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Prabhupada: You just put the spices water, soaked in water for some time, and then in mortar and pestle you...
Dhananjaya: Smash it.
Prabhupada: That is very nice. And immediately you fresh prepare and put into the vegetable. It will be tasteful, and it will be beneficial. All spices are beneficial.
Tamala Krsna: And much cheaper.
Prabhupada: Cheaper, of course, there is no question to you what is cheaper. For you everything is "damn cheap."
Harikesa: The Radha-Damodara party has very good prasadam program. This halava they make every morning--everyone is fully satisfied.
Prabhupada: They are sane men.
Tamala Krsna: Every morning we have...
Prabhupada: So why do they not follow your principle?
Tamala Krsna: Ah, it's very... And the devotees love it. Every day, Prabhupada, we...
Prabhupada: No, every temple give them example, invite them in your prasadam.
Tamala Krsna: Yes. That's what I'm going to do today.
Harikesa: I noticed the devotees would wait for prasadam with great...
Prabhupada: Yes, that is nice. It requires good leader, that's all. (break) ...Krsna we must prepare very first-class foodstuff, and where is the complaint if it is first class?

Srila Prabhupada Morning Walk, 07-01-75, Denver

Spices and condiments contain unique oils and compounds which impart aroma and flavour, so they should be stored in airtight bottles or containers away from direct sunlight or dampness, and away from heat from stoves and cookers. Spice extracts should be added when the foodstuff is almost done being cooked, otherwise, aroma and flavour may be oxidised by the heat.

Spices provide various benefits in cooking. The most obvious, of course, is as a flavouring agent. The volatile essential oils and flavour imparting compounds provide wonderful additions to nearly everything we cook. Spices also improve the colour of dishes, such as yellows and oranges of saffron and turmeric, the reds of chilli powder and paprika, etc. Spices are often used as a decorating agent, such as tempered mustard seeds poured overtop a preparation. Spices stimulate the digestive juices, which lets them work as an excellent appetizer. Spices containing carbohydrates can be used as a thickening agent, like tamarind pulp or ginger paste. Other spices like cloves, pepper and turmeric act as a food preservative. Still others improve digestibility, and some are so potent they serve as medicines. Turmeric powder, for example, is used as an antiseptic, while omum and asafoetida are used for reducing stomach-ache.

A special precaution should be taken while purchasing spices and condiments in powder or extract form. One should see the manufacturing date, name of the company, content, ingredients, quantity, standard mark and packaging. Read about how to identify and test for adulterated spices at the bottom of the Unbonafide Ingredients page.

Function of Spices

Black Peppercorns (kali mirchi)

Basic Spices

The first group of spices presented below are the foundation spices used to create chaunks (pronounced chawnce). A chaunk is a blend of spice seeds, powders, etc., that are heated in oil to release the flavors, forming the flavor base of most Indian dishes. Heat a little ghee or oil in a pan until hot (but not smoking), then add the basic spices. Put the seeds in first til they begin to 'pop', then add the powdered spices until they start to sizzle. Add any complementary spices, aromatics, sweets or sours. When the chaunk is ready, pour it into the vegetables, curd, dal or other preparation. Remember, when hot oil hits water it can cause quite a reaction. Keep your face and hands protected until you're familiar with the spicing process.

Asafoetida (hing)

Asafoetida is a resin from a type of giant fennel. It exudes a strong, somewhat nasty odour. Used in small quantities, Asafoetida provides an onion-garlic flavour that enhances many dishes. It's often used in lentils to help prevent flatulence. It was believed that asafoetida enhanced singers voices, and during the Mughal aristocracy, court singers in Agra and Delhi would eat a spoonful of asafoetida with butter, then practice on the banks of the river Yamuna.

Coriander (dhaniya)

Coriander seeds and powder have a light, lemony flavor that combines very nicely with ginger. Aside from use as a basic chaunk spice, use it to season foods that will cook for longer than a hour, giving time for the full flavor to be released. Coriander powder will preserve well if you put a few pieces of asafetida in the container. Salt crystals mixed with coriander also keep insects away.

Cumin (jeera)

Cumin is one of the essential flavors in Indian dishes. Used as a seed or powder, it's popularity is second only to black pepper. Freshly ground seeds are worth the trouble. Better yet, roast the seeds to darken by a few shades, then grind -- the taste is wonderful!

Mustard seeds (rai/sarson)

Mustard seeds come in reddish-brown or yellow, the latter being ground for yellow prepared mustard. Indian recipes most often call for whole mustard seeds, which are heated in oil until they 'pop' and turn gray, releasing their full nutty flavor. Once fried, the soft mustard seeds are very attractive in sauces or on top of dishes.

Red Chili

There are endless varieties of red chili available: fresh or dried whole, powdered, or in flake form. Cayenne is popular in the West, and works well for Indian recipes calling for whole dried chilis that you'd like to notch down the heat on. Chilli powder preserves well if you add a little raw salt. Adding a little salt while frying dry red chillis also helps prevent the cough you get from the oils released into the air.

Turmeric (haldi)

Turmeric is the rhizome of a ginger-like plant. It is usually available ground, as a bright yellow, fine powder. In India it is used not only as a basic spice in curries, but also to tint many sweet dishes. The flavor is mild, and reminescent of a dull ginger. If using fresh turmeric, soak it in lemon juice or milk. If you want a stronger aroma, soak it in hot water.

Complementary Spices

Ajwain (carom)

Ajwain seeds or powder are fried to add a strong aroma and flavor to lentils, dal and bean dishes. Ajwain is the small seed-like fruit of the Bishop's Weed plant, which is similar to parsley.

Coriander (cilantro), fresh leaves

Sometimes called Chinese Parsley, fresh cilantro has a strong and distinctive taste that most people either love or hate. The dried leaves have a much more subtle taste than the fresh.

Fennel (sounf)

Fennel seeds or powder provide a light, pleasant flavor that's mildly licorice-like. Fennel seeds can be roasted before being ground, for enhanced flavor. Chewing the seeds is a good digestive aid.

Fenugreek (methi)

Fenugreek adds a sweet, pungent flavor to foods. Whole seeds are quite hard and difficult to grind, so many prefer to buy it already powdered. When chaunking the seeds, don't over-heat, as they tend to become bitter if left in the oil too long. Dried Fenugreek leaves, called methi, add a wonderful flavor to batter for frieds.


Ginger not only lays down a great layer of taste for the palate, it also adds a 'zing' of spiciness. Use it fresh, crystalized, or dried and ground to powder. If adding fresh ginger to a chaunk, time it near the middle of the cycle so it doesn't burn, but softens to release its full flavor.

Kalongi (nigella)

Nigella is often used to spice korma and sabjis, dal and chutneys. The black seeds are sprinkled on naan bread before baking. Nigella is an ingredient of some garam masalas and is one of the five spices in panch puran, the Indian equivalent of Chinese five-spice.

Mint leaves (pudina)

Spearmint and peppermint both provide lovely taste when dried and crushed. Peppermint has a warm, spicy flavor while Spearmint has a tarter, sharper taste.


Anise (saunf)

Anise has star-shaped pods containing small, smooth seeds having a sweet licorace taste. The whole pod can be ground into powder, or you can remove the seeds and drop the pod into a soup. A single star generates a lot of flavor!

Camphor crystals (pacha karpooram)

Camphor is a white crystalline substance obtained from the wood of the Camphor tree. There are two grades of camphor available in Indian groceries - the medicinal grade, which is also used for puja, and the food grade. Camphor provides a very unique taste in foods. Use only the barest amount... a few small grains will flavor an entire recipe.

Cardamom (eliachi), green or black

An extremely flavorful spice from either green or black seed pods. Crush the pods to release flavor, or grind into powder. Black pods are generally considered to be less opulent than the green, but the black has a unique, smoky flavor that makes it very nice. Add a little sugar before peeling cardamoms to make peeling easier. Powder cardamom and sugar together and store it in a container for instant use.

Cinnamon (dalchini)

Cinnamon is the fine, inner skin of a fragrent tree bark. Use the bark 'sticks' whole in the pot, or grind into fine or coarse powder. When powdering cinnamon, add a pinch of sugar while pounding or grinding it for faster results. Ground cinnamon already packaged is likely to be a better grade than what you home-grind from the stick, because a different, richer part of the bark is processed for the ground. Cinnamon comes in a wide range of flavors, from very sweet to a strong, spicy version. The Ceylon, or "true" cinnamon, is less sweet, with a more complex, citrus flavor that's excellent.

Cloves (lavang)

Cloves are the rich, brown, dried, unopened flower buds of an evergreen tree in the Myrtle family. Whether whole or ground, cloves have an intense flavor that is strong, pungent, and sweet.

Garam Masala

Garam Masala is a catch-all term for a unique blend of spices, often regional. Most masalas are fairly aromatic, although the range of spice combinations is very wide.

Mace (jaivitri)

Mace comes from the Nutmeg tree, and is the lace-like covering that grows over the Nutmeg seed's outer shell. Mace is more difficult to harvest, and comes at a higher price than the Nutmeg.

Nutmeg (jaiphal)

Nutmeg can be bought already powdered, or as the whole nut seed found inside the pale yellow fruit. Fresh grinding your nutmeg is most flavorful, and it's easy because the seed is very soft. You'll find little nutmeg grinders in the cooking utensil shops.



While Coconut is a fruit, not a spice, it has a well-deserved place with sweeteners used in chaunks and spicing blends. Fresh or dried coconut works well in chaunks, while the prepared sweetened types can add more mositure to the oil than is desirable.

Jaggery (gur)

Jaggery is a natural sweetener made from concentrated sugarcane juice. It is a dark, coarse, unrefined sugar similar to a very hard-packaged brown sugar. Jaggery has a distinctive taste that's sweet and fruity, with a sharp edge like molaasses. Jaggery is made without the use of any chemicals/ synthetic additives or preservatives. It contains an enormous wealth of minerals, protein and vitamins, and has great nutritional and medicinal value. The manufacture of sugar from sugarcane juice is a process that involves a cocktail of chemicals. Jaggery is low in calorie content, and is safe for use by diabetics.


Curry leaves, fresh (koenigii/barsunga)

Fresh curry leaves add a pungent, slightly sour edge when added to a chaunk or sabji pot. Fresh leaves can also be oven-dried or toasted immediately before use, but dried curry leaves lose their fragrance within days. Because of their soft texture, Curry leaves are never removed before serving, like Bay leaves. In fact, they provide a lovely texture and color when left floating in raitas or soups.

Kaffir Lime leaves

Kaffer Lime leaves are popular in Thai, Cambodian and Indonesian cooking, but add a great fruity-sour zest to Indian dishes, too. Kaffir leaves, zest, and juice can be used, but the leaves are particularly nice because they're less assertive and don't drown out the more subtle flavors. Fresh Kaffir leaves are glossy and dark with a flora-citrus aroma similar to Lemongrass.

Lemon or Lime, juice or rind

The juice of lemons and limes add a wonderful flavor and aroma. Add to chaunks at the end of the heating process, or squeeze drictely into the preparation.

Mango, dried (amchur, amchoor)

Amchur is unripe or green mango which has been sliced, sun dried and ground or used in whole pieces. It is sometimes seasoned with turmeric, and is typically used as an acid flavouring in curries, soups, and chutneys. The dried slices add a piquancy to curries and the ground powder acts as a souring agent, like tamarind. Amchur is often used in sauces and marinades because it has the same tenderizing qualities as lemon or lime juice (but only 1/3 the quantity is needed).

Sumac (kankrasringi )

Very popular in Middle Eastern and Southeast Asian recipes, sumac is a dark red spice obtained from grinding the moist red sumac berries and mixing them with salt. Sumac adds lovely flavor, color and texture to dishes.

Tamarind (imli)

Tamarind is the curved brown bean-pod from the Tamarind tree. The pod contains a sticky pulp enclosing numerous shiny black seeds. The pulp is used as a flavouring for its sweet, sour, fruity aroma and taste. It is available as a pressed fibrous slab, or as a jamlike bottled concentrate, and some Indian shops carry the dried pods. The juice or paste is used as a souring agent, particularly in lentil dishes, curries and chutneys, where its flavour is more authentic than vinegar or lemon juice. Tamarind contains pectin which is used in the manufacturing process of commercially produced jams, so it is a natural ingredient in many jams, jellies, and fruit drinks.


Yoghurt crosses over into the realm of subtle sour spices, particularly in mildly spiced dishes that allow the yoghurt's tartness to come through. Yoghurt, when added to a slightly cooled chaunk, gives a nice consistency to spices before they're mixed into a dish.

Other Spices

Black Peppercorns (kali mirchi)

Black pepper is the most universally used spice in the world. There are several types of peppercorns available on the market, but the Tellicherry and Malabar Indian peppercorns are top grade.

Black Salt (kala namak)

Black salt is actually pinkish-gray, a color which comes from trace minerals and iron. Add it to Indian fruit salads, chutneys, raitas and lassis. Used sparingly, it adds a special sulphur taste on the lines of garlic, onions and asafetida. Added to scrambled curd or tofu, it replaces the sulfur taste found in eggs. Black salt is mined from the earth and not the sea.

Poppy seeds (khas khas)

White Poppy seeds, called khas khas, are the ripe seeds of the Poppy plant. Usually toasted to bring out flavor, they are similar in flavor to the blue-gray seeds used in the West, but are smaller and break down to a softer state when cooked into wet sabjis.

Saffron (kesar)

Saffron is one of the most distinctive -- and expensive -- spices in the world. Saffron is the stigma of the fall flowering Crocus, which take great time to harvest, and bring thousands of dollars per pound. Fortunately, a little Saffron goes a long way. Saffron adds a lovely yellow color and a fragrant taste to rice, stews, breads and yoghurt dishes. While Spanish Saffron is most often found in western groceries, the Indian Kashmiri Saffron is by far the finest. Steer clear of expensive powdered saffront, which is usually adulterated, and the poor quality saffron that's usually yellow, bleached or streaked with white.

Sesame seeds (til)

Sesame seeds add wonderful flavor and texture to breads, salads and sabjis. White seeds are most familiar in the west, but the black Sesame seeds are often used in Asian dishes. Both are wonderful when lightly toasted.