Ingredients 101

spicesWhat is special about spices and lentils?

Spices are the backbone of Indian cuisine. Just think of the times you have been to an Indian restaurant and your senses were transported to another place because of the rich aromas and flavors!

Sara uses a variety of herbs, lentils and spices to create the dishes passed down from one generation to the next. To keep spices organized most Indian homes assemble a spice box – or two – that contain the most frequently used spices in their family’s recipes.

Many of the spices shown here are common in Indian kitchens. And a good cook experiments to create the smells, tastes and textures their family enjoys. The cook in the household pretty much dictates how the spice box is filled and organized. So when Sara’s mother comes for an extended stay, the spice box takes on the look she prefers, because she takes over the kitchen and cooks the mouth-watering dishes they remember from home.

Interesting facts

Check out the following A-to-Z guide to learn about the spices and lentils used in ethnic cuisine. Download this brochure to learn about some common ethnic spices.

DISCLAIMER: Any health, fitness and nutritional information on this website is only for educational purposes. This information is not a substitute for, nor does it replace, professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

Asfoetida (Heeng)

Asafoetida has a pungent, unpleasant smell when raw, but in cooked dishes, it delivers a smooth flavor, reminiscent ofleeks. It typically works as a flavor enhancer and, used along with turmeric, is a standard component of Indian cuisine It is often used to harmonize sweet, sour, salty and spicy components in food. Asafoetida was used in 1918 to fight the Spanish influenza pandemic. In 2009, scientists at the Kaohsiung Medical University in Taiwan reported that the roots of Asafoetida produce natural antiviral drug compounds that kill the swine flu virus, H1N1.

Bay Leaves (Tejpatta)

Bay Leaf refers to the aromatic leaves of several plants used in cooking. These include, Bay Laurel, California bayleaf,  Indian bay leaf, Indonesian bay leaf, west Indian bay leaf, and Mexican bay leaf. Indian bay leaf is used in Indian cooking and has a fragrance and taste similar to cinnamon (cassia) bark, but milder.

Black Gram  Lentil (Urud Dal)

Black Gram Lentil or Urad Dal is one of the most widely used Indian Lentils. It is usually grown in southern parts of Asia. Ground into paste, it is used in South Indian preparations like Idli, Dosai and Vada.  Black Gram Lentil is rich in fibre and known to prevent constipation and helps in digestion. It is also known to reduce cholestrol and increase cardio vascular health.

Black Cardamom (Badi Elaichi)

Black Cardamom pods are black to dark brown in color and  have a strong camphor-like flavor, with a smoky character derived from the method of drying. Black Cardamom is the main ingriedient in India’s Garam Masala. It is primariy used in cusines of India and certain regional cuisines of Pakistan. Black cardamom is often erroneously described as an inferior substitute for green cardamom by those unfamiliar with the spice; actually it is just not well suited for the sweet/hot dishes which typically use cardamom outside the plant’s native range. Black cardamom , by contrast, is better for hearty meat stews and similar dishes. Historically, Black Cardamom is used to treat various stomach ailments, commomn infections and dental problems.

Black Pepper

Black pepper is a flowering vine in the family Piperaceae, cultivated for its fruit, which is usually dried and used as a spice and seasoning.Black pepper is native to south India, and is extensively cultivated there and elsewhere in tropical regions.Black pepper is the world’s most traded spice. Black Pepper is used as an appetite stimulant, cold, cough, heart problems, constipation, diabetes.

Carom Seeds (Ajwain)

Carom seeds are pale khaki colored and look like a smaller version of cumin seeds. They are highly fragrant and smell and taste like thyme (with a stronger flavor). Mostly used in Tadka (Chaunk) or Tempering , which is a cokking method in which oil is heated and spices are added to it & fired.  Tadka is added to the dish at the end. Carom Seeds are used as a cure for diahorrea, and indigestion.

Chick Peas Lentil (Chana Dal)

Also known as Bengal Gram Lentil or Chana Dal, it is baby chick peas that has been split and polished. This lentil is also roasted and ground into flour (besan – see Gram Flour below) and this powder is widely used in all over India.  Chick Peas Lentil is often used in stir fry vegetables such as green beans, beets and stews  like Chayote Squash , Spinach. This lentil is rich in fiber and has low glycemic index and believed to reduce Cholestrol.

Cinnamon (Dalchini)

Cinnamon is a spice obtained from the inner bark of several trees from the genus Cinnamomum that is used in both sweet and savoury foods. Cinnamon when it is added to food, prevents food spoilage, which makes it a natural preservative. Cinnamon is known to have several health benefits and some of the well known benefits are – it has anti-clotting effect on blood, when combined with honey it has been found to relieve arthiritis pain, help in reducing bad cholestrol (LDL).

Cloves (Luong)

Cloves are the aromatic dried flower buds of a tree in the family Myrtaceae. Cloves are often used in Asian, African, and Middle Eastern cooking in adding flavor to meats, curries, and meat marinades. Considered a very strong spice due to the eugenol chemical that makes up most of the clove’s taste (85 percent), the quantity of clove used in recipes is usually small. Clove is used for upset stomach and as an expectorant. Clove oil is used for diarrhea, hernia, and bad breath. Clove and clove oil are used for intestinal gas, nausea, and vomiting.

Coriander Powder (Dhaniya Powder)

Coriander Powder is made from grinding Coriander Seeds. Normally the Coriander seeds are roasted before grinding them in a grinder. Coriander Powder is used in stir fry vegetables like Cauliflower, gravied vegerables such as gravied Chana and mixed rice varieties like Vegetable Pulao, Tomato Rice.  Coriander has pain-relieving properties, relieves nausea, diahorrea.

Coriander Seeds (Dhaniya)

The fruit of the Coriander plant has two seeds and when they are dried, become dried spice. The seeds are yellowish-brown in color with longitudinal ridges.  The use of coriander can be traced back to 5,000 BC, making it one of the world’s oldest spices. Recent research studies on animals, have confirmed that Coriander can lower blood sugar, reduce LDL while  increasing HDL.

Cumin (Jeera)

Cumin seeds are actually the small dried fruit of an annual plant in the parsley family. Native to the Mediterranean, cumin is hotter to the taste, lighter in color. It is used in all Indian cuisine.  It is known increase lactation, stimulate appetite, and has anti-septic properties

Curry Leaves (Kari Pattha)

Curry Leaves are a herb native to South Asia and are an essential component of South Indian cooking. They are highly aromatic By the way, they are unrelated to the spice mix,  Curry Powder.

Fennel (Saunf)

Fennel is native to Southern Europe and grown extensively all over Europe, Middle-Eastern, China, India, and Turkey. The seeds, which resemble to anise seeds in appearance, feature oblong or curved (comma) shape, about 3-4 mm long, light brown-color with fine vertical stripes over their surface. Antioxidants and other compounds in fennel seeds might offer protective benefits against certain forms of cancer, according to a tissue-culture study published in the September 2011 “Journal of Medicinal Food.”  Other health benefits of Fennel include healthy blood circulations and prevention of osteoporosis, according to various studies.

Fenu Greek (Methi)

Fenugreek seeds are commonly used in cooking Indian curries. The taste of fenugreek seeds can be described as bittersweet, powerful, and aromatic, with a slightly bitter aftertaste. Fenugreek seeds help lower sugar levels in Diabetes patients, and may lower cholestrol.

Flattened Rice (Poha)

Flattened rice (also called beaten rice) is a dehusked rice which is flattened into flat light dry flakes. These flakes of rice swell when added to liquid, whether hot or cold, as they absorb water. The thicknesses of these flakes vary between almost translucently thin (the more expensive varieties) to nearly four times thicker than a normal rice grain.This easily digestible form of raw rice is very popular across Nepal, India and Bangladesh, and is normally used to prepare snacks or light and easy fast food in a variety of Indian cuisine styles, some even for long-term consumption of a week or more. Lactose free and heart healthy. Source essential vitamins and minerals

Garlic (Lasoon)

Garlic is a herb and is best known for flavoring for food. Over the years, it has been used to prevent or treat wide range of diseas and conditions. These conditions include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, coronary heart disease, heart attack, and “hardening of the arteries” (atherosclerosis). Some of these uses are supported by science.


Ginger is an underground bulb of the Ginger plant. Its flesh is yellow, white or red in color depending on the variety and the skin is brownish. Gingerhas aromatic, pungent and hot taste. Ginger’s health benefits are numerous, including gastrointestinal relief, ant-oxidant effects and anti inflammatory effects.

Gram Flour (Besan)

Gram flour is a pulse flour made from ground chickpeas or chana dahl. It is also known as chickpea flour, garbanzo flour, or besan. Gram flour can be made from either raw chickpeas or roasted chickpeas. The roasted variety is more flavorful, while the raw variety has a slightly bitter taste.When mixed with an equal proportion of water, it can be used as an egg-replacer in vegan cooking.Gram flour contains a high proportion of carbohydrates[4] but no gluten.[5] Despite this, in comparison to other flours, it has a relatively high proportion of protein.

Green Cardamom (Choti Elaichi)

One of the world’s ancient spices, green cardamom comes from seeds of ginger like plant native to southern India. Green cardamom has a strong, spicy-sweet taste: a warm and aromatic fragrance. One of the most expensive spices, and little is needed to flavor your dish.

Green Gram (Moong Dal)

With skin removed and split, these lentils look flat and yellow in color. They are easy to cook and digest. Used to cook stews or soups, the Green Gram Lentils are a good source of protein and fibre. They are also low in fat, rich in B complex vitamins, calcium and potassium.   

Mustard Seeds

Mustard seeds are the small round seeds of various mustard plants. The seeds are usually about 1 or 2 mm in diameter. They are important spices in many regional foods. There are 3 major types of Mustard plants from which Mustard seeds are made – black mustard (Brassica nigra), white mustard (Brassica alba) and brown mustard (Brassica juncea). Mustard are good source of omega-3 fatty acids, manganese, magnesium.

Red Chillies (Lal Mirchi)

Red Chillies add flavor to your dishes, if you are brave enough to risk its heat. This can put your tongue on fire and bring tears to you eyes. This food is not for everyone, eventhough it can make an outstanding contribution to your meal. One needs to be careful while handling red chilles because it cause burning sensation if it comes in contact with your skin. It is a natural pain reliever, shown to reduce blood cholestrol, triglycerides,   lower risk of type 2 diabetes.

Red Chilli Powder (Mirchi Powder)

Chilli powder is the dried, pulverized fruit of one or more varieties of chili pepper.  It is used as a spice to add pungency and flavor to dishes. It is used in many cuisines like Indian, Chinese, Thai and Korean. Used in moderation, it gives lovely color and flavor to the dish without stting your tongue or stomach on fire.  Known to increase metabolism. Rich in Vitamin A.

Saffron (Zaffran)

Saffron is a spice derived from by drying the the flower of Crocus sativus, commonly known as the saffron crocus. Saffron, long among the world’s most costly spices by weight, is native to Greece or Southwest Asia and was first cultivated in Greece.Saffron is widely used in Indian, Persian, European, Arab, and Turkish cuisines. This spice is used both as a coloring agent as well as as for seasoning certail sweet dishes. Saffron has a long medicinal history as part of traditional healing; several modern research studies have hinted that the spice has possible anticarcinogenic (cancer-suppressing), anti-mutagenic (mutation-preventing), immunomodulating, and antioxidant-like properties. Saffron stigmas, and even petals, may be helpful for depression. Early studies show that saffron may protect the eyes from the direct effects of bright light and retinal stress apart from slowing down macular degeneration and retinitis pigmentosa. (Most saffron-related research refers to the stigmas, but this is often not made explicit in research papers.) Other controlresearch studies have indicated that saffron may have many potential medicinal properties.

Turmeric Powder (Haldi)

Turmeric powder is used in many Indian recipes, both North and South Indian cooking. Long known for its anti-inflammatory properties, recent research has discovered many medicinal benefits of Turmeric. Here are some of its benefits – useful in disinfecting cuts and burns, may prevent and slowdown progression of Alzheimer, natural pain-killer.

Check out this link to learn more about benefits of Turmeric that is included in each Flavor Temptations organic Indian flavor pack.