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Stock Your Indian Spice Pantry

These are chef Floyd Cardoz’s picks for the most essential spices in Indian cooking. With these nineteen spices, the flavor possibilities are endless. You don’t have to run out and buy them all at once. Instead, start with the spices on the left (which you probably already know) and some from the middle section (which are increasingly common). And as your taste for adventure grows, work your way toward the group on the right; they’re a little harder to find—but ultimately worth the effort.

See below for more information about each spice, including easy links to buy.

  • Ingredient

    Cardamom

    Native to India, cardamom is related to ginger. But whereas ginger is valued for its rhizome (an underground part of the plant), it’s cardamom’s dried seed pods that are most commonly used in cooking.

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  • Ingredient

    Nigella Seeds

    These tiny black seeds, widely used in Indian and Middle Eastern cooking, have a nutty and pleasantly bitter onion flavor.

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  • Ingredient

    Dried Red Chiles

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  • Ingredient

    Fenugreek

    A grassy, slightly bitter herb used in Indian cuisine (the seeds are also used).

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  • Ingredient

    Fenugreek Seeds

    Tan, squarish fenugreek seeds are an important ingredient in Indian cuisine (as are fenugreek leaves). They're used in many spice blends, including South Indian sambhar powder. The flavor is bitter...

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  • Ingredient

    Cumin

    Cumin is the dried seed of the herb Cuminum cyminum, a member of the parsley family. Cumin seeds which resemble caraway seeds, are oblong, ridged, and yellow-brown in color. Cumin seeds, known for their distinctive aroma, are popular in North African, Middle Eastern, Indian, Cuban and Northern Mexican cuisine.

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  • Ingredient

    Coriander

    Round, tan, papery seeds of the cilantro plant, coriander has a warm, spicy-sweet scent and flavor that's slightly lemony, warm, and piny with a whiff of caraway.

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  • Ingredient

    Mustard Seeds

    The pungent seeds of the mustard plant, which range from yellowish tan to brown to black, are the building block of prepared mustard.

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  • Ingredient

    Turmeric

    Turmeric is a relative of ginger. Both the rhizome and the leaves of the turmeric plant are edible, but it’s the rhizome that’s most widely used. The small, knobby rhizome looks like a cross between a knob of ginger and a carrot, and it tastes that way too. It’s slightly bitter and metallic in flavor and ranges in color from sunny yellow to a saturated, Technicolor orange.

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  • Ingredient

    Ground Ginger

    The dried and ground version of fresh ginger, dried ginger has an earthy flavor that's a natural with other baking spices like cinnamon or nutmeg, and is what give ginger snaps and gingerbread their familiar warm flavor.

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  • Ingredient

    Fennel Seeds

    Fennel seeds come from common fennel. These oblong, greenish-brown seeds are often confused with aniseeds, which are similar in flavor and appearance, but smaller.

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  • Ingredient

    Cloves

    Born of an evergreen tree, cloves are indigenous to Indonesia but are also cultivated in Malaysia, India, and Madagascar. Its warm, spicy flavor is an integral element to gingerbread, pumpkin pie spice, and Jamaican jerk seasoning.

  • Ingredient

    Nutmeg

    This spice comes from the nutmeg tree, which grows in tropical climates and actually yields two spices. The crinkled, hard nutmeg "nut" itself is encased in a lacy scarlet membrane which, when dried and ground, becomes mace.

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  • Ingredient

    Cinnamon

    Warm, tingly, sweet cinnamon is a spice recognized by just about anyone who has enjoyed French toast, a snickerdoodle, or an aptly named cinnamon bun. But is the spice true cinnamon or its more common relative, cassia? Only your spice merchant knows for sure; often both are labeled and sold as cinnamon. Made from rolled, pressed, and dried tree bark, both cinnamon and cassia have a pleasing, woody fragrance and sweet flavor in both stick and ground form.

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  • Ingredient

    Bay Leaves

    Bay leaves may be used more often than any other herb. A leaf or two gets added to to soups and stews almost as a matter of course and then removed after its flowery and spicy bouquet has been lent to the dish.

  • Ingredient

    Allspice

    Indigenous to Jamaica, whole allspice berries look like peppercorns but taste like a blend of cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves, hence the name.

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  • Ingredient

    Black Peppercorns

    Black peppercorns come in many varieties with varying degrees of heat and flavor complexity.

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