Spices are the most basic and fundamental ingredients of Pakistani and Indian cuisine. Cooking without some of these spices is almost impossible, and omission of these spices often results in subtle changes in flavour in dishes. It is always good to stock up these spices prior cooking Pakistani and Indian dishes, and if you stock them appropriately they will last long. Often you will find people refer to spices in Urdu, and sometimes it becomes hard to find these spices in English, so we have made it easier for you, below is a list of spices in English with Urdu translation, along with a description, type of flavour, and how to store spices.
Carom Seeds (Ajwain)
Ajwain seeds are smaller than cumin seeds, and of a light brown khaki colour. They are very fragrant and smell and taste like thyme. Ajwain is closely related to caraway and cumin and is used in many savoury dishes. It is used in Indian cooking both for its flavour and its medical value. Its flavour is similar to that of thyme. Ajwain seeds are often boiled in a little water and the resulting liquid is drunk to settle stomach ailments.
Allspice (Kabab Cheene)
Allspice appears like a large peppercorn that is brown in colour. Allspice is not a combination of different spices but is produced from the dried berries of the West Indian allspice tree, also known as Jamaican pepper or pimento. It is not a traditional ingredient in Indian cooking, but has come to be used in many pilau, biryani and Mughlai meat and poultry dishes. Allspice has a flavour and aroma similar to that of cardamom, cinnamon and nutmeg.
Aniseed or Fennel Seed (Sonf or Saunf)
Aniseeds are similar to cumin but are rather a dull greyish colour. The fennel plant is native to the Mediterranean, thou it has been cultivated in India since Ancient times. Aniseed or fennel can safely be substituted one for the other, as they have a similar flavour. They have a sweetish liquorice-like flavour and are used widely in Bengal and Kashmir. Both aniseed and fennel seeds are either gently fried or ground with other spices. They are also often chewed at the end of a meal as an aid to digestion and as a breath sweetener.
Asafoetida is a yellow mustard powder. This is obtained from the resinous gum of a tropical plant which is closely related to the fennel family. It can be bought from Indian grocers in solid pieces or in powder form. It has quite a powerful smell, but when fried in minute quantities in hot oil with other spices, it imparts a certain distinctive flavour which is an integral part of the strict vegetarian diet of the Brahmins. Asafoetida is used very sparingly because of its very strong flavour. It is never used in recipes for meat and poultry dishes.
Bay Leaf (Tej Patta)
Western bay leaves are brighter in appearance and are always whole. The bay leaf is not traditional to Indian cooking. It is a common mistranslation, for Western bay leaves are quite different from tej patta, which are the tender leaves obtained from the Cassia tree. In the West, bay leaves obtained from the sweet bay laurel, are more easily available and have become a popular substitute. Bay Leaves have a flavour similar to cinnamon. Western bay leaves also have a stronger flavour than Indian bay leaves. Indian bay leaves can be crumbled easily to blend with other spices.
Black Pepper (Kali Mirch)
Round black roughly textured seeds. Black pepper comes from the pepper vines grown in the tropical forests of monsoon Asia. The berries are picked when they are green and then dried in the sun to give us the familiar black pepper. Pepper loses its flavour rapidly so it is always advisable to buy whole peppercorns and grind them in a pepper mill as and when required. Pre-ground pepper does nothing to enhance the flavour of a dish.
Black Salt (Kala Namak)
Black salt is a purple pinkish-gray salt with a pungent smell. It is mined in India & Pakistan and is used in savoury dishes to add tanginess. It is known to relieve intestinal gas and heartburn. The primary spice used in Chaat masala is the black salt.
Caraway Seeds (Shahjeera)
The seed is about 1/5inch long and tapered at the ends. The hard seed shells have five pale ridges. Caraway Seed is actually the fruit of a biennial herb in the parsley family, known as Carum carvi. Caraway is native to Asia as well as northern and central Europe. First used in antiquity, Caraway has been cultivated in Europe since the middle Ages. Caraway seed is closely related to cumin, but has a milder flavour. Unlike cumin, caraway does not dominate the flavour of the dish in which it is used. The flavour of caraway blends easily with meat.
There are two varieties of cardamom pods: brown cardamom known as Badi Elaichi or Moti Elachi and green cardamom referred to as Choti Elaichi. Brown cardamom is larger in size to green cardamom. Good quality cardamom seeds will always appear a rich brownish-black, slightly sticky and have a strong aromatic smell. Cardamom is sold whole or ground by Indian grocers.
The cardamom plant is a perennial of the ginger family and grows abundantly in southern India. The ripe cardamom seed pods are dried in the sun before being sold commercially. When a recipe calls for a whole cardamom, the pods should always be opened up slightly to extract the full flavour of the cardamom, for it is the seeds that have the maximum flavour. The same method can also be used in judging the quality of cardamoms. The dark brown variety is used in certain curries, pilaus and biryanis and the inner seeds are often used for making garam masala. The small green variety is used in most curries, pilaus and some sweet dishes. Cardamom has a strong, unique taste, with an intensely aromatic fragrance. Black cardamom has a distinctly more astringent aroma, though not bitter, with coolness similar to mint, though with a different aroma. Ground cardamom is often used in Indian sweets. It is best to grind small quantities at home using a coffee mill. Ready-ground cardamom is not only expensive, but because cardamom loses its natural oil quickly.
Brown powder with a pungent smell, and sour taste it is a very popular spice mix used in many Indian and Pakistani snacks. Chaat Masala has a sweet yet sour flavour. Used in fruit salads, yoghurt based dishes and other Pakistani and Indian snacks.
Preparation: The quantity of each spice used is: 2 tbsp cumin seeds, 1 1/2 tsp fennel seeds, 1 tsp mint, 1 tbsp amchur (mango powder), 1 tbsp black salt, 1 tsp cayenne pepper and 1/4 tsp ground ginger. Toast and grind cumin and fennel seeds and combine with remaining ingredients. This mixture can be refrigerated and stored in a jar with a tight fitting lid.
Cinnamon (Dhal Chini)
Cinnamon sticks are sold in pieces of tree bark, sometimes in a scroll form. The cinnamon sticks used in Indian cooking are different from those used in the West. Indian cinnamon sticks have the texture and feel of tree bark of Cassia tree, which is grown in most tropical countries. True cinnamon sticks, which are in the form of a scroll, are available in most supermarkets and have a much more delicate flavour than Cassia bark. True cinnamon is native to Sri Lanka. Both Cassia tree cinnamon and true cinnamon, however, are from the same botanical family. Cinnamon has a warm and slightly sweet flavour to it. Cinnamon is an essential ingredient in garam masala. It is often used in certain curries, pilaus and biryanis, and is brewed with cloves and aniseed.
Dark brown, black in appearance, shaped like a flower head. Cloves are the buds of the dried flower of the clove tree, which is native to southern Asia. They have a strong and distinctive flavour and are an essential ingredient in garam masala. They are also used whole in certain curries, pilaus and biryanis. Whether used whole or ground, cloves should be used in carefully measured quantities as the flavour is rather overpowering. They have a strong and distinctive flavour and are an essential ingredient in garam masala. Cloves should always buy whole, as ground cloves do not contain the essential oil that flavours a dish. Used as an essential ingredient in garam masala. Cloves are highly antiseptic and are often chewed to relieve toothache.
Round light brown coloured seeds. Coriander is the single most important spice in Indian cooking. Its mild and slightly sweet flavour blends well with almost all Indian dishes and it controls their basic flavour. Traditionally, coriander is gently roasted before grinding as this brings out its full flavour as well as making it easier to grind finely. Ground pre-packed coriander, if roasted gently and cooled before storing in airtight containers, will significantly enhance the flavour of dishes.
There are two types of varieties: black cumin (kala jeera) and white cumin (safed jeera). Cumin is a pungent and aromatic spice, which is also very powerful. Sometimes black cumin is confused with caraway seeds, which are quite different. Although both widely used, one cannot substituted for the other as they each have their own quite distinctive flavour. Cumin is used whole to flavour the oil before cooking vegetables, pulses and some rice dishes. Ground cumin, because of its powerful flavour, should be used in carefully measured quantities. A better flavour is obtained by gently roasting the seeds before grinding. Ground pre-packed cumin, if roasted and cooled, before storing, will produce more satisfactory results, than if used straight from the packet.
Curry Leaves (Curry Patha)
These are sold dried or fresh. The leaves are small and shiny and are used in many different ways. Curry leaves are used extensively in southern Indian cooking and are one of the main ingredients in commercially prepared curry powder, especially Madras curry powder. Curry leaf is slightly flavoured like curry powder, but with a strong herb-like aroma and hints of bell pepper and citrus, and a pleasant, mild bitterness. They can be crumbled before being added to a dish or used whole. Alternatively, they can be fried whole in hot oil and then added to the dish. The dried leaves can be stored in a screw-top jar and the fresh ones can be frozen and used straight from the freezer.
Dry Mango Powder (Amchur)
This is slightly mustardy light brown powder. Small segments of unripe mangoes are dried and the powdered and used in dishes to give a sour and tangy taste in dishes. Dry Mango powder has a sour tangy taste to it yet with subtle mango flavour as well.
Dry Fenugreek Leaves (Kasoori Methi)
Dry Fenugreek leaves as it is called will be sold in crumbles up leaf form, pale green in colour. Leaves of the fenugreek plant are dried and then used to flavour in Indian dishes. The dried fenugreek leaves have a bitter taste and strong smell, hence careful quantities must be used. These leaves are a good substitute for fresh fenugreek leaves.
Fenugreek Seeds (Methi Dana)
The seeds are brownish-yellow in colour and rectangular in shape. The fresh green leaves, which are very much like watercress, are used as a vegetable and for stuffing breads. In northern India fenugreek biscuits are a great delicacy. Fenugreek seeds have a slightly bitter flavour and must be used in the specified quantities. They are either fried in hot oil or gently roasted and ground with other spices – each method produces its own distinctive flavour. Whichever method is used, the seeds should not be overdone, or a very bitter flavour will result. Fenugreek is widely used in vegetable, lentil and some fish dishes.
Depending on its ingredients this should come in a brown coloured powder. Garam Masala is a combination of hot spices. The word garam signifies heat and masala means a mixture of various spices. Typical recipe uses cinnamon, cardamom, cloves and nutmeg. Garam masala is known to create body heat which helps the body to retain warmth in a cold climate. It is frequently used in northern India cooking where the temperature in winter is significantly lower than in the rest of the country. Garam masala freshly prepared is much more aromatic and has a fuller flavour than ready-packed garam masala. The latter does not have the required aroma and flavour because the main ingredients - cinnamon, cardamom and cloves - lose their essential oils very rapidly. Garam masala is used in many different ways. It is sometimes used together with other spices, or it can be sprinkled on as a condiment at the end of the cooking time. Cardamom, cinnamon and cloves are the main ingredients which govern the taste of the final mixture when ground. These spices are also used whole in pilaus and biryanis and in certain curries and dry-spiced vegetable dishes. The recipe for garam masala can vary a great deal; other spices such as whole black peppercorns, coriander seeds, and cumin seeds may be added to the three basic ingredients.
Preparation: The quantity of each spice used is: 2 tbsp cinnamon sticks, broken into small pieces, 1 1/2 tbsp green cardamoms with the skin, 1 tbsp whole cloves and 1/2 a whole nutmeg, broken into pieces for grinding. Heat a cast-iron or other heavy based pan. When the pan is hot, add the above ingredients and reduce heat to low. Stir and roast the ingredients until they release their aroma. Remove from the heat and allow cooling completely; stirring during the first half of the cooling time to prevent them from browning as the pan will remain hot for a while. When completely cool, grind the spices to a fine powder in a coffee mill and store in an air-tight container.
Ground Mixed Spice
Depending on its ingredients this should come in a brown coloured powder. Ground mixed spice is widely used for baking, desserts, especially apple-based puddings. The mixture always contains Allspice, cinnamon and nutmeg. Often other spices are added to this mixture; such as coriander, cloves, ginger and mace. Ground Mixed Spice will give a warm spicy flavour to sweet dishes.
Preparation: Grind the allspice, cinnamon and cloves to a fine powder and mix well with the nutmeg and ginger. Use at once or store in an airtight jar away from light.
Dried Ginger (Saunt)
This is sold in a pale creamy powder-like form. Dried powdered ginger is often used in-replace of fresh ginger but however the flavour produced is not the same.
Mustard Seed (Rai or Sarson)
Mustard seeds are about 3mm in diameter, and may be coloured from yellowish white to black. Mustard seed has been used as a spice for many thousands of years. Mustard seeds of the various mustard plants are among the smallest of seeds. They are important spices in many regional cuisines. The seeds can come from three different plants: black mustard (Brassica nigra), brown Indian mustard (B. juncea), and white mustard (B. hirta/Sinapis alba). Mustard Seed's hot, spicy flavour enhances meats, fish, sauces, salad dressings. Brown or black mustard seed is commonly used in Indian cooking. Powdered or crushed mustard is used in pickles and the whole seeds are used to flavour vegetables and pulses, and are fried in hot oil to give a nutty flavour.
Onion Seeds also known as Nigella Seeds (Kalonji)
Onion seeds are small tiny black seeds. Onion seeds are not actually derived from the onion plant, but because of their close resemblance to actual onion seeds, they are referred to thus. They actually come from the Nigella plant, which is grown in India and the Middle East. Onion seeds have pungent bitter taste and smell. Onion seeds are used whole flavouring pickles and vegetable dishes. They are also used in savoury snacks and Tandori-baked bread, such as Naan or Tandoori Roti. In Assam and Bengal, onion seeds are used along with other whole spices to flavour dhals and fish curries.
Paprika (Deghi Mirchi)
A brilliant red coloured powder. Indian paprika comes mainly from the Kashmir where this mild and sweet variety of chilli, known as deghi mirchi, is grown extensively. Its brilliant red colour does not indicate the same pungency as the other chillies used in Indian cooking. Paprika has a sweetish spicy flavour. Paprika is primarily used to add that wonderfully rich colour to a dish.
Pomegranate Seeds (Anardana)
Dark brown sticky pomegranate seeds. Wild pomegranate seeds are taken and dried and used in Indian and Pakistani dishes to add a tangy flavour to dishes. It is mostly used to flavour vegetable and legumes dishes but is also known to be used in Moghul-style meat dishes. Pomegranate seeds posses a bitter and tangy flavour.
Poppy Seeds (Khus Khus)
The seeds are pale cream, almost white, in appearance. Various kinds of poppy flowers are grown all around the world, but the poppy seeds used in Indian cooking come from the opium poppy, which flourishes in tropical climates. Add a nutty flavour to the dish. Poppy seeds improve texture by thickening it’s the gravy. They should not be substituted for the black poppy seeds used in baking as these impart a bitter flavour to the dish.
Red Chilli (Lal Mirch)
Red chilli powdered. Red chilli is one of the main spice ingredients of any Indian cooking, used either whole (saboth), crushed (kotivi) or powdered. Red chilli powder is often pure chilli powder and made from any hot red chillies such as jalepeno, and cayenne peppers.
Saffron (Kessar or Zafran)
Saffron comes in an orangish colour and in very thin strands. Saffron consists of the dried stigma of the saffron crocus flower. Though saffron is grown in most Mediterranean countries, the type used in Indian cooking comes from the foothills of the Himalayas. Saffron is used in Mughlai, Kashmiri and northern Indian cooking to add both colour and flavour to dishes. The long and laborious process of collecting the stigma makes saffron one of the world’s most expensive flavourings. Saffron should always be bought in strands. Powdered saffron is often adulterated and will therefore not impart an authentic flavour. Just a pinch of saffron is enough to flavour any dish. The strands should be soaked in a little hot water or milk for ten to fifteen minutes. Both the infusion and the strands should be used in the dish for maximum flavour. Saffron is used for both sweet and savoury dishes. Do not be tempted to substitute turmeric for saffron, as it has its own distinctive flavour.
Sesame Seeds (Til or Thil)
Pale creamy coloured flattish oval shaped seeds. Sesame is one of the most important oil seeds in the world. It is native to India, which together with china, is the largest grower and exported of sesame oil to the west. The sesame seed has a nutty flavour. The black variety used in baking in the West is never used in Indian cooking.
Star Anise (Badiyan or Chakri Phool or Anas phal)
Anise flavoured, star-shaped seed pod of dried fruit, dark brown in colour. Star anise is one of the main ingredients of the five spice powder used in Chinese cuisine. Star anise is known as a digestive aid and to cure colic in babies. Star anise is available in packages in Asian supermarkets. When purchasing star anise, look for whole pieces that aren’t broken. Star anise releases a heady fragrance when added to hot oil. In slow cooked or simmered dishes, star anise is usually added whole (not broken into pieces) and discarded before serving. Occasionally, you may find stir-fry recipes calling for star anise. At home, store star anise in a sealed container in a cool dark place. Properly stored, star anise will last for several months. Discard once the flavour fades.
A deep yellow golden coloured powder. Turmeric is native to India and it is the turmeric root which is cleaned, boiled, dried and ground to give us the powder. It is closely related to the ginger plant. Renowned for its distinctive pungent flavour turmeric adds colour as well as flavour to the dish. Tumeric aids the digestive system, as does ginger. Turmeric is also used as an antiseptic.