Exquisite aromas, myriad texture, tantalizing taste and storied medicinal value, make Indian spices the most sought-after commodity by discerning chefs and cooks worldover. India is the world’s largest producer, consumer and exporter of spices. , Around 75 of the109 spices listed by the International Standards Organization (ISO) are produced in India and the country accounts for over half of the global trade in spices.

The use of spices in cooking is a culinary tradition in India that stretches back thousands of years, and which points to the rich heritage and culinary diversity that exists across the country. Each region of India has its own preferences in what spices are used in local cuisines; the quantity of spices used; and the form and order in which they are incorporated into dishes. Nevertheless, the one thread that links households across the country is the presence of spice jars, or a ‘masala dabba’ (spice box) in the kitchen.

The contents of a housewife’s masala dabba, with its various complementary spices placed in separate compartments, and the number of chutkis (pinch) in which they are doled over dishes are often a closely guarded culinary secret passed on through generations. It is these chutkis of spices that turn a dish from just palatable to simply delectably appetizing and flavorsome.

People from outside the country are extremely curious about the ‘secret’ ingredients used in Indian dishes that make them so uniquely flavorsome. But what they often tend to overlook is that often it is the lesser-known indigenous spices that make Indian food so irresistible.

Apart from the wonderful aroma and flavor, Indian spices also have medicinal and immunity boosting properties. For generations, Indians have traditionally used commonly-available kitchen ingredients to prepare healthy concoctions like kadha (a healing Ayurvedic drink made with herbs and spices) and haldi doodh (turmeric milk) to cure common cold. Making regular use of spices and herbs has also been proven to be a healthy and economic way to enhance health and your cooking. Spices allow you to reduce salt, sugar and fat content and still have tasty food.

The same antioxidants that convinced doctors that fruit and vegetables help prevent heart disease and certain cancers are now known to be present in spices, and in larger quantities than was previously thought. New research shows that Just adding herbs and spices to an otherwise balanced diet can provide additional benefits. Data provided by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) shows that a half teaspoon of cumin equals the standard portion of red grapes or kiwi fruit for antioxidant potential.

A teaspoon of dried ginger or paprika can match a portion of tomatoes or green pepper. In addition, one teaspoon of ground cinnamon or cloves packs in as much antioxidant power as a portion of blueberries, raspberries or cranberries.

Analysis of some curry powder blends of spices by Australian and American researchers also found that one teaspoonful is as powerful an antioxidant fix as portions of broccoli, spinach, red peppers, carrots and other high-scoring antioxidant vegetables often dubbed ‘superfoods’.

Popular spices such as jeera (cumin), saunf (fennel), sarson (mustard) and methi (fenugreek) feature in masala dabbas across the country, and much has been said and written about their exceptional culinary properties. Here we explore some of India’s lesser-known indigenous spices from different regions of the country that are popular for its culinary aspects as well as its myriad health benefits.

Raja mircha: Let us begin with the ultra-spicy king of peppers or raja mircha, quite popular in the northeastern parts of India. Also known as ghost pepper, Naga chilli and bhut (or bhoot) jolokia, it has the distinction of being recognized by the Guinness Book of Records as the hottest chilli in the world. It is best used when freshly plucked as it tends to lose its intensity with time. Another popular way of savouring this spice is by pickling it with oil, salt and vinegar. And with fusion foods and drinks growing in fashion, some tea-makers in Assam have begun experimenting by making bhut jolokia tea. When consumed in limited quantities, it is said to help in improving blood circulation and digestion, lowering blood pressure and boosting metabolism.

Kalpasi: Also known as daagar ka phool, patthar ka phool or black stone flower, kalpasi is the Tamil word for litchen. This special yet rare spice, which aids digestion, reduces inflammation and acts as a pain reliever, is primarily used in Maharashtrian and Chettinad cuisine (of Tamil Nadu). The upper surface of this spice is dark green or black in colour. It has a strong earthy aroma and a dry texture, and is incorporated in the preparation of such popular indigenous spice mixes as Maharashtra’s kala masala and goda masala, and Hyderabad’s potli masala.

Lakadong and Salem Turmeric: Turmeric or haldi is probably the most common Indian spice. It enjoys a pride of place in every Indian household and deserves more appreciation than what is often afforded to it. It is rich in curcumin, which has antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and immunity-boosting properties, and also imparts a beautiful yellow hue to every dish that it is added to. The two varieties of turmeric that are said to be the best in India are Lakadong from Meghalaya and Salem from Tamil Nadu.
This humble superfood has travelled from traditional Indian kitchens to global food hotspots and has found a place in boutique cafes as turmeric latte and in several international

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