5 Indian Spices that make up the Country’s Food Culture

The Indian food culture cannot really be divorced from spices. It wouldn’t really be wrong to claim that “spices” are what differentiate Indian cuisines from that of others. The spices, often rendered in complex mixes, actually end up lending richness to the Indian dishes-- the kind of “richness” which is hard to be found in other cuisines. These spices are either used in their original form (whole) or are ground.

Here is a look at the top 5 spices that are integral to the Indian food culture.

Before delving into the details of each of these spices, make sure you are investing in a powerful grinder and blender to ensure that these spices are finely ground – if at all you are using ground spices. Read on for details


Clove remains a common Indian spice backed by powerful medicinal flavour. Cloves are technically flowers and are derived from a rich concentration of essential oils. When it comes to cooking, they are used in their driest possible form (after the oil has been squeezed out from the same). You can either blend them with other spices or else use them whole. Thanks to the powerful flavour that we have talked about here—clove often ends up overwhelming –other more subtle spices used in a dish.


Cumin seeds – once again- are used to add a typical smoky flavour to Indian dishes. Just like clove, cumin seeds have powerful fragrance as well. Cumin itself can easily be identified by its striking ridged brown colour and of course its strong fragrance. These seeds are often confused with caraway, anise and fennel seeds. However, it will not really be difficult for you to identify these seeds – provided you are prudent enough to pay attention to the nuances.

First of all, fennel has a greenish tinge, unlike cumin that has a brownish one. Plus, cumin tastes smoky while fennel has a more liquorice feel to it.

Black pepper

Black pepper – once again – remains one of the very popular Indian spices that have caught the fancy of foreigners as well. No, we are not really saying that they have started preparing food with black pepper in them – frequently. However, they do want to try out a dish or two containing black pepper whenever they are here.

Grown mostly in the Western Ghats and the Malabar region, black pepper requires to be toasted before blending. You can also use them directly after grinding. It is difficult to grow them. The freshness of the seeds depends on the amount of rainfall they receive during their growth.


Don’t be surprised if someone tells you that coriander remains one of the most oft-used spices in the Indian dishes. It has got a tender ridged texture mixed with a yellow colour. It serves as the base for many mixed spices and is also used in isolation. It needs to be dry-roasted before use.


Mustard seeds are brown, yellow and black in colour and all of them end up rendering slightly different tastes to dishes. The smoky, nutty flavour is preferred by North Indians.