Importance of Whole spices in Indian Cuisine

Indian spices and Indian food are inseparable. Indian food is not complete without these exotic spices. An assortment of spices are grown and produced in Indian subcontinent.

In the Indian cuisine, spices are added to the dish in various forms i.e. as whole spice, roasted, as grounded powder, stir fried, chopped or as a topping. Some spices are added to a dish in the blended form like garam masala, sambhar masala etc.

The spices used in Indian cuisine differ region wise according to the difference in climate. Those used in the Northern region are different from the ones used in the Southern region.

Different Whole Spices Used in Indian Cuisine:

Coriander Seeds (Dhania) – These light brown or golden seeds are hollow and crisp and they have a very nice nutty/lemony flavour. For tempering a dish these are used whole. As a flavouring agent, these are used in stews, sweet bread, cakes etc.

Coriander is rich in many minerals like iron, calcium, potassium, copper, zinc, and magnesium. It is an anti oxidant and contains vitamin C and B-complex.

Cumin Seeds – These add taste and a discrete strong flavor to the food. Since ancient times this spice has been used as a flavouring agent to cook meat dishes as well as vegetarian curries, rice dishes, dry vegetables etc. It is also used for tempering soups, dals and other dishes .

The cumin seeds are rich in iron, calcium, selenium, copper, manganese, zinc, magnesium, and potassium. These also have vitamin B-complex, vitamin E, A and C.

These help in digestion and avert diarrhea, nausea and help to cure common colds.

Asafoetida ( Hing )– It is also called ‘devil’s dung’, or the ‘stinking gum’ because of its strong pungent smell. This smell changes when you add it to hot oil or ghee for tempering or seasoning the food.

Asafoetida helps to lower blood pressure, it prevents constipation, reduces flatulence. Colic in infants can be cured if a small piece of warm hing is placed on the baby’s stomach.

Mustard Seeds –3 types of mustard seeds are used in cooking, black, white and brown mustard. When these are fried in oil, they impart a beautiful fragrance to the food.

Mustard seeds are used for cooking rice, salads, vegetables and for making pickles. These are fried in oil and used for tempering food items to add colour and flavour.

These seeds contain selenium which helps to reduce asthma, it is anti-inflammatory and has anti-cancer properties. The seeds contain omega-3 fatty acids, iron, protein, calcium, zinc, and manganese.

Sesame Seeds – These seeds have many nutritional, preventive and curing properties. The seeds have a slight nutty flavor which becomes stronger when the seeds are roasted.

It is used as a seasoning for many dishes. These are scattered over bakery products like cakes, biscuits etc. they are used for making Indian sweets, like gajjak, mixed with peanuts and jaggery, which is eaten in the cold season.

The seeds contain many essential nutrients, minerals, antioxidants and vitamins like B- complex, folic acid, calcium, iron, copper etc.


Thus, spices add flavor and aroma to a dish. Each spice has an exclusive flavor, but when it is blended with other spices the flavour it imparts is out of the ordinary. Not only the aroma, spices have many medicinal benefits also. So when these are used in the food they are beneficial to our health as well.

The Significance of Red Chilli Powder

Red Chilli PowderThe chilli, or chilli pepper, is the fruit of a plant. Humans have been eating it since over 6000 years. It has been used in food and in medicines. It was first discovered in America, but today it is being produced, exported and also consumed by India the most as compared to other countries.

The contribution of Andhra Pradesh in the export of the chilli is about 75%. There are many varieties of chilli pepper, out of these five species are cultivated. Capsaicin is the substance that gives the chillies their ‘hot’ flavour.

Red Chilli powder

Red chilli powder or lal mirch powder is a very hot spice, if consumed in excess it can cause a burning sensation on the tongue, in stomach, and in ears. So, it should be taken in small quantity. In Indian cuisine, red chillies are used whole or in powder form. It is used in almost all Indian dishes. Its red colour and hot aroma augment a recipe.

Ripe red chillies are sun dried to conserve them for a long time. After grinding them the popular red chilli powder is formed. This is used in curries and other cuisine to give the dish its beautiful bright colour.

Two types of red chilli powder is found in the market, dark red coloured powder is less hot as compared to the light red coloured which is very spicy. Take care while buying the chilli powder, check the label and buy a good brand chilli powder.

Storage of Red Chilli Powder

Red chilli powder can be stored for 10 to 12 months in air tight containers. It should be kept in cold, dry places away from direct heat and sun. A small piece of asafetida added to the container keeps the powder fresh for a longer time.

Benefits of Red Chilli powder

  • Vitamin C is found in huge amount in chillies. It is a water soluble antioxidant.
  • These also contain vitamin B, carotene, and minerals like potassium, iron and magnesium.
  • Capsaicin found in red chillies improves metabolism and blood circulation.
  • Capsaicin is anti-bacterial, and a pain reliever.
  • It reduces pain and helps to clear congested respiratory system.
  • It helps to reduce weight, hastens digestion and metabolism.
  • It reduces LDL cholesterol in overweight people.
  • It improves the ability of the body to dissolve fibrin needed to form blood clots during an injury.
  • It helps to improves immune system of the body as it contains vitamins A, B, and C.
  • Capsaicin in red chillies, is anti-inflammatory, so it helps in the treatment of arthritis, psoriasis etc.

Uses of Chilli Pepper /Powder

  • To make hot sauce, fresh or dried chillies are used.
  • It is one of the main ingredients of the spice mixture, curry powder.
  • It is used to add taste, colour and flovour in almost all Indian dishes.
  • In soups, chilli sauce etc. it is used as a seasoning agent.
  • It is used to prepare vegetables, curries, snacks, and pickles.
  • Capsaicin found in chilli pepper, is the main constituent of pepper spray, a non- toxic weapon.


Red chilli powder is used in every Indian home for almost all dishes to add taste, colour, flavor etc. A dish looks drab without red chilli powder. It is one of the essential spices for seasoning a dish. With the range of health benefits it sure is an important spice.

Different types of Blended Masalas used in Indian Cooking

Masala means ‘spices’, and masalas are a blend of different spices mixed together in dissimilar proportions. These spices are got from plants and they are a good source of vitamins and minerals. They are beneficial to health and are used in Indian cuisine as well as in medicines, perfumes and as preservatives.

The blended masalas have been used in India since ancient times. A number of spices are produced in Kerala. Every region has its own blend of masalas, different for different recipes, with a distinct flavor like garam masala in North India and curry powder in South India. Different blended masalas are used every day in all Indian homes.

Different Types of Blended Masalas

  • Garam Masala – As the name suggests, Garam masala means a hot mixture. It is an amazing blend of Indian spices with maximum aroma and flavor. The spices used may differ from place to place, but the basic spices remain the same. These are cumin, coriander, cloves, cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg and black pepper corns. Other ingredients may include dry ginger powder, bay leaves. Mace, fennel, fenugreek seeds.

To make the masala, all ingredients are dry roasted before grinding them to a powder. This is stored in a cool, dry place in airtight containers.

It can be used for any dish, vegetarian or meat. A small quantity of garam masala augments the taste and flavor of the dish. It can be added to gravy, soup, sause, stewed vegetables, to marinate any food item etc. It should be added at the end, when the dish is cooked, to retain its aroma.

  • Chat Masala – It has a sweet as well as a sour taste. It is used to give a tangy taste to foods like golgappa, aloo chat, dahi chat, papri chat and also to some drinks. It is also used to sprinkle on fruits and salads.

Chat masala is a blend of spices that are extremely aromatic and stimulating. It is made by mixing spices like coriander powder, cumin powder, dry mango powder, black pepper, salt, black salt, dried ginger powder, asafetida, mint and chilli powder.

  • Pav Bhaji Masala – The masala used for making ‘bhaji’, mashed mixed vegetables, to be eaten with ‘pav’ or the bun. Mainly eaten in Gujarat and Maharashtra, it is loved by all and now it is a very popular dish.

The masala is a blend of cumin seeds, coriander seeds, black cardamoms, black pepper corns, dry red chillies, fennel seeds, cinnamon and dry mango powder. All ingredients are dry roasted and then ground to a fine powder.

Not only pav bhaji, this masala can be used in any Indian curry. It is a versatile masala.

  • Channa Masala – Channas or chole, mainly a Punjabi dish, but very well-liked all over. It is eaten with ‘bhatura’ or ‘kulcha’, but it can also be eaten with rice or parathas.

Chanas can be cooked in many different ways, dry or with gravy. Chana masala is made using spices like coriander seeds, cloves, cinnamon, black pepper, cardamom, cumin seeds, anardana and bay leaves. Dry roast and grind all ingredients.


Freshly ground masala has a strong fragrance which becomes less over a period of time. Care must be taken to check the date of packing, while buying masala packets from the market. The blended masala will have less aroma if the masala is old.

Cumin – The Wonder Spice in Indian Food

Cumin is a very popular food item used all over the world. It is the seed of a plant that belongs to the parsley family, Cuminum cyminum, and grows up to a foot in height in hot climate. The leaves are dark green in colour with thin stems and the flowers are red or white in colour.

Cumin Seeds and powder

The cumin seeds, brown, black and white in colour, are used whole or in powder form in Indian cuisine. When roasted and ground, its aroma and the taste is enhanced. The powder should be stored in airtight containers away from sunlight, to retain its sweet nutty aroma.

Dry roasting the seeds helps to release the oils which in turn make the aroma stronger.

Uses of Cumin

Indian dishes are not complete without cumin. It lends a special taste and flavor to the food items. It is used in all kinds of dishes from curries to soups and stews, or curd and chutney.

Cumin seeds are used in different ways in Indian cooking. It is fried in a pan with oil before the vegetables or meat is added to cook. For tempering any dish like dal, soup or any curry the seeds are first fried in oil and then poured on to the dish.

When powdered cumin is sprinkled on top of any dish, it adds a beautiful flavor to it. It is one of the important ingredients of the popular curry powder.

Cumin is also used in baking certain breads and to add flavor in some cheeses. It has a somewhat bitter taste so it should be used in small quantity.

Health Benefits of Cumin

  • The mucilage in cumin seeds protects the intestinal track. It improves the defense mechanism of the body, improves the skin, hair and nails.
  • Black cumin seeds have curative properties and are used to treat many ailments like allergies, cold etc. Oil of black cumin helps to cure acne.
  • Cumin seeds are anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial and these reduce indigestion and gas.
  • Cumin is good for the digestive system as it arouses the emission of the pancreatic enzymes which are needed for good digestion and absorption of the nutrients.
  • The extract of black cumin reduces blood pressure, prevents gas and bloating of the stomach.
  • A mixture of roasted ground cumin and rock salt is good to massage gums for bleeding and to strengthen them.
  • People with cancer of the pancreas have benefited from the extract of cumin as it blocks the growth of the cells.
  • Cumin tea helps to reduce cold and sore throat symptoms. It is also used to heal urinary tract problems, and to clean the bladder and the kidneys.
  • Cumin tea helps to reduce swelling and inflammation, and also helps to absorb iron in the body and purifies blood.
  • Roasted cumin seeds when chewed, help to cure mouth sores and keep the breath fresh.
  • It helps to normalize bowel movement and stops diarrhea.
  • Black cumin seeds have antioxidants and it helps to lower blood sugar of people with diabetes.


Indian cooking is not complete without the use of cumin as a whole seed or in the powder form sprinkled on top to garnish the dish. It is used for its taste, aroma and for its medicinal benefits.