Spices are defined as “a strongly flavored or aromatic substance of vegetable origin, obtained from tropical plants, commonly used as a condiment”. Spices were once as precious as Gold. India plays a very important role in the spice market of the world. In ancient times majority of the spices were produced in India and exported world wide. It was then, the spices of India attracted people across the borders and forced them to come to India for Spice trade.
Masala is a word very commonly used in Indian cooking and is simply the Hindi word for “spice.” So, whenever a combination of spices, herbs and other condiments are ground or blended together, it is called masala.
The Commonly Used Indian Spices
Indian cuisine is characterized by the extensive use of numerous spices. Spices or Masala as it is called in Hindi, may be called the “heartbeat” of an Indian kitchen.
By extensive use of spices I do not mean that spices are used to make the food fiery hot. The spices are used to flavor the food, making each dish distinct and wonderfully aromatic. Each spice by itself imparts a very unique flavor, but when used together with other spices, the combination and permutation of different ones magically change the individual characteristics. Spices are also used for health benefits and medicinal purposes, to prevent diseases and also to preserve food.
Here I have written about only the few basic spices required to start an Indian spice cabin. There are many more, and some of them might be used only sparingly. I will add them slowly as and when required. I must mention here that the spices are also region specific; some spices which may be very popular in the northern regions of India might not be used as much in the southern regions and vice versa.
What we have here is a general spread, used by all in every state. Well almost! These spices below should be readily available in most grocery stores, or Whole Food stores, except for the Hing/Asafoetida, Fenneland the Fenugreek seeds. If you do not find them at your local grocery store, look for a local Indian/Bangladeshi/Pakistani grocery store and they will have it for sure.
Online sources where good quality spices maybe found: