If you’re just beginning to cook Indian food, you will need some essential spices for Indian cooking. It is best to buy spices in bulk, and I typically buy mine in half pound to 2 pound sizes, depending on the spice and it’s frequency of use.
For example, I use more cumin and coriander than any other single spices (up to 2 TBSP each in a dish), so I buy those in 2 lb. quantities. Turmeric is pretty popular, too, but I’ll use only a ½ tsp to a tsp in a dish, so it makes more sense to buy in a ½ lb. quantity because I use so much less of it. A pound of cumin costs me $9, a pound of coriander costs me $6, and a pound of turmeric costs $7. This is much cheaper than buying small quantities from the little jars in the grocery store aisle!
I also avoid buying spices that have been packaged and sitting in warehouses and on shelves for months. These pre-packaged spices become dull and bland as they sit in the plastic. But buying spices from a fresh, trusted source will guarantee robust and consistent flavor throughout your dishes. I personally buy most of my spices from Mountain Rose Herbs, where I also have the option to buy organic.
I supplement my spice shelf with spices from my local Indian grocer, but I do notice a considerable difference in flavor from the prepackaged spices. They are much more bland, and I have to overcompensate by adding more of each spice, and the quality is much lower.
Here is a picture of my spice shelf (and Sophie!):
I have most of my spices organized alphabetically in mason jars with some of the extra spices sitting in bags behind the jars. (That was Frank’s idea!) My larger stores of spices, like cumin and coriander, are stored in my pantry cabinet. Some things I have double-stacked. For example, behind cumin, there are cumin seeds. Behind the crushed yellow mustard, there are black mustard seeds. Behind the amchur powder, I have my tandoori masala blend.
23 Spices for Indian Cooking
Don’t worry if this seems like a lot. :) You can get by without all of these. But if you want to start building your spice shelf, work down this list from top to bottom. I’ve listed them in order of the spices I use the most.
1. Fresh Ginger
2. Fresh Garlic
3. Cumin, seeds and powder (buy here)
4. Coriander, seeds and powder. The fresh green leaves are called cilantro, and you’ll use those, too. Coriander referes to the seed of the same plant. (buy here)
5. Turmeric Root, powder (buy here)
6. Garam Masala Spice Blend (Make your own HERE. Buy HERE.)
7. Cayenne Pepper (buy here)
8. Cinnamon, whole and powdered (buy here)
9. Cardamom, pods and powdered (buy here)
10. Cloves, whole and powdered (buy here)
11. Black Pepper, whole and powdered (buy here)
12. Mustard seeds, black & yellow (buy here)
13. Amchur powder, i.e. dried green mango powder (buy here)
14. Black Salt. This is actually light pink in color. (buy here)
15. Paprika (buy here)
16. Fennel, seeds and powder (buy here)
17. Fenugreek seeds (buy here)
18. Tamarind Paste Concentrate (buy here)
19. Nutmeg, whole and powdered (buy here)
20. Saffron. This is kind of expensive per gram, but you only need a few threads to flavor an entire dish. A little goes a LOOONG way. (buy here)
21. Anardana (Pomegranate) Powder (buy here)
22. Asafoetida (buy here)
23. Tandoori Masala Spice Blend (buy here)
To read about some of the health benefits of theses spices, click HERE!