Quick Guide for Indian Spices by Janki Patel



Indian spices are the heart of Indian cuisine, they have been used for centuries and many of them are proven to have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antimicrobial effects. Spices hold an integral part Indian cooking, every spice has its own flavoring and essence, and its addition or omission can literally make or break a dish.


A common sight in Indian kitchens is a shining bright stainless steel round container called a “masala dabba”. This masala dabba houses the most commonly used spices for everyday cooking. Today, I want to share what spices are in my masala dabba and their health benefits!


  1. Mustard seeds

What is it? Mustard seeds are a tiny round spice from the mustard plant. Black mustard seeds are spicy and pungent.

What does it contain? Mustard seeds are very rich in phytonutrients, minerals, vitamins, and antioxidants.

How can you use it? Mustard seeds are tempered in a small amount of oil or ghee and used for garnishing dishes.


  1. Cumin seeds

What is it? Cumin seeds come from the parsley family, it has a nutty aroma and a bitter taste.

What does it contain? Cumin is a good source of magnesium, iron, and calcium. It has anti-inflammatory properties and aids in digestion.

How can you use it? Cumin is used to flavor rice, vegetables, and many other savory dishes. 


  1. Carom seeds

What is it? Carom seeds are from the apiaceae plant. Carom seeds have an earthy, bitter and pungent taste. 

What does it contain? Carom seeds are rich in fibre, antioxidants, and various vitamins and minerals. Carom seeds also provide relief from cough and cold, soothe pain, and improve digestion.

How can you use it? Carom seeds are used for tempering lentil dishes and seasoning curries. Carom seeds can also be chewed raw after a meal to aid in digestion.


  1. Turmeric

What is it? Turmeric originates from the root of the Curcuma longa plant. Turmeric powder has an earthy, warm, and bitter flavor.

What does it contain? Curcumin, a bright yellow polyphenol compound produced by the turmeric plant, which has the potential to prevent chronic diseases such as cancer, heart disease, arthritis, and Alzheimer’s disease. 

How can you use it? It is used in everyday food preparation to add color and flavor to various recipes. 


  1. Red chili powder

What is it? Red chili powder is made from a variety of spicy ground red chilies. 

What does it contain? Red chili powder is a good source of vitamin C, aids in weight loss and pain relief. 

How can you use it? Red chili powder is used to add heat, spice, and a natural red color to dishes.


  1. Coriander powder

What is it? Coriander is the dried seed of the Coriandrum sativum plant. Coriander has a warm, earthy, and aromatic taste with a hint of citrus. Coriander seeds can be used whole or can be ground into powder form.

What does it contain? Coriander powder is rich in iron, manganese, and calcium. It promotes heart and digestive health.

How can you use it? Ground coriander is added to enhance the taste and texture of dishes. It is often paired with cumin to lift the overall flavor profile of dishes. 


  1. Asafoetida

What is it? Asafoetida is a dried and powdered resin that is extracted from a ferula plant. Asafoetida has a very pungent smell and taste.  

What does it contain? Asafoetida is rich in antioxidants and aids in digestive health. 

How can you use it? Asafoetida is used in tempering of dishes and also adds flavours of onion and garlic. 


Tips on spice storage: 


Over time, spices can lose their flavor potency as they pass their peak freshness. In order to preserve the quality, freshness, and flavor of your spices, it’s important to know how to store them properly. 


  1. Store your spices in air tight containers in a cool dark place. Storing your spices in a tightly closed container will protect them from oxidation and fading of their natural color. 
  2. Protect your spices from moisture as it can quickly diminish their flavor and aroma. Store a clean and dry spoon in your masala dabba to use while cooking.
  3. Each spice type has a different shelf life, which is impacted by how they are stored and if they are ground or whole.
  • Whole spices retain the most flavor for 3-4 year 
  • Ground spices retain the most flavor for 2-3 years 
  • Seeds retain the most flavor for 4 years
  1. Fill spices in your masala dabba as per your usage. Purchase spices in smaller quantities to ensure that you are using them all up before they reach the end of their shelf life.
  2. Clean your spice cabinet often. Organize, label and date the containers. If your spices begin to smell musky or change flavor and color, discard them. 


Janki Patel is a registered dietitian nutritionist. Her passion is to help people transform the way they eat, make peace with food, and live their best lives. Janki uses culturally relevant, patient-centered approach to self-care, with a goal of helping people find a true balance that works for them. Follow her @balancedbitesrd. Work with her to discover the most sustainable diet for YOU!
Janki Patel, RD

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