Bear Necessities: Indian Spices – Part 1

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Whenever you hear the phrase “Indian Food”, almost anyone would associate it with spice. There’s a huge variety of spices used in Indian cooking. It’s these spices that create the explosive flavours in your mouth whenever you have a curry or some sort of Indian snack.

So what you see in the picture below is just a small sample of spices that we use in our day-to-day cooking. I’ll go through each one outlining firstly what they are and what they are used for.

Our little spice tin (there’s a lot more!)

1) Salt
Firstly, I know this isn’t a spice but seasoning is so important when it comes to all foods. Not only is salt used to enhance flavour but there are health factors to take into consideration. Like most things – moderation is key. Salt is known to help prevent low blood pressure and regulates fluid levels. On the flip side, too much can cause high blood pressure and kidney disease (sorry if I’ve scared you).

Due to there being quite a lot of tomatoes used in Indian cooking (for the curry gravy), we season food well to counterbalance the bitterness of some of the tomatoes that are used. The amount of salt used can vary on the cook. It is all down to preference; some people like their food more on the salty side and some prefer less.

Essentially, like in all types of cooking, seasoning is of utmost importance – it can make or break a dish.

2) Turmeric Powder
You may or may not already know this but Turmeric was actually widely used in Chinese and Indian medicine (in some places it still is!). It was used as an anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory, and when made into a paste, applied to wounds to help the healing process.

For cooking, turmeric is used for flavouring as well as to add colour to dishes. In terms of taste – it is bitter and pungent, thought the smell is very subtle. It’s used in almost all Indian dishes and can be used as a substitute for saffron.

Fun Fact: Turmeric comes from a plant from the ginger family

3) Black Mustard Seeds
These are very pungent in flavour and widely used to add heat and strong flavour to dishes. It is widely used in Indian cooking, such as curries, daals and rice dishes. To release the true flavour, these seeds are usually roasted in oil until popped, it is then you get the distinctive mustard-like aroma.

4) Cumin Seeds
This is another strong flavoured seed. It has a warm flavour and can be toasted or lightly roasted to increase the intensity of the flavour. This spice is not only used in Asian cooking, but also in Mexican cuisines.

5) Fenugreek Seeds
These seeds come from a green plant known as ‘methi’. These are slightly bitter in taste and, like the cumin and mustard seeds, are mostly roasted and used as part of curries. They have a distinct strong aroma.

6) Red Chilli Powder
This is probably one of the more distinctive spices of Indian cooking. Whenever you think of Indian food, you think of spice. This spice is more or less always related to the amount of chilli added to the dish. Even though we generally call it red chilli powder, it can be made from one or more different types of chilli. These can be mixed with other ground powders.

7) Coriander-Cumin Powder
A special blend of coriander powder (ground coriander seeds) mixed with ground cumin seeds. We use it a lot in our curries. It adds a warm flavour and scent to our dishes. We always add a more generous amount to our dishes compared to the other spices.

Stay tuned for part 2!

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