Indians are very passionate about their spices and use nearly a dozen of different spices in some of their dishes. Garnishing a curry with a set of specific spices gives it a special flavor and taste. Most of spices used for medical and culinary purposes all over the world is native to Indian subcontinent, whereas some of the spices have been imported from foreign land and grown locally for centuries. Though the list of Indian spices would be unending, here is the list of top 10 most popular spices of India.
Mustard is one of the oldest cultivated crops, of which both the small pungent flavored seeds and leaves are edible. In western world, mustard is often used in preparation of condiments, pickles and marinades. Indian vegetarian dishes seem incomplete without the music of the mustard seeds bursting in oil during tempering. Along with curry leaves and few other spices they give out a distinct aroma to the gravy or vegetable.
Considered to be the most expensive of all spices in the world, saffron has been sought after by Indians to garnish their sweets, kheer, biryani and other recipes. The spice originated in Greece and today nearly 90% of the saffron in grown in Iran; but none can equal the flavor, color or taste of the Kashmiri Saffron, where it has been cultivated for 2500 years.
The fruit of fennel plants have been dried and used as spice by Indians for centuries. The sweet and pungent flavor of fennel seeds, commonly known as saunf has made it very popular garnish and also a mouth freshener. Though used as a seed, they are also roasted and powered for some special dishes. It is a first-rate digestive aid. Ayurveda refers to fennel seeds as Mishi and uses it to treat various ailments.
Black pepper nicknamed as black gold, was used as currency in the past. It is the most widely traded spice in the world. Native to the Malabar coast, it often said that the trade of this exclusive spice had forced the Europeans to find a trade route to Indian and China. A pinch of black pepper has been added to almost every Indian spicy dish to enhance its taste since 2 BCE. It was initially used for medicinal purposes in treatment of tooth decay, cardiac diseases, constipation, hernia, diarrhea, insomnia, abscess and many others.
Ginger, a magical herb is widely used all over the world in the form of fresh or dried root, powder, extract and oil. To meet the great demand for the herb all over the world, ginger is now made available in candied, crystallized and preservative forms. The western world uses ginger in preparations of sweets, whereas in India, ginger is used to spice up curries and many vegetarian recipes. Ginger/garlic paste is a must for all meat recipes cooked in Indian subcontinent. The ginger halwa known as Katlu is given to pregnant and nursing women for health benefits. Ginger chai and ginger coffee are among the favorite beverages in India, especially for the health conscious people.
Keeping aside the old wives tales which has given garlic super powers to ward off evils and vampires, the spice is yet amazing with its health benefits which is the result of its anti-bacterial, anti-viral, anti-fungal and anti-oxidant properties. Indians use garlic for tempering the dishes along with mustard, curry leaves and other spices, spreading mouth watering aroma. The unique and intense flavor of garlic has seen its extensive use many cuisines around the world.
Research has shown evidence of Fenugreek consumption nearly 4000 years ago. Indians use the leaves (both dried and fresh), seeds and sprouts of the herb for culinary and therapeutic purposes. A substance sotolon gives fenugreek a distinct flavor which is craved by many. Known as methi in local dialect, fenugreek is considered to be one of the oldest and healthiest spices found in Indian kitchens. Fenugreek seeds are excellent remedy for throat congestion and constipation. It is also used in treatment of dandruff, acne and diabetes.
The fact that Egyptians used cumin for mummification should say much about its importance. Indians use cumin to temper or spice up their rice, vegetables and many non-vegetarian recipes. Cumin with buttermilk is considered an excellent healthy and cooling drink on a hot summer day. Cumin has laxative, carminative and antifungal property. It is used to treatment of common colds, indigestion, anemia, piles and menstrual problems.
Cardamom, the queen of spices, has been used to enhance the flavor and taste, of both sweets as well as spicy Indian dishes alike. It is an important part of garam masala used to cook non-vegetarian dishes. The elaichi chai is one of the most desired beverages of Indians. It is ranked third among the most expensive spices of the world. The spice is rich in antioxidants which boosts the immune system. It is known to aid digestion, heal stomach cramps and treat halitosis.
Turmeric ranks high among Indian spices today, since scientific research has proven its anti-carcinogenic property as well as other health benefits. The spice is used for its bright yellow color and distinct flavor all over India. In earlier days, turmeric was used as a medicinal herb in Ayurveda. It is mostly used in powdered form, though some people use fresh turmeric root and leaves for specific recipe.