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Celebrating Indian Spices

Vibrant, aromatic and absolutely flavourful, spices are a game-changer when it comes to cuisines. They whet the appetite and send one on a gastronomical journey. After all, can you imagine dal without the haldi, kheer without cardamom or biryani without cinnamon? On this Independence Day, let’s celebrate the rich and varied spice heritage of our country. Here, chef experts dish out on what taste they infuse, best dishes that can be made out of them and what makes these zesty wonders so special!

Good to know:

With origins that date back to BCE, spices have come a long way and been adapted to different regions. Sanjay Browne, Exec Sous Chef, Hilton Bangalore Embassy GolfLinks shares, “Many of them have been introduced from different countries like Mexico, Portuguese, South East Asia to India. We have adopted all them and created the combinations as per our palate.”

Turmeric

Long before the West woke up to the astounding benefits of turmeric, ancient India had been infusing this vibrant spice in its cuisines for its colour, flavour and goodness. As a matter of fact, it is hard to imagine any traditional main course cuisine without haldi.

Sanjay Browne shares, “Hailing from the ginger family, this spice has many health benefits as such as being anti-inflammatory as well as helping in lowering heart diseases. Due to all of this, it’s been used in auspicious occasions not only in Indian but in many other countries as well.”

Flavour: As per Chef Thayanithy, Sous Chef at Signature Club Resort, “Turmeric is mostly added for the flavour it releases. The golden powder’s true essence is unleased when mixed with other spices and dishes, for as a standalone spice it has a very bitter taste.”

Best dishes: Apart from the staple dals and sabjis’s, this can be sneaked into a variety of dishes due to its versatile nature. Think the trending turmeric lattes, chickpea salads, turmeric orange cakes, curried pastas and the likes. Chef Thayanithy shares, “It is also widely used for marination of dishes and during the cleansing of meat products before cooking.”

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Cinnamon

Synonymous with toothsome rolls and desserts, this condiment appeals with its invigorating aroma and unique taste. This goodness can get addictive as it has the power to transform the taste of your dish. “This is my favourite spice as it adds great flavour, improves food palatability and gives a fabulous aroma,” admits Arun Basnet, Executive Sous Chef, Gokulam Grand Hotel and Spa.

Flavour: Chef Narayanamurthi, Chef de Cuisine, Aloft Bengaluru Cessna Business Park says, “Cinnamon adds a mild and sweet taste to a dish. There are 2 varieties – Ceylon and Cassia. In India, we use the Cassia Cinnamon as it is milder in flavour and can be used in larger quantities.”

Best dishes: This brown bark works beautifully with ingredients such as coffee and apple and can be used in cakes, pastries, tarts, oats, scones, puddings, cookies and the likes. Else, you can enjoy this spice in your biryanis, chole sabji, dhansak, kormas and similar.

Chef Narayanamurthi notes, “It is extensively used in garam masala and Kari masala. A few dishes that really shine with the use of cinnamon are Mutton Rogan Josh and Chicken Chettinad.”

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Nutmeg

A little of this warm spice goes a long way, both in lending a distinct flavour to the dish as well as boosting one’s overall health. Nutmeg plays an important role in traditional medicine too due to its high level of antioxidants teamed with antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties.

Flavour: “Nutmeg has a strong and distinctive aroma with a nutty and slightly sweet taste,” shares Chef Tenzin Namkha, Chef de Cuisine at HIGH Ultra Lounge, Sheraton Grand Bangalore Hotel at Brigade Gateway.

Best dishes: Spike your steaming hot chai or iced tea with nutmeg to make it savoury and healthy! You can even add it to your pastries and custards to bring about a balance of flavours. Chef Tenzin Namkha shares, “This aromatic spice is largely used in dishes like phirni, kheer, pies, puddings, custard and spicy cakes. As for savouries, it works well with samosa stuffing and Mughlai dishes.”

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Pepper

Favoured by many chefs, this tropical delight has been used since time immemorial for its taste enhancing properties. Pepper is even believed to be used as a currency in ancient Greece.

Sanjay Browne, Exec Sous Chef, Hilton Bangalore Embassy GolfLinks shares, “Black peppercorn is my favourite spice, it is versatile spice available all over the world. The benefits of this wonder include increasing metabolism and helping in digestion. It is an important healthy food owing to its antioxidant, antimicrobial potential and gastro-protective modules.”

Flavour: As per Chef Anirudh Amin, Chef de Cuisine JW Marriott Hotel Bengaluru, black pepper has a distinct and earthy flavour that is woody and sharp; all at the same time. This condiment also has a unique pungent taste with a hint of spiciness that hits you later.

He further adds, “Grinding fresh black pepper over your dish towards the end of cooking doesn’t give your food a “peppery” taste, instead, it lends a nice kick of flavour that is understated, yet flavorful and earthy with a hint of spice.” As per Chef Tenzin Namkha, “Black pepper has a unique pungent taste all on its own and is one of the few spices used in all kinds of cuisines around the world.”

Best Dishes: Sometimes, all you need is a bit of salt and pepper to transform any boring dish be it boiled eggs or cucumber and tomato salad. Savour this spice with tofu, rasams, stir-fried vegetables, roast chicken and the likes. They especially go well with Chinese and Oriental cuisines.

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Red chilli

Rendering a lovely fiery red colour to the dishes, red chilli is another game-changer when it comes to recipes. Chef Prakash, Executive Chef at The Woodrose shares, “My favourite spice is red chilli powder, what draws me to it is the element of spiciness and warmth. At the same time, it helps in digestion too.”

Flavour: As per Chef Prakash, “Red chilli powder gives a good dose of spiciness.” Thanks to its pungent and hot properties, it can take any dish from drab to fab. Though the chef cautions, “Chilly should be fried just right, over frying will give the curry a bitter taste.”

Dishes: Chef Prakash says, “This spice goes well with almost all Indian dishes. Veg Kholapuri is one such recipe where chilly dominates the taste.” These sizzling delights also work brilliantly in your sides like pickles, chutneys, dips and the likes.

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Saffron

These bright crimson strands are known for their exclusivity and are usually reserved for those special occasions of festivals and guests paying a visit. “Saffron is widely known as one of the most expensive spices in the world,” admits Chef Tenzin Namkha.

Flavour: As per the expert, saffron appeals with a subtle flavour and aroma. It tastes little earthy and sweet like honey.

Best dishes: Chef Tenzin Namkha shares, “Saffron is best used for colour in rice, sauces, puddings and soups to give a brighter/fresh look and give aroma to the dishes. This wonder goes well with rice dishes like biryani, paella and gives a lovely colour and aroma to the Indian sweet and baked dishes.”

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Cloves

Aromatic flower buds with a strong taste, cloves take a prominent place in Indian cuisines!  The spice’s benefits extend far beyond flavouring as it is also used in healing ailments, essential oils and for dental related issues.

Sanjay Browne shares, “Cloves are vastly used worldwide in different cuisines and for medicinal purposes. It is believed to be good for liver function and works very well as an anti-bacterial agent, especially in tooth treatment.”

Flavour: This spice offers an interesting combination of sweet and bitter. Chef Narayanamurthi, Chef de Cuisine, Aloft Bengaluru Cessna Business Park ads, “Cloves adds a pungent and dominant taste to any dish. We always avoid using them individually for this reason and rather use it with a blend of other spices. This helps in the balancing of flavours.”

Dishes: Relish this dominant condiment in your biryanis, pulao, pot roasts, curries and the likes. The warm and sharp flavour makes it a welcome addition to soups and drinks for cold weathers. For this very reason, you can include it in certain desserts such as chocolate cakes, apple pies, lemon cookies as well. As per Chef Narayanamurthi, it is used in garam masala and is extremely important in the dish called Lal Maas.

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Cardamom

Most of the desi sweets would seem incomplete without this condiment. And don’t go by the size of these little seeds, for they are packed with a whole lot of taste.

Flavour: Chef Anirudh Amin, Chef de Cuisine JW Marriott Hotel Bengaluru shares, “Cardamom has a refreshing aroma with a sweet, lemon-like flavour with notes of eucalyptus and camphor. It can be used by itself or in conjunction with other spices in sweet as well as savoury dishes.”

Best dishes: Sip on piping hot masala chais, take the taste of desserts such as doughnut, orange cardamom cookies, lemon drizzle, cake cardamom date cake and peach tarts up a notch.

As per Chef Anirudh Amin, a mix of cardamom and mace powder does magic to bring out aromas in biryani and kebabs. Else incorporate them in your Indian dishes such as Pindi Chole, Hyderabadi Biryani, Shahi Paneer, Mixed Vegetable Pulao and Kashmiri Biryani.

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So, go ahead and tickle your taste buds with a range of spices. Just remember that using a little amount and balancing the flavours is the key here.

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