Here you will find a list of the most commonly used spices (masala) in Indian cooking in the decreasing order of their frequency of use in my kitchen, and their descriptions.
This is perhaps the most widely used spice in Indian cooking. It has a distinctive and slightly pungent aroma. Too much of cumin powder can be overpowering. It is rich in antioxidants, Iron and Manganese.
Obtained from the seeds of the coriander (cilantro) plant, coriander powder is used as widely as cumin powder. It has a mild flowery aroma, and is known for its diuretic properties.
In India it is used only in savory dishes to attain a rich yellow color. It has a very strong, slightly metallic taste, and, therefore, a little goes a long way.
Cumin seeds are primarily used as a tempering agent; but they are also often dry roasted and crushed to be used in gravies, drinks and chats to add a smoky and spicy flavor.
Native to the Indian subcontinent, this spice is recognized by its tiny spear shaped pods and sweet floral smell. They are used both for tempering oil in savory dishes, and for flavoring desserts. A couple of pods go a long way.
These are bigger in size, and have a more rounded flavor and sweetness than the green cardamoms. They are widely used in Mughlai dishes to flavor rice water and temper oil.
These are used primarily as tempering agents. Like cloves, they are also ground to make finishing spice mixes. Interestinly, they are not used in desserts at all in India. They are, however, frequently used to spice tea along with green cardamoms and cloves.
These have a mild but distinctive floral fragrance. They are used as tempering agents, and work great in mild soups and sauces. They are also used to flavor milk in rice puddings and the likes.
Whole warm spices like cloves, cinnamon, mace, nutmeg, and black pepper corms are roasted and ground to make this finishing spice. Can be substituted by pumpkin spice.
This is a tangy, salty and slightly spicy finishing spice, best used in salads and raitas.
They have a bittersweet taste and a very strong smell that resembles artificial maple syrup. They make great last minute additions to lentils and saucy dishes. Too much of fenugreek leaves can be overwhelmingly bitter.
They are black/brown/yellow colored, extremely hot and strong flavored seeds when made into a paste, but the seeds add a an earthy flavor when used to temper oil. They are widely used in East India to make hot mustard gravies for seafood.
These are the most versatile of spices. They are not only used in spice mixes, but are a primary ingredient in several Indian desserts. They are roasted and mixed with sugar and jaggery to make brittle like desserts. They have a nutty flavor and texture, and sesame paste is thus also used to thicken gravies.
These look like caraway seeds but have a strong pungent flavor. They are commonly used in Indian breads, and deep fried items like kachori.
Derived from the dried seeds of the fennel plant, these have a slightly sweet and liquorice taste. This is more widely used in East India. Fennel seeds are a key ingredient in a Bengali tempering spice mix called panch-phoron.
Used both to color and perfume food, this spice resembles the smell of honey, with grassy, hay-like, and metallic notes and bitter undertones. 3-4 strands are enough to flavor a whole pot of milk.