Your definitive guide to South Indian spices.
South Indian food is famous for its aromatic flavours and spice mixes. Here you'll find a short description of all the spices we use and where you can find them.
We'll add to this list as we go, so if there's anything you'd like us to write about, send us a message...
These little green pods are flavour-packed. Crushing and powdering the seeds inside releases their aroma, which adds a festive touch to any dessert. Cardamom is also a key ingredient in many spice mixes such as curry powder. We always recommend buying the whole pods and powdering the seeds yourself rather than buying the pre-prepared powder. You'll get so much more flavour with minimal extra effort!
Availability: Widely available in supermarkets, and in all Indian and ethnic grocery stores
This one's pretty self explanatory - it adds colour, zest and fiery heat to any dish. Careful though - use it sparingly unless you have insides of steel. Chilli powder increases your body heat and metabolism, so if you're looking to bump up your calorie burn, throw in some chilli. Chilli powder is available in different potencies starting from mild to extra hot so try out a few and pick which one you can handle.
Availability: Widely available in supermarkets, and in all Indian and ethnic grocery stores. If you're looking for different potencies of chilli powder, an Indian store is your best bet.
These crimson threads are produced from the stigma of the Saffron crocus. Extremely labour intensive to produce, this expensive spice only needs to be used sparingly to impart a golden hue and festive feel. Add to desserts to make them decadent and luxurious.
Availability: In some supermarkets and all ethnic/Indian/Sri Lankan stores
This golden root is an indispensable spice in Indian curries. It has a peppery, warm and slightly bitter flavour and adds a wonderful sunset sheen to everything. It's also great for your belly and immune system- it stimulates digestion and reduces inflammations.
Availability: In all supermarkets and grocery stores
This versatile spice can be used in three different forms: leaves, seeds and powder. Each has a different flavour. Dry roasted and powdered coriander seeds add a warm and slightly citrus flavour to dishes. Freshly chopped coriander leaves are often added to a dish immediately before serving to add vibrancy.
Availability: Seeds, powder and fresh leaves are widely available in supermarkets, and in all Indian and ethnic grocery stores. You can also grow your own leaves - simply plant the seeds in the soil, give it some water, sunshine and love and watch the leaves grow.
Known in Indian as ‘jeera’, this spice is a key ingredient: you can use it whole, as seeds or as a powder. Cumin has a warm, earthy taste, works well by itself or with other spices. The seeds in their whole form have a nutty flavour, and add a bite to vegetable and rice dishes. Jeera water (water boiled with jeera seeds and filtered) is a great home remedy for digestion and to reduce bloating.
Availability: Seeds and powder are widely available in supermarkets, and in all Indian and ethnic grocery stores
Madras Curry Powder
Madras Curry Powder is an all-purpose spice mix, used for curries, soups etc. It's a blend of a large numbers of spices including turmeric, cumin, chilli, cardamom, peppercorns, fenugreek and others. It adds a rich and earthy flavour to any dish. There are two types in South India: 'Rasam' powder and 'Sambhar' powder - 'Rasam' and 'Sambhar' being two iconic South Indian soups. We'll be sharing recipes for both powders (and soups!), so you can prepare them yourself.
Availability: In any good supermarket and all Indian/ethnic stores
South Indian dishes are often tempered with mustard seeds to add bite and aroma. ¼ tsp of mustard seeds are added to a 1 tsp of fat and when the seeds crackle, the mixture is poured into the dish to add a final sizzling touch.
Availability: In all good supermarkets and definitely in Indian and ethnic grocery stores
Asafoetida is a powder, commonly used in South Indian cooking. It's the dried resin extracted from the root of a herb. The taste is really difficult to pin down, and we wouldn't recommend you try it by itself! Mixed in with everything else, it adds a super savoury element and rounds out the flavours, so don't leave it out!
Availability: In most supermarkets and in all Indian/Sri Lankan grocery stores
Black gram, also known as black lentils, are a very high source of protein. In South India it's commonly used to make the batter for our iconic pancakes DOSA (recipe coming soon)! Black Gram is also a rich source of iron and fibre. Its available both as a pulse and as a powder and different recipes call for each. Black gram is often also found with the black outer covering removed (as in the picture!) - it's actually white inside!
Availability: In most Indian and ethnic grocery stores. It can be a little tricky to find, but is well worth the effort.
This is a special type of sugar from the sugar palm tree - note this is different to the coconut palm tree! It's made from the juice extracted from the jelly like fruit of the tree. For a comparison, they're a bit like lychees, but bigger, juicer and without the seeds. In Tamil, they're known as 'Nongu'.
Availability: In all ethnic/Indian/Sri Lankan stores, and if you can't find it, substitute with coconut sugar or demerara sugar.
Jaggery is a dark, earthy, unrefined sugar, which is made from sugar cane juice, date palm sap or a combination of the two. Unlike regular sugar, Jaggery is rich in minerals and iron. It also has a more complex structure, so is digested more slowly and releases energy over a longer period of time, helping to prevent those sugar highs and lows.
Availability: You should be able to find it in an Indian/Sri Lankan/Ethnic store. We suggest finding the real deal instead of trying substitutions!