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9 Spices You Need for Indian Cooking, According to Madhur Jaffrey

Indian food calls for variety, but “don’t overwhelm yourself by buying 30 spices,” says Madhur Jaffrey, the doyenne of Indian cuisine. “Start with the most common ones.” These are her favorites.

indian spices numbered
Photography by: Jake Stangel

1. Asafetida

Extracted from the rhizome of the Ferula plant, asafetida adds a distinctive garlicky, truffle-like flavor kick to dals and other lentil dishes.


2. Dried Red Chiles and Cinnamon Sticks

Similar to dried Italian red pepperoncini, the most common Indian dried red chiles range from medium-hot to hot. (They’re milder when used whole.) Cinnamon sticks season savory meat and rice dishes.


3. Fenugreek Seeds 

Fenugreek seeds have an earthy, slightly bitter taste that’s especially well suited to eggplant and potato dishes.


4. Cayenne Pepper 

Cayenne pepper is the powder made from ground dried Indian red chiles.


5. Coriander Seeds 

Grind aromatic coriander seeds, then store the powder in a tightly closed container and use within a month.


6. Cumin Seeds 

Roasting brings out the nutty, perfumed flavor of cumin seeds; the spice is a common ingredient in many curries.


7. Cardamom 

Bleached whitish cardamom pods are less aromatic than the green ones. If a recipe calls for seeds, split them open and extract them.


8. Brown Mustard Seeds 

Indians use black or brown mustard seeds, but the yellow variety found in American grocery stores is a fine substitute.


9. Ground Turmeric  

Bright ground turmeric, derived from a root in the ginger family, adds color to many dishes. Be careful: It stains clothes easily.



Meet Madhur Jaffrey, the Queen of Curries


Get Madhur Jaffrey's 5 Tips to Make Indian Cooking Easy


Get Madhur Jaffrey's Easy, Healthy Indian Recipes


Watch Madhur and Martha use several of these spices in Zucchini and Green Pepper Sabzi: