Guide to the 15 most common Indian spices

IndiaGuide to the 15 most common Indian spices

Thanks to BBC Maestro for providing me with a free online cooking class to help me write this post! Although I received a free product in exchange for this post, all opinions are my own.

If you’re ready to take your cooking game to the next level, look no further than the rich and diverse world of Indian spices. From the warmth of cumin to the sweetness of cinnamon, these spices can transform any dish into a culinary adventure. But with so many options to choose from, it’s easy to feel intimidated! That’s why I decided to deepen my understanding of Indian spices by taking an online cooking class from BBC Maestro. In the very first lesson, the instructor demystified some of the most common Indian spices, preparing students to use these delicious flavor additions with confidence. Once you start cooking with these spices, you’ll wonder how you ever lived without them!

Some of the most common Indian spices include bay leaf, black peppercorn, cinnamon, clove, coriander seed, cumin seed, fennel seed, fenugreek, ground ginger, green cardamom, mustard seed, nutmeg, red chili, saffron, ground turmeric, and the spice blend garam masala.

Of course, there are a plethora of spices used in Indian cuisine, and this list I’ve provided is definitely not a comprehensive one, but it’s a great starting point! If you keep even a handful of these flavorful additions in your pantry, you will be well on your way to creating delicious Indian dishes in your own kitchen. Let’s learn a little more about ’em, shall we?

Overview of the 15 most common Indian spices + 1 bonus spice blend

Bay leaf

Bay leaves, which are technically an herb, are a wonderful addition to savory dishes. They have a lovely green color and glossy texture. Their haunting aroma is both aromatic and sweet, and they impart a subtle yet distinct and complex flavor to foods.

True story – I used to think bay leaves were a pointless recipe addition. I mean really, how could a leaf or two add any flavor? I was proven wrong when I tried high-quality, freshly dried bay leaves (not those tired old grocery store versions). A single leaf or two can transform a dish from bland to magical! Bay leaves are now one of my favorite additions to soups and stews and are an absolute must atop the bobotie recipe that Taste Of The Place is so well known for.

Bay leaves

Black peppercorn

Black peppercorn is an essential ingredient in Indian cooking (and in almost every cuisine throughout the world!), adding a burst of flavor to any dish. The sharp, pungent taste is perfect for adding a subtle spicy kick to all kinds of dishes. It is typically used in combination with other spices like cumin, coriander, and turmeric. As with most spices, you will get the most flavor when you purchase whole black peppercorns and grind them just before use.

Black peppercorn


Cinnamon is known for its warm and sweet flavor. It is used both whole and ground and is often combined with other spices, such as cardamom and cloves, to create complex and flavorful blends that are the hallmark of Indian food. Whether added to savory curries, sweet desserts, or refreshing beverages, whole cinnamon sticks or ground cinnamon always leave a lasting impression on the palate. Its versatility and ability to complement a wide range of flavors make it an essential ingredient in any Indian kitchen.


The spicy, aromatic fragrance of cloves adds depth and complexity to any dish, making them a staple in Indian cuisine. These versatile little spices are used as both whole cloves and ground cloves and are perfect for use in everything from hearty curries and stews to delicate rice dishes and sweet desserts. Whether you’re looking to add a touch of warmth to your favorite dish or simply want to enjoy the rich, complex flavors of Indian cooking, cloves are an essential ingredient that you won’t want to overlook.


Coriander seed

Coriander seeds are a wonderful addition to any Indian kitchen. It’s derived from the cilantro plant, which is known as coriander in many parts of the world. It has a unique blend of nutty and citrusy flavors that are complemented by various spices and herbs, making it a perfect ingredient in curries, chutneys, and pickles. Regardless of your culinary expertise, coriander seeds are an essential addition to your pantry if you’re interested in exploring Indian cuisine.

Coriander seeds


Cumin is a popular spice that is not only used in India but widely used in many cuisines around the world. It has a warm, earthy, and smoky flavor and a slightly bitter taste that adds depth and complexity to dishes. Cumin is used both whole and ground and is a common addition to spice blends like garam masala. It’s quite versatile and can be used to season meats, grains, and vegetables such as Potato Aloo Masala. Overall, it’s a very flavorful spice that adds a unique touch to any dish.

Fennel seed

Fennel seed is a popular spice in Indian cooking, known for its sweet and licorice-like flavor. It’s often used as a digestive aid and added to tea, but it also has a place in many Indian dishes. When used in cooking, fennel seed adds a subtle sweetness and depth of flavor to curries, biryanis, and lentil dishes. Its delicate aroma and taste make it a perfect complement to other spices like cumin, coriander, and turmeric. So, if you’re looking to add some complexity and richness to your Indian cooking, fennel seed is a must-have in your pantry.

Fennel seeds

Fenugreek seed

Fenugreek seed is a versatile and aromatic spice commonly used in Indian cooking. Its distinct flavor is bitter, with a hint of sweetness. It is often toasted and then ground before use in dishes such as curries, stews, and chutneys, where it adds a rich and complex layer of flavor. The whole seeds can also be lightly crushed and added to herbal teas. Fenugreek’s versatility and complex flavor profile make it a valuable addition to any Indian pantry.

Ground ginger

Ground ginger is an essential spice in Indian cuisine, prized for its warm, pungent flavor and aromatic qualities. When added to dishes such as curries, soups, and stir-fries, ground ginger lends a subtle heat and depth of flavor, complementing other spices like cumin, coriander, and turmeric. Its versatility makes it a key ingredient in both sweet and savory dishes.

Dried ginger

Green cardamom

Green cardamom is a highly valued spice in Indian cooking, known for its sweet and floral aroma and distinct taste. It is often used in both savory and sweet dishes, including curries, rice pilafs, and desserts. Green cardamom is also commonly used in chai tea, where it adds a complex flavor and aroma.

Green cardamom pods and inner seeds

Mustard seed

Mustard seed is a small but mighty ingredient in Indian cuisine. Its tiny size belies its powerful flavor, which can range from sweet and nutty to pungent and spicy. There are several colors of mustard seed, but black is the most commonly used as it has the most intense flavor. When used in cooking, mustard seed can add a delightful crunch and a burst of flavor that complements other spices and ingredients. Its subtle heat and tanginess make it a popular choice for pickling and seasoning dishes such as chutneys and curries. When toasted or fried, mustard seed takes on a nutty, smoky flavor that adds depth and complexity to any dish. Its versatility and unique flavor profile make it a staple ingredient in Indian kitchens.

Mustard seeds


Nutmeg is another popular spice in Indian cooking, known for its warm and fragrant aroma, and slightly sweet and nutty taste. It is often used in savory dishes such as biryanis and meat curries, as well as in sweet dishes like kheer and halwa. Nutmeg is also used in many spice blends, where it adds a distinct depth of flavor. Its versatility and unique flavor profile have made it a valued ingredient in Indian cuisine for centuries.


Red chili

Red chili is a popular ingredient in Indian cooking, known for its fiery flavor and vibrant color. It is typically used ground and can be added to curries, stews, and marinades to add a spicy kick. Whether you’re a fan of spicy food or just want to add a bit of warmth to a dish, red chili is a must-try ingredient in Indian cuisine.


Saffron is a highly prized addition to Indian cooking, known for its haunting earthy, floral, sweet, and slightly bitter flavor and aroma. It is often used to add a subtle sweetness and a beautiful yellow-orange color to dishes. Saffron is typically harvested by hand from the crocus flower, making it one of the most expensive spices in the world. In Indian cuisine, saffron is often used in rice dishes and desserts, such as Phirni rice pudding. Its delicate flavor and aroma make it a favorite among chefs and food enthusiasts alike.


Ground turmeric is a vibrant and essential ingredient in Indian cuisine. Its bright yellow color adds a visually stunning element to any dish, while its warm, woodsy, and slightly bitter and astringent flavor brings richness and depth to curries, soups, and stews. It is a must-have spice in any Indian kitchen.

Garam masala spice blend

Garam masala is a blend of ground spices commonly used in Indian cuisine. The ingredients in garam masala can vary from region to region and kitchen to kitchen but typically include cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, cumin, coriander, and peppercorn. It is often used to add warmth and depth of flavor to dishes such as curries, soups, and stews. Garam masala is usually added towards the end of cooking to preserve its complex flavors and aromas.

Try out the Taste Of The Place recipe for Garam Masala here!

Homemade garam masala spice blend in a jar

Would you like to learn more about many of the common Indian spices plus techniques, recipes, and yummy ideas on how to use them? Yes?! Then pop on over and check out the BBC Maestro Modern Indian Cooking course. I think you will enjoy it as much as I am!


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Julie Cockburn with the Taste Of The Place cookbook

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