sugar and protects against fungal infections.
Uses - Although cinnamon is a prime ingredient in numerous curries and rice dishes like pulao, it is also used in desserts like kheer and baked items.
|3. Turmeric (Haldi)|
Do you know that turmeric derived its name from the Latin terramerita? It means meritorious earth, which basically refers to the color of this spice.
Place of origin - Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia
Scientific name - Curcuma longa
Properties - Rich in vitamin C, vitamin B6, and other antioxidants.
Benefits - It is an antioxidant and has antiviral, antibacterial, anti-fungal and anti-inflammatory uses. Turmeric also acts as a natural painkiller and speeds up the healing of internal wounds.
Uses - Turmeric is a go-to spice in the Indian kitchen and is used in almost every dish in Indian cuisine.
|4. Black Pepper (Kali Mirch)|
The next time you experience a fiery explosion of taste while savoring a steaming bowl of soup, the reason could well be pepper. That's one reason why it is called the ‘King of Spices’.
Place of origin - South India
Scientific name - Piper nigrum
Properties - Rich in Vitamin A, Vitamin E, Vitamin K, Vitamin C, and Vitamin B6. Further, it contains Riboflavin, Thiamin, Niacin, sodium, potassium, folate, choline, and betaine.
Benefits - Pepper is used to stimulate digestion, relieve cold, enable weight loss, improve the skin, etc.
Uses - Vital ingredient in Indian kitchen with unique flavor used to spice up any dish, also used in several ayurvedic formulations.
|5. Nutmeg (Jaiphal)|
An exotic spice loaded with essential nutrients, has a characteristic pungent fragrance and a warm, slightly sweet taste.
Place of origin - Indonesia
Scientific name - Myristica fragrans
Properties - Rich in many vital B-complex vitamins, including vitamin-C, folic acid, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin-A and many flavonoid anti-oxidants like beta-carotene, etc.
Benefits - It is believed to have pain-relieving properties and soothes indigestion. It is extremely moisturizing, heals scars and is also used in skincare.
Uses - Nutmeg is used to flavor curries as well as baked goods, desserts and confections.
|6. Coriander (Dhania)|
Also known as dhania, coriander is a herb that is used extensively as a condiment. All parts of the coriander plant are edible and the seeds are a must in Indian cooking.
Place of origin - Middle East and Southern Europe
Scientific name - Coriandrum sativum
Properties - Coriander is a great source of vitamin A, which helps feed your retinas, keep your eyes moist, and generally helps protect your vision.
Benefits - It has many health benefits, which include: treating skin inflammation, high cholesterol levels, indigestion, regulating blood pressure, etc.
Uses - coriander is used mostly in curry powders, stews and soups.
|7. Clove (Laung)|
A versatile spice best know for it's sweet and aromatic characteristics, is used in many different ways.
Place of origin - Moluccas islands in Indonesia
Scientific name - Syzygium aromaticum
Properties - This tiny spice is loaded with fiber, vitamins C and vitamin K. It also contains manganese.
Benefits - Its health benefits include improving digestion, fighting bacteria, fighting inflammation, enhancing the immune system, etc.
Uses - It is used to season roast meat, add flavor to hot beverages like tea, and impart a tinge of savory spiciness to cakes.
|8. Cardamom (Elaichi)|
This wonderful and intensely aromatic spice is regarded as the ‘Queen of Spices’ and one of the most expensive, next to saffron and vanilla.
Place of origin - Indian and Iran
Scientific name - Crocus sativus
Properties - Saffron is rich in vitamins like vitamin A, folic acid, riboflavin, niacin, and vitamin-C-all crucial elements for optimum health.
Benefits - Cures cough and cold, aids digestion, prevents bad breath and lowers high blood pressure.
Uses - Traditionally used for medicines in India, cardamom is also used in desserts like kheer or meat dishes like biryani.
|9. Asafetida (Hing)|
Asafetida or hing is an indispensable part of the Indian kitchen, Its distinct flavor and aroma can transform any boring dish. Moreover, it has long been known for the health benefits it has to offer.
Place of origin - Iran and Afghanistan
Scientific name - Ferula assa-foetida
Properties - Contains high amounts of phenolic compounds, such as tannins and flavonoids, which are known for their potent antioxidant effects.
Benefits - Helps correct, digestive disorders, soothes stomach ache and is also an aid for respiratory problems like asthma.
Uses - Primarily used as a flavor enhancer in Indian cuisine, mainly added at the tempering or seasoning or tadka stage as it has a pungent smell.
|10. Carom seeds (Ajwain)|
Considered a member of the parsley family, carom seed or ajwain as it is known throughout India.
Place of origin - Asia Minor or in Persia.
Scientific name - Trachyspermum ammi
Properties - Contains important fatty acids, fiber and antioxidants like polyunsaturated fats and thymol.
Benefits - Ajwain provides relief from acidity, is used to treat the common cold, cleanses the skin and can be even used as a mosquito repellent.
Uses - A slightly bitter and strong in flavor, it is added to several dishes. Some Indian mothers even dry roast the seeds, in order to enhance and elevate the taste of the dish.
|11. Fennel seeds (Saunf)|
After a meal at a restaurant, the waiter usually presents the bill with a side helping of saunf. Do you know why? Here's all you need to know about this flavorful spice.
Place of origin - Southern Europe and Asia Minor,
Scientific name - Foeniculum vulgare
Properties - A concentrated source of minerals like Copper, Potassium, Calcium, Zinc, Manganese, Vitamin C, Iron, Selenium and Magnesium.
Benefits - Combats bad breath, improves digestive health, promotes lactation and also purifies blood.
Uses - Fennel seeds are used in both sweet and savory foods. Often, it is ground into spice mixtures and added to curries, pickles, soup, breads, etc.
|12. Bay leaf (Tejpatta)|
A popular spice, which is delicately fragrant with a bitter taste.
Place of origin - Asia Minor and Middle East
Scientific name - Laurus nobilis
Properties - Rich source of vitamin A, vitamin C, iron, potassium, calcium, and magnesium.
Benefits - Aids digestion, is good for the heart and may help relieve stress too.
Uses - It is used to impart flavor to a variety of vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes like pulao, biryani, soups, etc. In fact, bay leaf is often roasted and ground, and then, added to garam masala.
|13. Star Anise (Chakra Phool)|
This star-shaped spice with its sweet, spicy flavor and fragrance is a staple spice in Indian cuisine.
Place of origin - Southeastern China and Vietnam.
Scientific name - Illicium verum
Properties - Rich in antioxidants and vitamin A and C
Benefits - Used to treat colds, improves digestion and alleviates cramps.
Uses - Enhances the flavor of many Indian dishes like biryani, curries and is also used for seafood preparations.
|14. Nigella (Kalonji )|
This spice derives its name from the Latin term nigellus, which means black. Known across India as kalonji, nigella seeds are slightly bitter. In addition to its culinary use, kalonji is known for its medicinal properties.
Place of origin - South and southwest Asia,
Scientific name - Nigella sativa
Properties - Kalonji seeds are a powerhouse of crude fibers, amino acids, iron, sodium, calcium, and potassium. It is also rich in vitamins that include – vitamin A, vitamin B, vitamin B12, niacin, and vitamin C.
Benefits - Kalonji is loaded with antioxidants, is said to lower cholesterol, and may prevent stomach ulcers.
Uses - An essential ingredient for certain meat preparations like lamb, the seeds are also roasted or fried before being added to dishes.
|15. Fenugreek ( Methi )|
Bittersweet and strongly flavored, fenugreek or methi is amongst the categories of popular Indian spices.
Place of origin - Southern Europe
Scientific name - Trigonella foenum-graecum
Properties - Fenugreek seeds are full of calcium, zinc iron, phosphorous, riboflavin, carotene, thiamine, niacin and vitamin C.
Benefits - It is said to promote milk flow in lactating women, is useful in treating digestive, respiratory and other health problems. Methi seeds are also considered beneficial for skin and hair.
Uses - Mainly used in dishes like dal or in combination with other vegetables.
|16. Saffron (Kesar)|
Saffron, the most expensive spice in the world, is often used in Indian dishes. Although it's primarily used for seasoning and coloring foods, its benefits and uses are varied.
Place of origin - Asia Minor, and Iran,
Scientific name - Crocus sativus
Properties - Rich in vitamins like vitamin A, folic acid, riboflavin, niacin, and vitamin C.
Benefits - It is said to boost memory and believed to play a part in preventing cancer.
Uses - Indian cuisine features saffron as a part of traditional spice blends like garam masala, it is also used in the preparation of rice-meat dishes such as pulao and biryani. Apart from savory dishes saffron is also a key ingredient of Indian desserts.
|17. Poppyseed (Khus Khus):|
These seeds are obtained from the pods of the poppy plant. With its soft and nutty characteristics, poppy seed has made its way into the list of popular spices that are used in Indian cuisine.
Place of origin - Greece and the Orient.
Scientific name - Papaver somniferum
Properties - Poppy seeds contain good levels of minerals like iron, copper, calcium, potassium, manganese, zinc and magnesium.
Benefits - Being a good source of vitamin B-complex, poppy seeds have strong antioxidant properties.
Uses - They are usually dry-roasted or fired and sprinkled or added to breads, sweet and savory dishes.
|18. Curry leaves (Kadi Patta)|
Curry leaf is integral to Indian cooking. It has a subtle flavor and imparts a mild fragrance.
Place of origin - East and south part of India, Pakistan, Sri- Lanka
Scientific name - Murraya koenigii
Properties - They are rich in carbohydrates, proteins, fiber, calcium, phosphorus, iron and other minerals. They also contain vitamins like vitamin A, vitamin B, vitamin C, vitamin E
Benefits - Curry leaf is said to aid weight loss, treat diarrhea and, relieve morning sickness. . It is also considered beneficial for improving eyesight, reducing stress, etc.
Uses - In most cases, curry leaves are fried in oil to add depth and taste while seasoning a dish.
|19. Sesame seeds (Til)|
Sesame seeds come in three different colors black, white and brown colors. These seeds are often used to add nuttiness to Indian cuisine.
Place of origin - Asia or East Africa,
Scientific name - Sesamum indicum
Properties - Sesame seeds are a good source of several nutrients crucial for your immune system, including zinc, selenium, copper, iron, and vitamin B6
Benefits - Lowers blood pressure, reduce hypertension, aid in preventing diabetes and cancer.
Uses - Sesame seeds are usually roasted and added to dishes for an extra dose of crunch and flavor.
|20. Mango powder (Amchur)|
As the name suggests, this is dried mango powder. It is the perfect balance of sweet and sour and has a fruity flavor. It is also used as a substitute for lemon in dishes.
Place of origin - India
Scientific name - Mangifera Indica
Properties - Amchur powder has high levels of vitamin C, A, and E. It is also rich in iron and contains many other nutrients with antioxidant properties.
Benefits - Combats acidity, ensures timely bowel movements and, is said to aid weight loss.
Uses- It is often added to curries, chutneys and soups.
|21. Mace (Javitri)|
Mace is not used in everyday cooking but is known for its characteristic taste and aroma.
Place of origin - Indonesia
Scientific name - Myristica fragrans
Properties - Mace is extremely rich in important B-complex vitamins, vitamin C, folic acid, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin A and many flavonoid anti-oxidants
Benefits - This strongly aromatic spice is said to keep constipation at bay. It also helps in preventing gastroenteritis.
Uses - It is normally used at the beginning of the cooking so that its full-bodied flavor permeates the dish.
|22. Black cardamom (Badi Elaichi)|
The next time you savor a plate of pulao and marvel at the sumptuous taste, think of black cardamom. Black cardamom is a popular Indian spice, called badi elaichi or kali elaichi, that is used in many signature dishes of Indian cuisine.
Place of origin - Southern India
Scientific name - Amomum subulatum
Properties - Black Cardamom is highly rich in vitamin C, Iron and potassium
Benefits - It helps in various digestive disorders and also helps in fighting stomach ulcers.
Uses - Often used in rice and dal preparations, black cardamom or badi elaichi has a robust, rich aroma, and a smoky flavor.
Every Indian mother has used most of the above-mentioned spices in her cooking. Not only do spices add amazing richness and depth to dishes, but each also has fantastic health benefits too. So, the next time you compliment your mother on her incredible culinary skills, remember that spices too played an integral part in the process!