Spices are one of the cornerstones in Indian cooking. There is no dish that doesn't have some, and usually a lot, spices in it: even ice cream, bread, and candy is usually spicy. Most spices are very healthy and good for digestion as well, so it's important to know your spices, and how to treat them.

Mixtures of spices are not often used, usually only for seasoning, usually each spice is added seperately, in seperate stages of the dish. The term 'masala' is used for any type of spice mixture, regardless whether it's ground spices, whole spices or even pastes of wet spices (garlic, ginger, chili pepper).

Grinding fresh when required

Seeds can best be ground right before usage: ground spices lose their flavour relatively fast. If you want to store powders, put them in an airtight can and preferrably store in the freezer: this way they remain relatively fragrant and fresh, however, grinding 'on the spot' is still recommended.


Almost all spices are roasted before usage, most in a dry pan, some (e.g. fenugreek) in a bit of oil. Some spices (such as cumin) you can leave until smoke is rising from the pan: this is good, because it removes the more volatile, sharper taste and brings out the more nutty character of the spices. After heating, cool down a bit before grinding.

Different stages

Spices are added in different forms, in different stages of the cooking cycle. Usually some spices are added to the oil or ghee before the onions, this is often called the 'whole masala', whole spices such as bay leaves, cumin, mustard seeds, but also cardamom, cinnamon and cloves, and dry red chili pepper are fried in the oil, until the seeds begin to pop or the smells come free. Then the onions are fried, after a while garlic, ginger, green chilies and such are added (sometimes referred to as the 'green masala'), after that tomatoes (if any) and spice powders (the 'ground masala') and salt. When the tomatoes are soft, curd, vegetables and/or meat is added until done, and the dish is served (sometimes) with some seasoning.

Spice list

A short description of commonly used spices:

DISCLAIMER: I am far from a 'guru' in this area, I'm basically just writing down what I think I understand with my very limited background in home cooking... My information may be partially or totally wrong; if it is, please drop me a line...