12 Essential Indian Spices Every Pantry Needs

One of the scariest things about cooking Indian dishes is the array of Indian spices & the complexity of use. Here, we break it down into the essentials so you can get started cooking easy tandoori rubs, quick curries, stir-fries & more! 

To start, there is no such thing as curry powder- this is a totally Western inspired blend. We love it in butter chicken recipes & to add easy flavor to dishes but, alas, it's not exactly authentic. Different regions use their own distinctive, characteristic blends of just two or three spices, which means homemade Indian food tends to use less spice than the restaurant dishes that North Americans are used to. Most importantly, the rules are not rigid. If you don't have a specific spice called for in a recipe, it's okay to mix and match (or skip it completely). It will alter the flavor, yes, but the more you play around with how spices impact certain dishes, the better you'll get.

Lastly, stick to small batches: You'll only need 1 to 2 ounces of spices & blends, like cumin and coriander every few months. Purchase in small batches to keep it fresh. Here are the 12 essential Indian spices every pantry should have: 

 

Organic Asafoetida

Also known as Hing, asafoetida powder is derived from the root of a plant in the carrot family. This spice is a staple ingredient in South Indian cooking, particularly in vegetarian dishes. Asafoetida has a uniquely pungent raw smell and flavor that mellows into a deeply full bodied flavor when cooked, and is probably most comparable to washed cheese rinds. We love adding asafoetida to dahls, vegetarian curries, and loads of other South Indian dishes.

Organic Black Mustard Seeds

Black mustard seeds actually belong in the same family as wasabi and horseradish. The most pungent and spicy of mustard seeds, compared to its yellow and brown cousins, black mustard seeds are also the hardest to find, as these cannot be harvested by machines. Black mustard seeds are often tempered in hot oil in Indian cooking to bring out their flavor, before using in curries, lentil soups, roasted vegetables. We love including these in our spice blends as well.

Organic Green Cardamom Seeds

Guatemala and India are the largest producers of green cardamom and is the world's third most expensive spice, behind saffron and vanilla. Green cardamom is mainly used in the Middle East, with Saudi Arabia as the largest importer. Cardamom coffee is a huge driver of this, with cardamom also used in curries, pickles and in spice blends. We love green cardamom's delicate, ginger like, sweet flavor in sweets and coffees and source these organic green cardamom seeds from a Guatemalan cooperative.

Organic Fenugreek Seeds

Fenugreek seeds are prevalent in Middle Eastern cooking- particularly Turkish & Egyptian cuisine- and have a sweet, nutty flavor. Toast these whole fenugreek organic seeds in oil or dry and freshly ground for us in soup, curries, breads or tea.

Vadouvan

A French take on an Indian masala, this blend is bursting with the aromatic and vibrant flavors of both cuisines. Shallots, onion and garlic combine with fenugreek, fennel, curry leaves and other spices to bring a warm, full and rounded flavor. Use as a base for a curry but works really well as a "tempering" spice- add towards the end of cooking to bring balance and warmth. Particularly yummy in birianis and dahls!

Organic Cumin

We think cumin seeds are terribly underrated in the US. These seeds are an essential ingredient to Indian cooking, often toasted whole in oil before grinding, for a nutty toasted flavor, and added to blends like garam masala and tandoori masala or added whole to black bean or carrot soups. In Mexico, nearly all stews and bean recipes include it as well.

Organic Coriander

These Moroccan whole organic coriander seeds have lemony, sweet flavors and grows wild in Egypt, England and Sudan. Coriander has been known in Asia for thousands of years and was even found in the tomb of the Egyptian pharaoh Tutankhamun. Seeds are typically toasted before being ground and added to meat rubs, curries, breads and baked goods.

Organic Turmeric

India is the largest grower of turmeric and Alleppey, a region in southwestern India, is considered to have the best. High quality turmeric is high in essential oils and curcumin, which gives turmeric its unique orange-yellow coloring. We source organic whole dried turmeric "fingers" and freshly grind into a powder each week, to keep it fresh. Organic turmeric powder adds a complex, rich, woody flavor to Indian curries, vegetables, lentil stews, rice, onions and tomatoes. We love adding this to smoothies, sauces and baked goods as well.

Tandoori Masala

The core flavor base of Northern India's most popular tandoori-style dishes, this freshly ground tandoori spice masala consists of over a dozen spices adds rich, complex character. Use into marinate chicken, meat, seafood or vegetables in a traditional yogurt spice mixture, then char over high heat for a juicy interior and crispy, spicy exterior.

Garam Masala

Among the most famous of Indian masalas, there are literally thousands of ways to prepare garam masala. Our organic garam masala is toasted and freshly ground, using a traditional Punjabi family recipe. Include to add complex flavor and heat to chicken tikka masala (a British invention), traditional curries, braised vegetables or lentils.

Panch Phoran

Panch Phoran, which literally translates to “five spices”, is a crunchy, toasted, whole spice blend, perfect for tossing into or topping roasted potatoes, vegetables, or dals. Typically added to oil or ghee over medium heat, toast these until they pop and add to anything from sauteed vegetables to a pot of lentils.

Chaat Masala

Amchoor, asafoetida & black salt are just a few of the ingredients that give this spice blend its unique, tangy flavor profile. This is the go to spice blend for most Indian snacks, street foods, roasted and fried food and salads. Punctuate any vegetarian dish (especially chickpeas—which are bursting with protein and fiber) or use as a topping on eggs, salads, curries, or fresh fruits.

 

Green Cardamom Pods

Guatemala and India are the largest producers of green cardamom and is the world's third most expensive spice, behind saffron and vanilla. Green cardamom is mainly used in the Middle East, with Saudi Arabia as the largest importer. Cardamom coffee is a huge driver of this, with cardamom also used in curries, pickles and in spice blends. We love green cardamom's delicate, ginger like, sweet flavor in sweets and coffees.

 

Black Cardamom Pods

Today, black cardamom is only grown in three countries: India, Nepal & Bhutan. Black cardamom provides big flavors, deep warmth and a smokiness that is nearly impossible to duplicate. Black cardamom helps to blend flavors together and pairs beautifully with lime and chiles in hearty slow cooked beef and lamb curries. Try using to add flavor to rice or lentils or collard greens and, in Nordic countries, is added to baked bread and other lightly infused sweet dishes.

 

Tellicherry Peppercorns

Tellicherry are named after an Indian city on the Malabar coast, where they hail. These are considered some of the finest peppercorns in the world and are our "go to" peppercorns for everyday freshly ground use. Black peppercorns are a fruit, and their flavor profile is impacted by their terroir (the soil and growing environment). Tellicherry peppercorns are, by definition, larger in size and have a beautifully complex, citrusy aroma. When it comes to the generic pre-ground stuff, this is our favorite black peppercorn, by far, every time.

 

Ground Cumin

We think cumin seeds are terribly underrated in the US. Cumin seeds are an essential ingredient to Indian cooking, often toasted whole in oil before grinding, for a nutty toasted flavor, and added to blends like garam masala and tandoori masala or added whole to black bean or carrot soups. In Mexico, nearly all stews and bean recipes include it as well. These whole cumin seeds are sourced from India, the primary producer of cumin seeds, and are roasted and freshly ground in house weekly.

 

Ground Coriander

Organic ground coriander seeds are roasted in house and freshly ground weekly. Ground coriander has lemony, sweet flavors and grows wild in Egypt, England and Sudan. Coriander has been known in Asia for thousands of years and was even found in the tomb of the Egyptian pharaoh Tutankhamun. These ground and roasted seeds can easily be added to meat rubs, curries, breads and baked goods.

 

Nutmeg

Whole nutmegs in the US are a classic baking spice but can be freshly grated into cream sauces, custard, eggnogs, whipped cream, roasted vegetable dishes, stewed greens or infused into tea or coffee. In the Middle East, nutmeg is popular in lamb and curry dishes. These whole, high quality nutmegs are grown on the island of Grenada. Includes 6-7 whole nutmegs per ounce.

 

Fenugreek Leaves

These leaves have a much milder flavor than the seeds, tasting somewhat like a blend of fennel and celery. Fenugreek leaves are an important spice in Indian cuisine and can be found in yeast bread called methi naan. Iran traditionally uses the leaves in a thick sauce called ghorme sabzi made from fresh or dried vegetables. Try mashing the leaves and sprinkling them over curries and dry vegetable dishes just before serving for an unforgettable flavor.

 

Curry Leaves Organic

Curry leaves originate from Southwest Asia and are used to add flavor to curries & soups in both Indian and Asian cooking. These organic curry leaves add an awesome citrusy pop to stir fries, veggies and lentil dishes as well!

 

Ready to get cooking? Sign up for the quarterly spice subscription & get 6 freshly ground, seasonal spices & blends. Plus, subscribers always save 25% on all spices in our shop. We also think it makes a pretty great gift for your favorite foodies & spice lovers :)

Freshly Ground Spices, Shipped Quarterly.

Get The Quarterly Kits