TRAVEL AND TASTE: MORE UNIQUE SPICES FROM INDIA

Travel and Taste: More Unique Spices from India

Travel and taste. More unique spices from India! In the recent article ‘Spicy India ~ Free Guide to Spices‘, I shared with you some of the most common spices from India. This time, I want to go one step further. Let’s discover together spices that might be more unique or less used globally. They are all cultivated here, in India!

From carom seeds, black cardamom, to Kashmiri garlic, saffron and even rose petals. Join me for another journey to India!

SPICES BOX – MASALA BOX

In each Indian kitchen, you will usually find a lot of different spices and… a masala box (in India known also as ‘masala dabba’). Spice boxes are irreplaceable in Indian houses. Just imagine: each curry might require about 6 different spices. Curry is usually accompanied by rice or roti (flatbread). So opening multiple packages or jars with spices for every curry, is just not very functional.

That’s why most, if not all, Indian families have masala boxes at home. Standard boxes are circular, they fit 6-7 different spices. . The most common assortment includes mustard seeds, turmeric, cumin seeds, red chili, coriander powder, whole red chilis and garam masala. The selection of spices included in the spice box differs both from region to region and also from family to family. We have 2 boxes in our kitchen, one isn’t enough. 🙂

More Unique Spices from India: Masala Box

Masala box recommendations? Sure!

HOMECENTRE – Authentic Steel Masala Dabba

CHUMBAK – Steel Masala Box

CHUMBAK – Mango Wood Spice Box

ELLEMENTRY – Mango Wood Spice Box

WOODENTWIST – Sheesham Wood Spice Box

AMAZON – Sheesham Wood Hexagon Spice Box

TRAVEL AND TASTE: MORE UNIQUE SPICES

AJWAIN (carom seeds)

Where in India? Ajwain is mainly produced in Rajasthan and Gujarat. Rajasthan state grows about 90% of India’s total production. Moderately cool and dry climate helps in plants’ growth and flowering.

How does it grow? Ajwain plant is a fleshy, perennial herb. It grows about 30-60 cm tall. Its leaves are edible and aromatic. The plant blooms lilac flowers at its top, from summer till fall.

Key benefits:

  • Helps in better digestion
  • Gives relief to arthritis pain
  • Lessen greying of hair

Culinary usage: In India ajwain is used in curries, lentils and bread. In the Middle East it is added to boost the taste of meat and rice dishes and as a preservative in jams, pickles and chutneys.

Spicy tip: Ajwain seeds work magically for stomach problems. Take half a teaspoon of ajwain seeds and mix the black salt powder in it. Swallow it and drink some water.

Interesting facts: According to history, ajwain plants originate from Egypt in Africa. Nowadays, they are cultivated in many parts of the world, especially India, Afghanistan and Iran.

BHUT JOLOKIA (ghost pepper)

Where in India? Bhut Jolokia is native to Assam, which used to be the only state of its cultivation. Commercial production has started also in the neighboring states of Nagaland and Manipur.

How does it grow? It is a particular plant: it might take 36 – 70 days to germinate and its growing period might be between 120 – 160 days. Soil needs to be all the time moderately moist and maintain 26-32′ c to germinate.

Key benefits:

  • Helps in rheumatic diseases
  • Lowers cholesterol
  • Reduces risk of cancer

Culinary usage:

Spicy tip:

Interesting facts: From my Travel and Taste: Spicy India post: The spiciness of chili peppers is measured on the scale called Scoville. For example, pimiento reaches 100-500 heat units, Jalapeno 2500-5000 while Bhut Jolokia (from Assam in India) over a million. Bhut Jolokia for a long time was claimed to be the hottest chili in the world (it is 400 times hotter than Tobasco sauce). That record was broken by the Carolina Reaper pepper, originating from South Carolina in the US, reaching nearly 2.2 million units on the Scoville Scale. Ready to try it?

BLACK CARDAMOM

Black cardamom

Where in India? It’s native to the eastern Himalayas, mainly cultivated in Eastern Nepal, Sikkim and parts of Darjeeling district in West Bengal in India.

How does it grow? The cardamom plant is 1.5-3 meters tall. It is a tropical plant that enjoys a partial shade. The pods are crushed to retrieve small black seeds, the cardamom spice.

Key benefits:

  • Helps in better digestion
  • Fights stomach ulcers
  • Helps in maintaining good heart health

Culinary usage: In India, it is used in many dishes, ranging from curries, lentils (e.g. rajma), stews. In China, it is common in Sichuan cuisine, while in Vietnam it is an important ingredient of the pho noodle soup.

Spicy tip: Want to get rid of some blemishes, dark spots, or acne spots on the skin? Make a home-made mask. Mix black cardamom powder with honey and apply it regularly. Its antibacterial and antiseptic properties will heal the skin.

Interesting facts: The black cardamom is 3 times bigger than the green one. Its aroma is also much stronger and smoky and it is cheaper!

FENNEL seeds (SAUNF)

Where in India? Fennel can be found in many states: Rajasthan, Punjab, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Karnataka. A dry and cool climate is the most suitable for the cultivation of the fennel crop.

How does it grow? Interestingly, it is a flowering plant species from the carrot family. It is a hardy, perennial herb. It blooms with yellow flowers and it has feathery leaves.

Key benefits:

  • Prevents anemia
  • Works as antacid
  • Helps in better digestion

Culinary usage: Fennel seeds are great to make fish stock and fish soup. They add great flavor to salads, in bread, cakes and biscuits. Additionally, add some fennel seeds when preparing curries, sauces, pickles, desserts, pancakes and drinks.

Spicy tip: Fennel water can help breastfeeding women increase milk supply and relieve colic in the baby. Simply boil 1/2 liter of water and add to it 2 teaspoons of fennel seeds. Cover and let it infuse. Once cool, remove the seeds, add honey based on your preference and drink it.

Interesting facts: People in India and Pakistan like to chew sugar-coated fennel seeds after a meal to help digestion and eliminate bad breath. Interestingly, the Fennel Sentul East in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia’s new towers, looks like the plant.

HING (asafoetida)

Where in India? Hing is a wild plant and it has never been cultivated. It grows in the hilly areas of Iran and Afghanistan. Interestingly, it had never been grown in India (the world’s biggest consumer), until October 2020. Cold desert areas of India in Ladakh, Lahaul and Spiti, parts of Uttarakhand and Arunachal Pradesh were identified as suitable for cultivation of hing in the country.

How does it grow? It is a dried latex extracted from the taproot or rhizome of different species of the Ferula plant. This perennial herb grows 1 to 1.5 m tall and is part of the celery family.

Key benefits:

  • Reduces risk of cancer
  • Has antibacterial, antifungal and antimicrobial effects
  • Eases asthma symptoms

Culinary usage: Hing adds a special umami flavor (one of the five basic tastes) ). It is used in many lentils and vegetable dishes, fried snacks and fish curries in India. When cooking, it’s good to incorporate it into hot oil or another type of fat to help reduce its sulfurous smell. Hing can also be added to hot water to make a base of sambar, to make a soup or cook leafy greens in it.

Spicy tip:

Interesting facts: If you are not used to hing, its aroma can be a bit overwhelming. Its aroma can be best described as a mix of sulfur and onions. But once you add it to food, magical things happen.  Its aroma changes to the mild leek and garlic like flavors. Give it a try!

KASHMIRI GARLIC

More Unique Spices from India Kashmiri Garlic

Where in India? Kashmiri garlic can be found in the mountain area of Indian administrated Jammu and Kashmir region. It is cultivated at 1,800 meters above sea level, in snowy conditions and a climate with extremely low oxygen levels. It is one of the few plants that can survive severe cold and high altitude environments.

How does it grow? It is a single clove garlic plant. Each clove is hidden inside a hard, golden-brown husk, measuring 1-4 cm in diameter. Kashmiri garlic plant is available all year, with a peak season in the spring months.

Key benefits:

  • Cures cold and cough
  • Fights diabetes
  • Reduces joint and muscular pain

Culinary usage: Simply, use it as a replacement for the normal garlic. It is even healthier!

Spicy tip: A popular recipe says to peel 3 – 4 pieces of garlic and to eat them on an empty stomach. Scientists say that a single clove of Kashmiri garlic reduces the risk of cold and cough by over 50% (if regularly consumed). 

Interesting facts: Kashmiri garlic is known with different names: Himalayan or Jammu garlic, Snow Mountain garlic, Kashmiri Lahsun or Ek Pothi Lahsun in Hindi. It is one of the most potent herbs in the world. In fact, it is 7 times more potent than the normal garlic. Additionally, it is said to be one of the purest spices. It is grown in the region where the soil and the air are free of industrial pollutants.

KASHMIRI SAFFRON

Kashmiri Mongra Saffron

Where in India? It is cultivated  in the highlands of Jammu and Kashmir, including areas of Pulwama, Budgam, Kishtwar and Srinagar.

How does it grow? Saffron spice is derived from the flower of crocus sativus. These violet flowers are also known as the ‘saffron crocus’. The vivid crimson color threads can be found inside the flowers. Once collected and dried they can be used as a spice.

Key benefits:

  • Improves skin health
  • Fights depression
  • Reduces risk of cancer

Culinary usage: It is used in the preparation of many sweet dishes in India, Pakistan and Central Asia. It is also added to cakes, ice-cream, drinks. Saffron adds great flavor to seafood dishes (e.g. paella) or rice dishes (e.g. risotto). Try adding some to your next tomato-based sauce.

Spicy tip: Prepare a saffron tea, known as Kahwa (traditional Kashmiri drink). Infuse saffron, cloves, cinnamon and a bit of cardamom in water. You can also add to it green tea leaves. Boil all and enjoy its benefits. It is great during autumn – winters because it boosts immunity and improves digestion. 

Interesting facts: It is the world’s most expensive spices by weight. Iran, Spain and Kashmir in India are the biggest exporters of saffron. Iran on its own accounts for about 90% production of the spice. Lacha or Mongra Saffron cultivated only in Kashmir is the darkest of all the saffron varieties in the world. Also, it is considered to be the best saffron thanks to its long-lasting flavor and aroma.

LONG PEPPER (pippali)

More Unique Spices from India Long pepper spice

Where in India? Indian long pepper is mainly derived from wild plants. It is also cultivated in the small area of the Khasi hills, the lower hills of West Bengal, Eastern Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. Also, it can be found as a wild plant in the forests of Andhra Pradesh and Andaman & Nicobar Islands.

How does it grow? Is a flowering vine, grown for its fruits, which are usually dried and used as a spice. Long pepper spikes look like a hardy version of dried chili peppers or like the spikes in anthurium flowers.

Key benefits:

  • Fights bacterial infections
  • Helps in weight loss
  • Improves skeletal health

Culinary usage: It is great for marinades, roasts and stews. It can be used in vegetable pickles, soups ( the same way as a bay leaf). It can be also a great substitute for black pepper, when you need a bit sweeter and spicier taste.

Spicy tip: Mix 1 teaspoon of pippali powder (or a few crashed pieces) turmeric powder, fresh ginger (or dried ginger powder) in water and boil for few minutes. Add honey based on preference. Drink this herbal mixture to strengthen the lungs’ tissues and their overall health.

Interesting facts: Long pepper is used in four different ways: as a spice, as a medicinal herb, as a home remedy, and as a catalyst to increase the impact of other herbs.

nigella seeds (KALONJI)

Where in India? Kalonji is cultivated in many areas, especially in Madhya Pradesh, Punjab, Bihar, Assam, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal and Tamil Nadu.

How does it grow? Nigella is a type of 18 species of annual flowering plants. Each petal obtained from the dried flowers gives several nigella seeds.

Key benefits:

  • It is a great source of antioxidants
  • Lowers cholesterol
  • Reduces risk of cancer

Culinary usage: Kalonji can be roasted and added to give a smokey, nutty taste to curries, vegetables, and beans. They can also be used in pickles, salads, oatmeal, smoothies or yogurts.

Spicy tip: Mix kalonji seeds powder, lemon juice and honey in warm water. Drink it daily on empty stomach. It helps to lose weight and belly fat.

Interesting facts: Nigella is the most “confused” spice. People mistake it with onion seeds, black cumin, black caraway, black sesame or fennel flower, among others. Nigella seeds were used in ancient Egypt. In fact, the archaeologists who excavated Tutankhamun’s tomb found, among the treasures from ancient Egypt, nigella seeds!

nutmeg and mace

Nutmeg spice

Where in India? Nutmeg and mace are grown in Kerala, mainly in the Angamaly-Kalady belt, and Tamil Nadu. Other states that cultivate nutmeg and mace on a smaller scale are Karnataka and the south of Maharashtra.

How does it grow? Nutmeg and mace come from a ‘myristica fragrans’ tree. It is a dark-leaved evergreen tree grown for two spices obtained from fruits: nutmeg – from seeds, and mace – from the seed covering.

Key benefits:

  • Boosts blood circulation
  • Protects kidneys
  • Cures cold and cough

Culinary usage: It is an essential ingredient of the classic béchamel sauce. It is used to flavor cheese sauces, potato dishes, meat and soups. It is also added to cakes, puddings and custards.

Spicy tip: Searching for a quick face pack to bring shine and a younger look to your face? Mix nutmeg powder, honey and yogurt to form a paste. Apply on the face as a face pack. Wash off after 10 minutes.

Interesting facts: Mace is more expensive than nutmeg because its collection is about ten times less than that of nutmeg. Consuming nutmeg in very big quantities can have hallucinogenic effects.

ROSE PETALS

More Unique Spices from India: Dried Rose Petals

Where in India? The key rose farming states are Maharashtra, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal.

How does it grow? Simply- beautiful rose flowers. Their petals are dried and can be used as spice or seasoning.

Key benefits:

  • Fights depression
  • Protects uterus
  • Fights inflammation

Culinary usage: Dried rose petals can be ground into a sweet or savory spice mix. They can be also used to make flavored sugar, as garnishment for food and sweets. In India, it is also used to prepare desserts, like rose petal halwa.

Spicy tip: Keep 1/4 cup of dried rose petals or 1/2 cup of fresh ones in a saucepan and add one and a half cup of water. Once the water boils, lower the flame and let it boil till the water changes color. It can be used in multiple ways: as a facial toner, cooling mist hair perfume and linen freshener. All-natural!

Interesting facts: Napoleon believed that roses had great powers for healing. He requested bags of dry rose petals for each of his military officers. The dry rose petals were first boiled in white wine and then applied to the wound to treat lead poisoning from the gunshots.

WHAT’S NEXT?

In one of the future posts, I will tell you a bit more about Indian herbs. They are so many and usually find an important spot in each Indian kitchen. Coriander is one of the most famous ones globally, but believe me, it just starts there. The list is so long and interesting! That’s Incredible India!


Did you enjoy this article and did you find it interesting? I hope that some of the home remedies tips will be incorporated into your daily routines! And if you are not sure if these spices are available in your shops, just check online. The market is global. Or.. message me and I will help you to find them or bring them from India, if possible. 🙂

Moments that matter, no matter how unique.

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