Hot and spicy

Use our guide to cook authentic curries and other delicious Indian dishes.

by: Louisa Holst | 06 Mar 2007

Star Anise

These hard, star-shaped pods contain rust-coloured seeds with a powerful liquorice-like aroma and strong flavour. The stars can be added to the cooking pot whole or ground, but be careful – the flavour is strong. Star anise is often used to flavour Indian sweetmeats and rice dishes.

All spice

The name refers to the aroma, something approximating a combination of cinnamon, cloves, ginger and nutmeg. Also known as pimento, allspice is available whole or ground, and has a pungent, aromatic aroma blended with a warm, sweet and slightly peppery fl avour. It’s popular in marinades, curries, spicy Indian rice dishes and desserts made with fruit.


Made from the underground stem of a ginger-like plant, turmeric is usually available ground, as a fine, yellow powder. It has an earthy aroma and a warm, aromatic flavour that’s slightly bitter. Turmeric is often used to flavour fish curries or Indian sweet dishes, and it’s added to curry powders for the distinctive colour.


Cumin seeds are usually roasted and used whole, or ground and added to curries and other savoury dishes. The flavour is quite strong, so use sparingly.


These seeds have a slightly sweet and pleasantly bitter flavour. They are often used in curry powders and spice blends, or added whole to curries.


Cinnamon is made from the inner bark of an evergreen tree, which is peeled, scraped and dried. It is delicately scented and has a sweet aromatic taste. It can be used ground or broken into sticks, to flavour curries, chutneys, desserts and bakes.


Mace comes from the same tree as nutmeg. The fruit of the tree has a green outer skin, inside which is a nut with a brittle shell. Nutmeg is the light grey kernel inside the brittle shell and is used in desserts and bakes. The red lacy membrane which covers the brittle shell, is mace. When dried, mace has a pretty orange colour. Very small amounts are used to flavour Indian sweetmeats.


Nigella seeds are small and black. They have an aroma reminiscent of origanum and a subtle bitter, peppery flavour with a crunchy texture. The seeds are used whole or ground and are usually fried or roasted before use. Popular in Indian cuisine, especially in lamb korma, vegetable and dhal dishes, chutneys and breads.


The dried calyx of the clove flower is used in curries, rice dishes and bakes.

Sesame seeds

These tiny ivory or black seeds have a mild, nutty flavour. Sesame seeds are mostly sprinkled onto breads, or other savoury or sweet dishes as a crunchy garnish.

Poppy seeds

White and black poppy seeds have a nutty aroma and flavour and crunchy texture. They are often used in Indian cooking to thicken sauces or sprinkled onto bread.

Ajmo or Ajowan

Ajmo is usually ground and added to curries, especially vegetable curries and lentil dishes, or used whole in Indian breads. It has a pungent aroma similar to thyme and cumin.


Mustard is one of the oldest and most widely used spices in the world. White mustard seeds have a mild flavour and good preservative qualities and are often used in pickles. Black mustard seeds are smaller and much more pungent.

In Indian dishes the whole seeds are fried in ghee until they pop, producing a milder nutty flavour, or ground with other spices in the preparation of curry powders and pastes.


Clusters of seeds are enclosed in pods. The pods are either used whole, or the seeds are removed from the pod and crushed to release a pungent, warm aromatic flavour. Cardamom is used in curries, dishes made with pulses, pickles, bakes, desserts and spiced teas.


Available whole or ground, coriander loses its flavour quickly once ground so it’s best to buy the whole seeds and grind them as needed. The seeds have a sweet and aromatic flavour and can be used quite liberally as the flavour is mild. Used in most curry powders and sometimes roughly ground to give a crunchy texture. The fresh leaves of the plant are used as a herb and have a very different flavour.

Dill seeds

These seeds have a strong, slightly bitter taste, are usually roasted and added sparingly to curries.


Saffron is the stigma of a flower and is sold in bunches of ‘threads’. These threads are used for flavour and to give a yellow colour to savoury and sweet dishes.


Dried chillies are available whole or crushed. As with fresh chillies, larger ones are not quite as hot as the smaller varieties. Chillies are used to add heat to savoury dishes.

- Ideas


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