There is nothing quite like the aroma of freshly cooked Indian food wafting through your nostrils. From sweet, fragrant cardamom to the world’s spiciest chili pepper, from smoky cumin to pungent mustard seeds, bold, aromatic spices add that unmistakable character. An integral part of Indian culture and food for more than 3,000 years, spices used in Indian cooking are famous not just for their flavor but also their food-preserving powers.
Used abundantly in Indian cooking, most outsiders not familiar with Indian cooking assume that the main purpose of spices is to render the food spicy and fiery hot. Indian spices, however,serve a number of functions primary among them, to add flavor to the food to give it its distinctive taste and aroma. Other than flavoring the food, spices serve in bringing out the nutrients in each food, thereby adding to its health benefits. From turmeric’s anti-inflammatory properties to ginger’s digestive ones, the list of benefits is simply endless.Spices like cloves and cardamom are even known to act as preservatives, keeping the food from spoiling for a long time
While there is a great variety of spices, there are 6- 8 spices that occupy pride of place in every Indian kitchen. Typically used in grounded form these spices are stored in rounded containers with 6-8 small bowls to store each spice or masala as they are also referred to in colloquial language. Stored in the ubiquitous Masala Dabba, typically a stainless steel box,it makes it easy to access all the main spices at one go while cooking. More than just a prosaic storage space, most gourmet cooks would tell you that this dabba serves like an artist’s palette, allowing them to experiment with their creation with ease. Chilli Powder, cumin, turmeric, fenugreek are some of the commonly used grounded spices that give Indian food the authentic taste.
Other than this, an Indian kitchen sees the use of a range of fresh spices (ginger, garlic, curry leaves) as well as whole dried spices (cumin seeds, coriander seeds, mustard seeds and more).
If there was one tip to use Indian spices, it perhaps would be to allow them to blend together before you add the other ingredients. While each spice has its own unique flavor but when blended with other spices, it acquires a new, enticing aroma and flavor. Years of experience of creating gastronomical delights, tells you exactly how much of each spice to add to the dish to give it its characteristic taste.
A word of caution on their storage though- glass bottles enhance their shelf life! Keep them away from moisture, air and heat and see yourself craving that unmistakable aroma they add to food every single time.