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An essential guide to curry spices

Want to cook a curry at home, but don’t know where to start? Here’s our guide to essential curry spices that will help you understand how the flavours work.

Bay leaf | Slightly lemony and bitter, used more for its aroma than taste

Generally sold dried. Indian bay leaves have a more cinnamony flavour than European ones, but the two can be interchanged.


Cayenne pepper | Mild aroma, fiery taste

Lets you add a fairly precise amount of heat to your food, as opposed to chillies, which may vary in strength.


Cinnamon | Woody, aromatic and sweet

Available as sticks (actually curls of papery bark) or ground. Pairs well with dried fruit, making it ideal for dishes such as bobotie.


Cardamom | Green cardamom is light, sweet, and fragrant; black cardamom is intense and smoky

Can be used as whole pods, seeds or powder (made from the green kind). Green pods are popular in desserts; black is much stronger.


Nutmeg & mace |Mace is the outer coating of nutmeg; both are subtly sweet

Nutmeg is usually sold ground, but grating your own will give a much better flavour. Other than curries, it’s great in hot drinks.


Cloves |Strong medicinal flavour, with recognisable notes of anise

An important part of mixes such as garam masala. Use sparingly as it’s very strong.


Turmeric | Pungent and earthy, used mainly for colour

Generally available ground. The fresh root has a stronger taste.


Cumin | Smoky and fragrant

One of the most commonly used Indian spices (with coriander). Toast and grind the tiny seeds for best flavour, but watch out, as they burn easily.


Coriander| Aromatic and citrusy

A totally different flavour to the fresh herb. Dry-roast and grind the small round seeds


Mustard | Smoky, nutty and pungent

Yellow seeds are common in European cooking, black seeds in Indian. Powders and sauces are made from ground seeds.


Curry leaf | Subtle flavour, citrusy scent

Unrelated to curry powder. Small shiny green leaves are best used fresh, but dried will do.


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Words: Staff Writer


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