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10 Essential Spices You Need For Indian Food

Image via My Fancy Pantry

For many people, Indian food is a gastronomic delight that's mostly consumed at restaurants and carries an aura of mystery. In actuality, many dishes use the same spices and aren't all that difficult to make. Just make sure you have these ten spices on hand, and you'll be ready to impress your friends with an exotic meal at a moment's notice.

Garlic: An herb known for it's strong scent and flavor, in Indian food, it's widely used in curries, daals, rice, meat dishes and even sometimes to flavor unleavened bread (naan). Bonus – garlic also helps prevent and treat a wide range of diseases and conditions.

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Ginger: A critical spice for Indian cooking that often goes hand-in-hand with garlic (in fact, many Indian grocery stores sell garlic/ginger already combined paste in jars). Like garlic, ginger also has a wide range of medicinal properties and can be used in fresh or powdered form. In addition to flavoring food, ginger is also widely used in drinks such as masala chai.

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Red Chili Powder: Make sure you have a glass of water or two on hand if you dare to use this spice liberally. Red chili powder can give dishes a pleasant zing – or, when used in excess, make them completely unpalatable. Tip: start by using sparingly and add more to taste.

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Tumeric: The color of this deep yellow spice is not only appealing to look at, it also seems to help with anything that's ailing you. Tumeric is known to treat afflictions like arthritis, heartburn, headaches, colds, diarrhea, and liver problems...just to name a few.

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Cilantro Leaves: A leafy herb with wide, delicate, lacy green leaves and a pungent flavor that some describe as "soapy," cilantro leaves are most often used as a garnish when serving Indian dishes.

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Coriander Powder: The seed of the cilantro plant is coriander. Although cilantro and coriander come from the same plant, their flavors are so different they can't be substituted for each other (the powder tastes like a blend of lemon, sage, and caraway).

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Cumin Seeds (or Powder): Cumin seeds have a distinctive bitter flavor and a strong, warm aroma due to their oil content. Cumin "seeds" are actually the small dried fruit of an annual plant in the parsley family. Don't confuse cumin seeds with the similar looking caraway seeds!

Mustard Seeds: There are plenty of uses for this versatile spice beyond sandwich accompaniments! Mustard seeds are a rich source of oil and protein. In Indian cooking, they are added to hot oil until they "pop" and emit their full flavor.

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Whole Spices (Black Peppercorns, Cloves, Bay Leaves, Cinnamon Sticks, Cardamom Pods): This one is misleading because it's a variety of "whole" spices (whole black peppercorns, cloves, cinnamon sticks etc.) that are often used together. Garam masala is the blended ground version of these whole spices – see No. 10 below.

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Garam Masala: A blend of the whole spices listed in No. 9 above, that have been ground up. A typical Indian version of garam masala contains peppercorns, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, mace, cardamom pods, bay leaf and caraway.

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