5 Basic Spice Combinations of Indian Cuisine

Updated on June 8, 2020
M Mallika Rani profile image

Mallika Rani is a foodie who loves her native Indian cuisine. She enjoys exploring the cuisine and sharing it with others.

Indian spices
Indian spices

Indian cuisine is very wide-ranging—every region in India has its own cooking style and way of using spices and condiments in different combinations. This article lists the five basic combinations, as well as the 20 spices that are used in them. Let's see the list:

1. Tempering Spices

Tempering is an Indian cooking technique that enhances the taste, aroma and the look of the final dish. It can also be called a garnishing technique because the ingredients help to enhance the appeal of the dish.

In this process, specific whole spices are sauteed in ghee, oil or butter at the beginning or end of the cooking a dish. The spices that are typically used include cumin, black mustard seeds, split black gram (urad dal), fennel, asafoetida (hing), split Bengal gram (chana dal) and dried red chillies.

In South India, cumin, black mustard seeds and split black gram are mixed together in equal quantities and stored in a separate box. This mixture is used in tempering. Different regions in India use different combinations of tempering spices.

2. Biryani Spices or Garam Masala Spices

The popular dish of biryani is prepared with biryani spices, or garam masala. This is a spice mix powder that is used in curries as well as flavoured rice dishes like biryani.

These spices are very aromatic and have a strong flavour. They include cloves, cardamom/cassia bark, cinnamon, mace, nutmeg and bay leaf. Cardamom is often used in sweets and desserts as it has a sweet aroma.

A common habit among some Indians is chewing paan, or betel nut leaves, after a hearty and heavy meal. Paan increases the flow of saliva and aids in digestion. Spices like cloves and cardamom are used in paan.

3. Masala Paste

Masala paste plays an important role in the preparation of spicy food. Indian cuisine uses different types of masala pastes, but one of the most common is a ground paste of fresh ginger and garlic. Equal amounts of fresh ginger and garlic are ground into a paste with a traditional mortar and pestle or in a blender, and it is stored in a refrigerator. This masala paste enhances the taste and smell of a dish. Sometimes, fresh coriander leaves, cloves, cinnamon are also added to this combination.

4. Sister Spices

Some spices are called sister spices, meaning that they go side by side in daily cooking. One basic sister spice combination is ground turmeric and red chilli powder. Almost every spicy Indian dish contains these two spices. Other sister spices are cloves and cinnamon, coriander and cumin, and nutmeg and mace.

5. Independent Spices

Coriander, black pepper and fenugreek seeds can be categorised as independent spices, as they can be used independently depending on the dish. These are important basic spices which have a unique taste.

Coriander is a versatile and basic spice which is used in many spice powder mixes like garam masala, pav bhaji masala, biryani masala, etc. It is used as a whole spice, coriander powder and fresh coriander leaves.

Black pepper is a native spice that is ingenious to India. Once upon a time, it was considered a luxury in foreign countries and it played an important role in foreign trade and exchanges. In some dishes, it constitutes the main spice flavor; for example, in pepper chicken fry, pepper rice, pepper rasam, etc.

Fenugreek seed is a unique spice which has a bitter taste. It is one of the spices that is used in pickles; the other spice is mustard powder. Both spices are important in the process of making pickles. In some dishes like sambhar, fenugreek is a signature spice without which the dish is not complete. This spice is used as a whole spice. Dried fenugreek leaves are also known as kasuri methi. It is also used in herbal hair care as a conditioner which adds to its uniqueness.

Enjoy Cooking!

Spices add yummy flavors, but it's important to use them in the right amounts—not too little and not too much. One of the most important tips is to take care not to burn the spices while cooking because this can result in a bad-tasting dish.


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    • profile image

      Mallika Rani 

      3 weeks ago

      Thank you @liza.

    • lizmalay profile image


      4 weeks ago from USA

      Hi Mallika, I enjoyed reading your article as I'm a fan of spices. There are some spices that I'm very familiar and a few new to me. Thanks for sharing this awesome article.


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