THE COMPLETE GLOSSARY AND GUIDE TO INDIAN HERBS AND SPICES

Indian cuisine is famous for its intense flavours, kaleidoscopic range of colours and the infamous levels of heat generated by some of its more notorious dishes. South Asian cuisine relies heavily on a dizzying array of herbs and spices to achieve all of this.

This guide will aim to break down every possible spice you could find listed on the recipe for an Indian dish; not just the name and what it is, but the Indian-English translation (for those of you using traditional recipes), the commonness, where to find it, the price, the dishes you typically find the ingredient in and the spiciness.

To better understand this guide, please refer to the following key:

Indian name: This is the name that you'll find the ingredient under in traditional Indian recipes. Many online translators don't have the Indian name of specific herbs - particularly the obscure ones - so you will often find the Indian name used in even translated online recipes. Many of the names are similar yet can refer to vastly different herbs and spices, meaning it's vital to know the exact translation.

Price: This scale goes from £ to £££ and refers to how expensive each herb and spice is typically in UK-based shops. At Mullaco Online, we're famous for our fantastic prices, so we are often cheaper than the majority of other retailers.

Commonality: Ranked from common, to uncommon, to rare, our commonality scale refers to how easy it is to find the particular ingredient in UK shops. Our range here at Mullaco Online is exceptionally good, so much of what you can find here isn't readily available elsewhere.

Commonly used in: Even if your recipe doesn't call for a specific ingredient, by telling you what the ingredient is often found in, our guide can give you some handy pointers on how to give your culinary creations that special touch of authenticity. It also helps to show you if it's worth buying a specific ingredient by demonstrating how versatile it is! 

A

Alkanet Root

Indian name: Ratin Jot

Price: ££

Commonality: Rare

Spiciness: None

Commonly used in: Rogan josh and tikka masala curry

Alkanet root has a bark-like appearance and is a traditional, natural dyeing agent used in a variety of curries, most commonly rogan josh and some tikka masala, to give them a distinctive, deep red colour.

Anise

Indian name: Suwa

Price: ££

Commonality: Common

Spiciness: Mild

Commonly used in: Biryanis, garam masala powder

Typically sold in the fruit form, known as star anise, anise is more commonly associated with Chinese and Vietnamese cuisine (the countries where the plant originates from). Star anise is known for being extremely fragrant, and so should be used sparingly. It is one of the main ingredients within garam masala powder and is also noted for its potent effect on meat, hence its use in dishes such as biryanis

Asafoetida

Indian name: Hing

Price: ££

Commonality: Uncommon

Spiciness: None

Commonly used in: Vegetable curries

A latex gum taken from the roots of a certain species of plants, asafoetida is famous for its extremely strong and quite unpleasant smell before cooking. However, once cooked, it provides a smooth, gentle flavour. It is commonly found in vegetarian curries and dal, and is often pickled or served in a powdered form.

B

Basil

Indian name: Thai basil

Price: £

Commonality: Common

Spiciness: Mild

Commonly used in: Curries (as garnish)

Served in numerous different forms - tried, chopped, whole or shredded - basil is famous for its multiple uses. Fresh basil is best used as a garnish just before serving, as its peppery flavour is rapidly diluted by cooking. Dried basil is somewhat better at holding its flavour during the cooking process, and can be used to create rich sauces.

Bay leaf

Indian name: Tej patta

Price: £

Commonality: Common

Spiciness: Mild

Commonly used in: Biryanis, garam masala

Bay leafs are often used during the cooking process in order to add a sharp bitterness to a dish in order to counteract the sweetness found in many Indian spices and herbs. Bay leafs are not intended to be eaten, and are often removed before the dish is served (if not, they’re taken out by the recipient of the dish). Dried and ground bay leaves are used as an ingredient in garam masala powder.

Black cardamom

Indian name: Kali Elaichi

Price: ££

Commonality: Uncommon

Spiciness: Mild

Commonly used in: Oil, ghee

As the name suggests, black cardamom is similar to its green counterparts, but boast a smoky aroma with an almost mint-like coolness (rather than bitterness). Not particularly well suited to hotter dishes, black cardamom is most commonly used to infuse butter, oil or ghee in order to influence the overall flavour of a dish.

Black cumin

Indian name: Shah Jeera

Other name: Nigella

Price: £££

Commonality: Rare

Spiciness: Mild

Commonly used in: Curries, biryanis

Often compared to thyme and oregano, but offering a more intense flavour, black cumin is commonly found in more flavoursome versions of dishes that feature the aforementioned two herbs. It carries a high price, partly due to its use as a herbal remedy in many traditional medicines.

Black pepper

Indian name: Kali Mirchi

Price: £

Commonality: Common

Spiciness: Moderate

Commonly used in: Almost everything

Extremely common in both ground and powdered, black pepper needs very little introduction. Pepper has been so popular for so long that in centuries past, it was a key commodity that dictated trade routes and international relations. Thanks to its relative spiciness, it’s been a mainstay of Indian cooking for generations.

Black salt

Indian name: Kala Namak

Price: ££

Commonality: Uncommon

Spiciness: Mild

Commonly used in: Chutneys, chaats, spice blends

Black salt, unlike its common white equivalent, is quite unusual and almost exclusively used in the cuisine of South Asia. Taking its colour due to its high amount of sodium chloride, black salt differs from white salt in that is has a more sulphuric fragrance. It is used for a wide variety of purposes, including seasoning chutneys and chaats.

Brown mustard seed

Indian name: Rai

Price: £

Commonality: Common

Spiciness: Moderate

Commonly used in: Almost everything

Favoured in Indian cooking over the yellow seeds more commonly seen in the UK for their added heat. Like black pepper, brown mustard seeds are found in a huge variety of dishes, largely thanks to the fact that they can add spice to a dish without overpowering it with other flavours.

C

Capers

Indian name: Kachra

Price: £

Commonality: Common

Spiciness: Mild

Commonly used in: Fish dishes

These small buds may not be indigenous to the South Asia region, but they’ve become hugely popular in Indian cooking nonetheless. Because of their salty yet herbal flavouring, capers are often used to flavour fish and other naturally oily dishes.

Capsicum

Indian name: Shimla Mirch

Price: £

Commonality: Common

Spiciness: Mild

Commonly used in: Curries, biryanis

A name that has baffled countless chefs over the years, capsicum is simply the latin name for classic bell peppers. Chopped roughly or into strips, they are often included in curries to offer some crisp texturing and an extra flavour.

Cassia bark

Indian name: Chinese cinnamon

Price: £

Commonality: Common

Spiciness: Mild

Commonly used in: Curries, garnish on naan bread

More commonly known as cinnamon, cassia bark - in both stick and powdered forms - is used commonly in Indian cooking thanks to its unique combination of sweet and spicy flavours.

Cayenne pepper

Indian name: Lal mirch

Price: £

Commonality: Common

Spiciness: Hot

Commonly used in: Curries

Most often used in powdered form or dried flakes, cayenne pepper offer additional spice over its black pepper equivalent and, as such, is often used late in the cooking process after preliminary tasting to ensure the dish is hot enough.

Celery

Indian name: Ajmud

Other names: Radhuni seed

Price: £

Commonality: Common

Spiciness: None

Commonly used in: Chutneys, pickling

Not particularly common in Indian cooking, celery can sometimes be ground to create a chutney or pickled for use as a condiment. The seeds of celery are also occasionally used.

Charoli

Indian name: Chironji

Price: £

Commonality: Common

Spiciness: None

Commonly used in: Thick curries (e.g. kormas)

A seed with a taste not unlike almonds, charoli are often used in confectionary in India. They’re also ground into a powder and, thanks to their inoffensive and mild nutty taste, used as a thickening agent in savoury sauces.

Chilli pepper

Indian name: Hari mirch (green chilli pepper), lal mirch (red chilli pepper)

Price: £

Commonality: Common

Spiciness: Hot

Commonly used in: Jalfrezis and other hot curries

Perhaps no ingredient is more responsible for the reputation that Indian cooking has for heat than the chilli pepper. While many of the herbs and spices contribute to the heat, it is the penchant of Indian cooks everywhere to use chilli peppers that is responsible for the title Indian food has as one of the hottest, if not the single hottest, cuisines on the planet. Chilli peppers can be used to add spice to a curry and then removed, but they’re often left in to allow the heat even longer to imbue.

Cinnamon

Indian name: Dalchini

See Cassia Bark.

Cinnamon buds

Indian name: Nag Keshar

See Cassia Bark.

Citric Acid

Indian name: Nimbu Phool

Price: £

Commonality: Common

Spiciness: None

Commonly used in: Curries, pickles

Tomatoes (as a base ingredient) and lemon juice (as a finishing touch) both contain citric acid, and offer an important contribution to the often complex array of flavours present in many Indian dishes. Many pickles will use lemon juice as their pickling agent.

Cloves

Indian name: Laung

Price: £

Commonality: Common

Spiciness: None

Commonly used in: Curries

Boasting a strong aromatic flavour, cloves are often used in meaty curries. Although edible, it’s standard practice to remove them while eating.

Coriander

Indian name: Hara dhaniya

Price: £

Commonality: Common

Spiciness: None

Commonly used in: Curries, naan

Without doubt one of the herbs most commonly associated with Indian cooking is coriander. It’s frequently used in a variety of different ways. Fresh coriander leaves are often chopped and used as a garnish for curries. Coriander seeds (actually the fruit of the plant) and ground coriander powder boast a citrus flavour and are used in a huge range of dishes in lieu of lemon juice.

Cubeb

Indian name: Kebab Cheeni

Price: £££

Commonality: Rare

Spiciness: Mild

Commonly used in: Spice mixes (for curries)

A bitter herb, ground cubeb or cubeb seeds (also known as cubeb pepper) is often used within spice mixes designed to flavour curries.

Cumin seed

Indian name: Jeera, Jeera Goli (when in balls)

Price: £

Commonality: Common

Spiciness: None

Commonly used in: Rice, potatoes

Cumin’s unique combination of earthy tastes combined with a lemony fragrance makes it ideally suited to Indian cooking. It is usually utilised in a side dish - such as naan, potatoes or rice - in order for its delicately balanced combination of flavours to be fully appreciated.

D

Dried ginger

Indian name: Sonth

See Ginger.

Indian name: Sanchal

Price: £

Commonality: Common

Spiciness: Mild

Commonly used in: Spice mixes

With a similar flavour to anise, fennel seeds are a cheaper (and slightly more common) alternative. It is an integral part of many common spice mixes, including Chinese Five Spice.

Fenugreek

Indian name: Kasoori methi (fenugreek leaf), methi seed (fenugreek seed)

Price: ££

Commonality: Rare

Spiciness: None

Commonly used in: Daals, spice mix

A highly versatile spice (the seeds) or herb (the leaves, which can be both dried or fresh), fenugreek is uncommon in the UK. It is typically found in vegetable dishes, pickles and various spice mixes, where the fenugreek’s smooth flavour can counteract the bitterness of the other ingredients.

Indian name: Garam masala

Price: £

Commonality: Common

Spiciness: Moderate

Commonly used in: Almost everything

A ubiquitous ingredient across the vast spectrum of Indian cooking, garam masala is used in a huge range of different dishes and is beloved all over the UK thanks to its offering a perfect blend of spices in an easy to use format.

Garcinia gummi-gutta

Indian name: Kudampuli

Price: £££

Commonality: Rare

Spiciness: None

Commonly used in: Curries

Resembling a small green pumpkin, the rind of the garcinia gummi-gutta is ground up and used to add a sour flavour to curries.

Garlic

Indian name: Lehsun

Price: £

Commonality: Common

Spiciness: Moderate

Commonly used in: Almost everything

The moderately spicy, slightly sweet taste that garlic possesses makes it ideal for use in Indian food of all varieties. As well as being part of the overall spectrum that comes to make up curries, garlic is also used as they key base ingredient in certain dishes, including garlic curry and chicken-based meals.

Ginger

Indian name: Adrak (fresh ginger), Sonth (dried ginger)

Price: £

Commonality: Common

Spiciness: Moderate

Commonly used in: Almost everything

Ginger’s spiciness and woody notes when cooked make it ideal for use in some heart Indian cooking. Both sliced fresh ginger and ground ginger powder are used commonly; which one you opt for largely depends on whether you’ll be using ginger regularly enough to make it worthwhile.

Green cardamom

Indian name: Chhoti elaichi

Price: £

Commonality: Common

Spiciness: Mild

Commonly used in: Almost everything

Possessing a distinctive pine-like aroma, green cardamom. Commonly available in both pod and ground form (most recipes advocate the use of the pods), cardamom is a great sweeter counterbalance to the bitterness of many Indian spices. The pods are typically left in the food, but some choose to eat around them.

Gum tragacanth

Indian name: Katira goond

Price: £££

Commonality: Rare

Spiciness: None

Commonly used in: Confectionary

A naturally occurring substance taken from legumes, gum tragacanth is largely flavourless and is typically only used as a binding agent for Indian confectionary, holding dried pieces of fruit together to form the sweet.

Holy basil

Indian name: Tulsi

Price: ££

Commonality: Uncommon

Spiciness: Mild

Commonly used in: Herbal teas

A pungent herb not to be confused with basil, holy basil is only generally used fresh and is typically utilised where a strong, herbal aroma is required, such as in herbal teas.

I

Indian gooseberry

Indian name: Amla

Price: £

Commonality: Uncommon

Spiciness: Mild

Commonly used in: Pickles

These berries, which possess a slightly sour taste, are often pickled or eaten raw in Indian cuisine. They can also sometimes marinaded in sugary syrup to serve as a dessert.

Inknut

Indian name: Harad

Price: ££

Commonality: Rare

Spiciness: Mild

Commonly used in: Pickles, preserves

The small inknut is actually a fruit, rather than a nut. It is typically pickled or used as a preserve.

K

Kalpasi

Indian name: Pathar ka phool

Price: £

Commonality: Rare (by itself)

Spiciness: Mild

Commonly used in: Curries, garam masala

A strange, crumbly looking spice, kalpasi is most commonly found in garam masala but is available by itself. Although largely scentless in its basic form, it releases a strong, aromatic flavour when cooked.

Kokum

Indian name: Kokum

Price: £

Commonality: Uncommon

Spiciness: Mild

Commonly used in: Daals

Kokum is one of the most versatile ingredients on our Indian herbs and spice list. The rind of the fruit can be ground to use to reduce the sweetness of a dish, and it’s also popular for adding flavour to daal. The fruit itself can be used to create a drink known as sherbet.

L

Liquorice powder

Indian name: Jethimadh

Price: £

Commonality: Uncommon

Spiciness: Mild

Commonly used in: Confectionary

Just like the rest of the world, liquorice powder is most commonly found in Indian cuisine in confectionary, with its sweet, aniseed-like taste making it ideal. However, liquorice powder can also be used to help add a hit of sweetness to curries and other dishes that are too sour.

Long pepper

Indian name: Pippali

Price: £

Commonality: Rare

Spiciness: Mild

Commonly used in: Pickles

Unlike normal peppers or chilli peppers, long peppers themselves are rarely used in Indian cooking. Instead, they are dried and ground for use as a spice. Most commonly, it’s used in pickles to give the main ingredient of the pickle an added kick of flavour.

M

Mace

Indian name: Javitri

See Nutmeg.

Mango

Indian name: Kamiki

Price: £

Commonality: Common

Spiciness: None

Commonly used in: Curries, pickles

Mango is a hugely popular ingredient across Indian cuisines, thanks to its abundance in the country and its huge versatility. Mangos are used to create the most famous form of chutney and various pickles, and are often sliced and cooked in curries to add some natural sweetness to the dish.

Mint

Indian name: Pudina

Price: £

Commonality: Common

Spiciness: Mild

Commonly used in: Curries

Mint is a staple of Indian cooking, thanks to its natural coolness acting as a fantastic counterbalance to the heat of many dishes. Mint is often used as a garnish, but it is also a key ingredient in some staple side dishes, including raita.

Mustard seed

Indian name: Sarson

Price: £

Commonality: Common

Spiciness: Moderate

Commonly used in: Almost everything

Just like black mustard seeds, yellow mustard seeds are a highly popular spice in Indian cooking, beloved for the punchy amounts of heat it can add to a dish without significantly altering the taste.

N

Neem leaf

Indian name: Karipatta

Other names: Curry tree

Price: ££

Commonality: Rare

Spiciness: None

Commonly used in: Curries

The fact that neem lead is also known as “curry tree” tells you all you need to know about where it’s best utilised. The blossoms (both fresh and dry) of the flower are used in a certain curry called ugadi pachhadi, native of the south of India.

Nigella seed

Indian name: Kalonji

See Black Cumin.

Nutmeg

Indian name: Jaiphal

Price: £

Commonality: Common

Spiciness: Mild

Commonly used in: Curries

Nutmeg and mace are both drawn from the same plant, and their use is largely interchangeable. Mace offers a slightly more soft flavour, which makes it better suited to light, more delicately balanced dishes, while nutmeg is ideal for lending a sweet flavour - not to mention its distinctive bright orange colouring - to heavier dishes such as curries.

O

Oregano

Indian name: Ajwain

Other names: Carom

Price: £

Commonality: Common

Spiciness: Mild

Commonly used in: Curries

Although known as “the pizza herb” thanks to its use in Italian cooking, oregano’s intense aromatic flavours make it ideal for use in a classic strong and hearty curry.

P

Palm jaggery

Indian name: Tara gura

Price: ££

Commonality: Uncommon

Spiciness: None

Commonly used in: Confectionary

As the name suggests, palm jaggery is an extract taken from palm trees. It boasts a high sugar content, and is thus often combined with ingredients such as peanuts to create delicious confectionaries.

Panch phoron

Indian name: Panch puram

Price: ££

Commonality: Uncommon

Spiciness: Moderate

Commonly used in: Curries

Similar to garam masala or Chinese five spice, panch phoron is a spice mix that is ideal for use in flavouring curries. It combines fennel seeds, fenugreek seeds, cumin, black cumin, black mustard seeds. It can be created by combining these five ingredients or bought ready made.

Pomegranate seed

Indian name: Anardana

Price: £££

Commonality: Uncommon

Spiciness: None

Commonly used in: Pickles, chutneys

Once separated from the fruit and dried, pomegranate seeds are often used as a flavourful and acidic addition to chutney and pickles.

Poppy seed

Indian name: Khus khus

Price: £

Commonality: Common

Spiciness: Mild

Commonly used in: Curries, confectionary

An ancient ingredient that has been used for centuries, poppy seeds are used in Indian cuisine less for their taste and more for their qualities as a thickening agent in curries (when mashed into a paste) or as a garnish on traditional confectionaries.

R

Red chilli pepper

Indian name: Lal mirchi

See Chilli Peppers

S

Saffron

Indian name: Kesar

Price: £££

Commonality: Common

Spiciness: Mild

Commonly used in: Rice

Although saffron - one of the most popular spices in India and known for its sweet, tangy honey flavour - can be used in a huge variety of dishes, it’s most commonly used in rice to infuse the usually plain-tasting side dish with its distinctive sweet taste.

Salt

Indian name: Namak

Price: £

Commonality: Common

Spiciness: Mild

Commonly used in: Almost everything

Just as it is all over the world, salt is a key seasoning ingredient for curries, biryanis and just about everything else in Indian cuisine.

Sesame seed

Indian name: Til

Price: £

Commonality: Common

Spiciness: None

Commonly used in: Confectionary

Although used in a huge range of different dishes, including extracting their oil, sesame seeds are most commonly used to add some crunch to certain confectionaries.

Sour dried mango powder

Indian name: Amchoor powder

Price: ££

Commonality: Uncommon

Spiciness: Mild

Commonly used in: Curries

Perfect for adding the distinctive, sweet taste of mango to a curry without including chunks of the fruit itself, mango powder is an uncommon but useful ingredient. Mango itself is a key ingredient in Indian cuisine, and can be read about here.

Star anise

Indian name: Chakra phool

See Anise.

Szechuan pepper

Indian name: Teppal

Price: £

Commonality: Common

Spiciness: Mild

Commonly used in: Curries

Although not particularly popular in Indian cooking due to its lack of spice compared to black or cayenne pepper, in more basic dishes the coolness that accompanies szechuan pepper can be used as a springboard on which to emphasis the hotter ingredients.

T

Tamarind

Indian name: Imli

Price: £

Commonality: Common

Spiciness: Mild

Commonly used in: Chutneys, curries

Tamarind’s sourness makes it a good pickling agent, as well as ideal for chutneys in its own right. Tamarind paste is also used to help balance out curries with a touch of sourness.

Turmeric

Indian name: Haldi

Price: £

Commonality: Common

Spiciness: Mild

Commonly used in: Curries

An extremely popular spice, turmeric is similar in appearance to ginger and is most commonly ground into a powder. It offers an earthy taste that is distinctive in Indian cuisine, and is also responsible for the striking orange colouring of many curries.

W

Watermelon seeds

Indian name: Magaz

Price: ££

Commonality: Uncommon

Spiciness: None

Commonly used in: Confectionary, curries

The seeds of watermelons lend their naturally sweet, nut-like taste to countless different Indian confectionaries, while mashing the seeds into a paste allows them to be used as  thickening agent for curries.


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