Home

Pasta

Flour

Gelatine and Aspic

Rice

Sago

Tapioca

Semolina

Cornmeal

Couscous

Sugar

Nuts & Seeds

Spices

Dry Goods Home

  Spices  
  Allspice

This small dried berry is used in pickling, cakes, cookies and pies. It is also used extensively in Christmas cooking.

   

Asafoetida

Asafoetida is a dried, resinous gum obtained from the stems and rhizomes or taproots of three species of the Ferula (giant fennel) plant. Although available in 'tears' and 'lumps', it is most commonly found in powdered form. When solid asafoetida is crushed, the sulphur compounds in the volatile oil are released, giving it a strong, unpleasant smell, reminiscent of pickled garlic.

Asafoetida has a very strong, pungent smell and the flavour mellows as it is fried in oil. When cooked, it has a truffle-like flavour and a roasted garlic aroma.  Sometimes added to curries to reduce flatulence!

     

Black Onion Seeds

These small tear shaped seeds are often added to Nan breads and rice dishes and some Balti curries specify them.  Also known as kalongi.

 These seeds are taken from the nigella flower. They are small, matt black grains with a rough surface and an oily white interior. They are roughly triangular in shape and 1 - 3mm long.

 

   

 

Cardamom / Elaichi

Cardamom is one of the world's very ancient spices. Known as "the Queen of Spices", it is the fruit of a large perennial bush that grows wild in the rainforests of the Western Ghats in Southern India.

Cardamom is an expensive spice, third only to saffron followed by vanilla.

Cardamom seeds come in hard green pods, containing 15-20 tiny dark brown or black seeds - the stickier the better. Ideal seeds have a green to green-amber colour; the best at displaying this characteristic are those from Kerala.

The aroma of cardamom is strong and penetrating yet fruity and mellow. The taste is lemony and flowery, with a note of camphor or eucalyptus due to cineole in the essential oil; it is pungent and smoky with a warm, bittersweet note, whilst also being clean and fresh.

    Caraway Seeds

Give an aniseed flavour in meat dishes, breads and cheese - in particular Gouda

     

Cayenne Pepper

The Cayenne is a hot red chilli pepper used to flavour dishes, and for medicinal purposes. Named for the city of Cayenne in French Guiana, it is a cultivar of Capsicum annuum related to bell peppers, jalapeņos, and others. The capsicum genus is in the nightshade family (Solanaceae).

The fruits are generally dried and ground, or pulped and baked into cakes, which are then ground and sifted to make the powder, Cayenne pepper.

Cayenne is used in cooking spicy hot dishes, as a powder or in its whole form (such as in Szechuan cuisine) or in a thin, vinegar-based sauce. It is generally rated at 30,000 to 50,000 Scoville Units.

   

 

Cinnamon / Dalchini

Cinnamon is the inner bark of a tropical evergreen tree from the laurel family. There are suggested to be between 50 - 250 different species, depending on which botanist figures are collected from. Cinnamon can be found either in quills or as a ground powder. Either way, the paler the colour of the cinnamon, on the whole, the finer the quality. Quills come in three classes, the best of which is Continental followed by Mexican and Hamburg. Cinnamon can also be found in featherings, which are purely shavings of quills that have been broken in transit, although these are primarily used to make ground cinnamon.

Cinnamon has a warm, sweet and amiable aroma that is delicate yet intense. The taste is also aromatic, warm and sweet with hints of clove and citrus. Ground bark is immediately aromatic, whereas the quills have a tendency to hide their aromatic properties until broken or cooked in a liquid.

   

 

Clove / Laung / Lavang

Cloves are the unopened flower buds of the clove tree. Were they left to open, these same buds would produce remarkably delicate flowers. After picking they are dried in the traditional way, sun-drying them on woven mats. They loose their moisture, become hard and reddish-brown in colour. The best cloves have deep reddish-brown stems though in comparison a lighter crown; they tend to be rough to touch, exude a small quantity of oil if compressed with a fingernail and snap cleanly between the two.

Cloves have an extremely strong and pungent aroma, with notes of pepper and camphor. The taste is rich and warm, aromatic and fruity but also sharp, hot and bitter, creating a numbing sensation on the tongue. This characteristic taste is dominated by the eugenol in the essential oil and is the reason why cloves must be used sparingly as they can easily overpower other spices used in dishes.

 

   

 

Coriander Seed / Dhania

Coriander is both a herb and a spice - the leaves are herbs and the seeds spices. It is undoubtedly the most widely used plant in both these forms and thus it is no surprise then that coriander is the most important spice in Indian cuisine.

The plants are native to the Mediterranean and Western Asia but are now grown worldwide. The coriander grown in Russia and Central Europe has smaller seeds and contains more essential oil than the oriental variety, which tends to be cultivated for the leaves just as much as for the seeds. The plants are harvested early in the morning with the dew on, since the pods can split very easily in the hot climatic conditions while still on the plant. The seeds are then sun dried and stored in racks.

Ripe seeds have a sweet, woody, spicy aroma with a subtle undertone of pine and pepper. The taste is sweet, mellow and warm with an orange peel flavour. Due to its mild flavour, coriander is often used in larger amounts than other spices. The flavour of the seeds is enhanced if they are dry roasted before being ground. Although spherical Moroccan seeds are more commonly available than the oval Indian variety, it is the latter which has a sweeter flavour.

   

 

Cumin / Jeera

Cumin is the second most important spice in Indian cuisine (after coriander).

It comes in two varieties: plain and black. Plain cumin seeds are oval, brownish-green in colour and about 5mm long. Although they look like and are commonly mistaken for caraway, cumin seeds are longitudinally ridged and tend to be straighter. Black cumin seeds are darker and smaller than their plain counterparts.

Cumin has a very distinctive, strong and spicy aroma and a rich, earthy and warm taste with slightly bitter and pungent notes. Black cumin has a sweeter smell and a complex, mellow flavour that lies somewhere between cumin and caraway.

   

 

Curry Leaves / Kadi Patta

Curry leaves come from a plant of Indian origin Murraya Koenigii that grows wild in the Himalayan foothills as well as in many other parts of India, Northern Thailand and Sri Lanka. Each slender stalk of this tree can give up to 25 leaves.  Although available as dried leaves, it is much better to buy them fresh from Indian stores, where they may be labelled "Meetha Neem" or "Kari (sometime Kadhi) Patta". They can be frozen although they will keep in a refrigerator in an airtight bag for at least a week.

Although dried curry leaves have almost no flavour to them, fresh leaves, when bruised, are extremely aromatic. The leaves give off an intense spicy aroma with a citrus note and have a warm, pleasant and lemony taste that is faintly bitter.

Prior to use, curry leaves are detached from their stalk. They are the equivalent of coriander leaves to North Indian cuisine, to South Indian cuisine.

   

 

Dried Mango Powder / Aamchoor

The mango tree is one of the world's largest and oldest trees, a fact proven by writings in India from over 4,000 years ago.

Aamchoor is made by pulverising sun-dried, unripe fruit into a fine pale beige to brownish powder and is solely produced in India. Slices of it will keep for three to four months, whereas the powder will keep in an airtight jar for up to a year. It has a pleasant, sweet-sour and slightly tropical aroma, with a slight bitterness and a refreshing flavour, similar to tamarind.

Aamchoor is used in North Indian cuisine to give a fruity tang to many vegetarian dishes. It is good with stir-fried vegetables and in stuffing for breads and pastries and is an essential ingredient in chat massala, a spice blend that originates from the Punjab.

 

   

 

Fennel Seed / Badi Saunf

Fennel is a plant that can be used either for its leaves or for its seeds. As far as Indian cuisine is concerned, it is the latter that is of more importance. Indigenous to the Mediterranean, fennel is now also cultivated in India, the Middle East and in Russia.

The plant produces a distinctive warm, liquorice-like aroma similar to anise but less intense and the seeds are sweet and fragrant. It has a slight menthol undertone with musty flavour notes.

Fennel seeds form an important ingredient in the Bengali panch phoron five-spice mixture. In other regions of India, fennel is used in garam masala, spiced gravies and sweet dishes. The seeds are widely used in India after a meal as a breath freshener and a digestive aid.

 

   

 

Fenugreek / Methi

Fenugreek is native to Western Asia and South-eastern Europe and is extensively used both as a flavouring and a medicinal herb.  Both the leaves and seeds are used in Indian cuisine - the leaves resemble shaped clover leaves and the seeds grow in pods, which contain 15 to 20 seeds each.

Fresh leaves are grassy and mildly pungent and contain an aromatic note of hay. The seeds are hard, are brownish-yellow in colour and are of rhombic shape (about 3 mm). The seeds tend to taste uniquely bitter and astringent. They have an overwhelming smell of curry powder.

Fenugreek seeds are tempered in hot oil or are dry roasted. The powdered version is ground finely and split seeds are used with a combination of split mustard seeds in pickles. Fenugreek is essential to sambhar powders and the Bengali panch phoron masala. Indian cooks also tend to make great use of fresh fenugreek leaves as a vegetable, which is often combined with potatoes, spinach or rice. The leaves are also chopped and added to the dough for Nan breads and chapattis. Their dried counterparts are used to flavour sauces and gravies with a bitter taste.

 

     

Five Spice

Although the exact origins of five-spice powder are lost to history, there is some thought that the Chinese were attempting to produce a "wonder powder" encompassing all of the five elements. All of the five flavours - sour, bitter, sweet, pungent, and salty - are found in five-spice powder.

The specific combination of spices used to make up five-spice powder varies. In fact, some brands could more accurately be labelled "seven-spice powder," since they contain seven ingredients. A standard recipe calls for fennel, cloves, and cinnamon, along with star anise and Szechuan peppercorns. However, you'll also find five-spice powder made with cassia (a member of the same family as cinnamon), ginger, nutmeg, and even liquorice (star anise has a wonderful liquorice flavour). Feel free to experiment with different varieties until you find the one you like best.

 

     

Galangal or Thai Ginger

Also known as Siamese Ginger, this root is an important ingredient in Thai cuisine.

If you were to bite into this tuberous rhizome, you would be very surprised at the slightly sweet, "perfumy" taste and scent of it, not to mention the spiciness factor. While not exactly "hot" like a chilli, galangal has a sharp pungency to it that will make you gasp and perhaps cough a little. Galangal can also be dried and powdered. When purchased in this form, it is often referred to as "Laos Powder"; however, as with most herbs, fresh is usually preferable to dried. In Thai cooking, fresh galangal adds flavour and depth to many dishes such as soups and curries as well as many other dishes. Interestingly, galangal is sometimes referred to by Thai cooks as a "de-fisher", since it is known to help eliminate any unwanted "fishy" smells from shellfish and other seafood dishes.

 

     

Garam Massala

Garam masala is a blend of ground spices common in the North Indian and Pakistani cuisine, whose literal meaning is 'hot (or warm) spice'. There are many variants: most traditional mixes use just cinnamon, roasted cumin, caraway seeds, cloves, nutmeg (and/or mace) and green cardamom seed or black cardamom pods. Many commercial mixtures may include more of other less expensive spices and may contain dried red chilli peppers, dried garlic, ginger powder, sesame, mustard seeds, turmeric, coriander, bay leaves, and fennel. While commercial garam masala preparations can be bought ready ground, it does not keep well, and soon loses its aroma. Whole spices, which keep fresh much longer, can be ground when needed using a mortar and pestle or electric coffee grinder.

Garam masala can be used during cooking, but unlike many spices, it is often added at the end of cooking, so that the full aroma is not lost. Garam masala is not "hot" in the sense that chilis are, but is fairly pungent

 

     

Juniper Berries

A juniper berry is the female seed cone produced by the various species of junipers. It is not a true berry but a cone with unusually fleshy and merged scales, which give it a berry-like appearance. The cones are used as a spice, particularly in European cuisine, and also give gin its distinguishing flavour. According to one document, juniper berries are the only spice derived from conifers, though tar and inner bark (used as a sweetner by Apache cuisines) from pine trees is sometimes considered a spice as well.

Juniper berries are used in northern European and particularly Scandinavian cuisine to "impart a sharp, clear flavour" to meat dishes, especially wild birds (including thrush, blackbird, and woodcock) and game meats (including boar and venison). They also season pork, cabbage, and sauerkraut dishes. Traditional recipes for choucroute garnie, an Alsatian dish of sauerkraut and meats, universally include juniper berries.

Gin was developed in the 17th century in the Netherlands. It was first intended as a medication; juniper berries are a diuretic and were also thought to be an appetite stimulant and a remedy for rheumatism and arthritis.

 

     

Kaffir Lime Leaves

The hourglass-shaped leaves are widely used in Thai cuisine (for dishes such as tom yum), Lao cuisine, and Cambodian cuisine, for the base paste known as "Krueng". The leaves are also popular in Indonesian cuisine (especially Balinese and Javanese), for foods such as sayur assam - literally sour vegetables, and are also used along with Indonesian bay leaf for chicken and fish. They are also found in Malay and Burmese cuisines.

The leaves can be used fresh or dried, and can be stored frozen

 

   

 

Mace / Javitri

The nutmeg tree gives us two spices - nutmeg and mace. The seed of this tree is known as a nutmeg and comes encased in two layers. The outermost of these is a small, golden fruit with reddish spots. The other is a red, web-like seed membrane called an aril and is sold as the spice mace. Although some suppliers will sell blades of mace, it is more commonly found as a ground powder.

The intense aroma of mace is developed during its curing process, where it is left to dry in the sun for 10-14 days and is similar to a combination of pepper and cinnamon. It is during this time that its colour fades from a bright red to a rusty orange. The flavour of mace is warm and spicy, similar to but cleaner and more savoury than that of nutmeg.

Mace tends to have a role in Indian cuisine that is somewhat reserved to sweet dishes and a food colouring used for its saffron-like colour. It can be used in some masala mixes and is an ingredient that is added to garam masala to produce another variation of it.

 

   

 

Mustard Seed / Rai

Mustard seeds come in three colours: black, white/yellow and brown. Black mustard is grown in Southern Europe and Western Asia, white/yellow mustard is grown in Europe and North America and brown mustard is grown in India.

Whole mustard has no aroma, but grinding releases strong, spicy and earthy aromas. White mustard is primarily sweet and does not have much flavour, even when ground, until it is added to a liquid. Black mustard is strong and pungent, brown mustard is slightly bitter and white mustard is initially sweet until the heat kicks in.

Black mustard is sometimes used to temper spices in Indian cuisine, but has been mostly replaced by brown mustard seeds, which are used predominantly in South India; where they are dry roasted or heated in hot oil to bring out an alluring nutty flavour.

 

   

 

Paprika / Lal Mirch

Paprika tends to be made from a variety of peppers and thus no one pepper creates a certain paprika powder. Once desiccated, the stalks are removed from the pepper, along with the seeds and veins, and later the wall of the fruit. The seeds and veins are ground independently and subsequently blended, dependant on the type of paprika required.

The capsicums that paprika is made from are native to south America. They were brought to Spain via the journey made by Christopher Columbus in 1492, where the Spaniards became the first to dry and grind the peppers to make paprika.

Although related to the hot chilli pepper, the cultivation of this plant in the Northern Hemisphere has eliminated the capsaicin content which provides chillies with their heat. Paprika tends to have a subtle and delicate aroma with a slight fruitful yet smoky trace. Flavours differ from sweet and smoky to full bodied and pungent.

Paprika has a dominant deep red colour when used in cooking, which is its principal use in Indian cuisine. It can also be used to form spice blends, but care must be taken not to overheat paprika, as it becomes bitter.

 

   

 

Pepper / Kali Mirch

To this day, pepper remains the most important spice in the world in terms of volume and value and has thus inherited the name "the King of Spices". Heavily used in the West as the principal accompaniment to salt, it is a spice that finds uses in all corners of the globe.

There are two types of peppercorns: black peppercorns come from green fruits and white peppercorns from red fruits. The unripe green fruits are fermented for a short time, then sun-dried during which time, they desiccate, become hard, and adopt a dark brown to black colour. The red fruits are picked when almost ripe, then soaked to soften and loosen the outer skin. Once this outer skin is removed, they are rinsed and sun-dried, forming white peppercorns.

The flavour is down to the peppers essential oil content. Black pepper both emits a woody, fresh aroma and has pungency, whereas the oils of white pepper tend to be removed during the cleaning process, giving it little aroma but sufficient pungency.

 

   

 

Saffron / Zafraan

As its production still depends heavily on manual labour, saffron is the most expensive spice in the world and often called "The Golden Spice". It is the dried stigma of the saffron crocus. It takes over 75,000 crocuses to produce five pounds of stigmas, which after being toasted, yield merely one pound of saffron.

The finest quality of Saffron is recognised by its deep red colour. It is called 'coupe' the Spanish for red or Kashmiri saffron. The next grade down contains a handful of yellow threads, matching the shade of the flower.

Saffron has a mesmerising aroma: it is distinctly rich and musky with amiable honeyed trails. The taste of this spice is very delicate, warm, penetrating and slightly bitter. It adds a brilliant golden yellow colour to dishes and is sold in strands as well as in powdered form.

Saffron is immersed in liquid for the majority of its uses in cooking. Saffron is added at different stages of the cooking process, depending on what is required for the dish being prepared. If after the colour, saffron is added in the beginning stages however, if aroma is sought, the saffron is added in the latter stages. If overused, there is a danger of it giving an amaroidal taste to foods. If liquid is not required in the cooking process of the dish, then saffron can always be ground and stirred in with the same effects. In this case, it is essential that if the threads are not dry, then they are dried, possibly by roasting, before the grinding process commences.

 

   

 

Star Anise / Badayan

Star anise is the fruit of the Chinese evergreen magnolia tree. It can be up to 3cm in size and is an eight-pointed star. Complete pods are tough and red-brown or rust coloured. The eight carpels which form the eight points of the star contain within them a seed each. The carpels are more interesting as far as cooking is concerned, as they are more aromatic than the seeds. The spice is best bought as complete pods or pieces. This is due to these remaining fresh for up to a year in an airtight jar, when kept away from sunlight, in contrast to the ground powder form which only tends to keep for 2-3 months in similar conditions.

When roasted, star anise has an aroma similar to anise, yet more powerful with hints of liquorice. Its flavour is reminiscent of a bitter aniseed albeit however, much more pungent and harsher, leaving a refreshing aftertaste.

 

     

Tamarind

The fruit pulp is edible and popular. It is used as a spice in both Asian and Latin American cuisines, and is also an important ingredient in Worcestershire sauce, HP sauce and the Jamaican-produced Pickapeppa sauce. The hard green pulp of a young fruit is very tart and acidic and is most often used as a component of savoury dishes. The ripened fruit is sweeter, yet still distinctively sour, and can be used in desserts and sweetened drinks, or as a snack. In Thailand, there is a carefully cultivated sweet variety with little to no tartness grown specifically to be eaten as a fresh fruit.

 

   

 

Turmeric / Haldi

Turmeric is a member of the ginger family. It grows underground in hot, moist climates; the root is called a rhizome and spreads out into fingers. The plant above the ground is green and grows to a height of three feet. The plant is uprooted, the top discarded and the root broken from its main bulb. The fingers are then boiled and sun-dried. The outer skin is removed and the finger ground to a powder.

Dried turmeric has a rich and woody aroma, it tends to be somewhat musky and is pungent. When eaten on its own, turmeric leaves a slightly bitter flavour on the tip of the tongue.

It is one of the essential spices in Indian cuisine and forms the basis of most masalas and curry pastes. This is what gives the golden colour associated with many Indian dishes.