Spice and all things nice!

History of Spices:

In 1497 the Portuguese explorer Vasco De Gama sailed around Africa’s Cape of Good Hope to reach Calicut, India. He returned with pepper, cinnamon, ginger, jewels, and deals for the Portuguese to continue trade with Indian princes.

Back in the day, spices played a very important part in man’s daily life – and death. Archeologists discovered spices in Egyptian tombs as early as 3000 BC. The strong preservative quality of many spices made them ideal for embalming. Many of the spices had strong connections or affiliations with different Gods. So it is most likely that the most important aspect of spices in history was their ability to heal and perpetuate life.

Many men’s fortunes were made through pursuit of spices and interestingly spices at many periods throughout history literally served as currency. During the fourteenth century, in Germany, one pound of nutmeg could be traded for seven FAT oxen. LOL! At other points in history, rent would be paid in peppercorns, and a pound of pepper would serve to buy the freedom of a serf in France. If only spices could be used for such whimsical dealings today, I would be oh! So rich!

Jokes apart! Let’s a take a look at what spices are truly worth for.

Health and Nutritional Benefits:

Gurus and doctors wrote early on about the medicinal and nutritional benefits of spices and herbs. Modern research has proven that herbs and spices in everyday cooking may do more than enhance the flavor of food. According to webmd.com, a leading medical advice web portal-

Common herbs and spices may help protect against certain chronic conditions, such as cancer, diabetes, and heart disease. Now that’s a bold statement that I’d like to believe is true and credible.

“Using herbs and spices expands your palette without extra calories and may decrease the amount of salt, fat, and sugar you use without sacrificing flavor,” says Kate Geagan, MS, RD, author of Go Green,Get Lean: Trim Your Waistline with the Ultimate Low-Carbon Footprint Diet.

That means more flavorful healthy food less junk!

The Indian way with Spices:

Indians have a long history of doing exciting and delicious things with spices. From being essential ingredients in beauty products to benefiting as medicines for various ailments to portraying a superstitious and psychological influence, spices are a big part of Indian culture. From a culinary perspective, Indian food vegetarian or otherwise is so robustly flavored with spices and spice blends that no one has ever had to beg us to eat our lentils or vegetables.

The creativity and common sense approach to flavoring vegetables and meats with different spices and herbs is one of the reasons that made Indian cuisine a world favorite, hailing it as a cost effective and healthy option.

Spices in Indian cooking are used in three different forms- whole, powdered and blended.

Let’s take a closer look.

Commonly used spices in Indian cooking are ginger, garlic, star anise, cardamom, nutmeg, mace, poppy seeds, mustard Seeds, fennel, cumin, coriander, sesame seeds, tamarind and peppercorns.

Whole spices are added at the beginning of a dish in a seasoning process called tadka or tempering. Tempering of whole spices in hot oil gives the dish an authentic flavor. Tadka spices can be added at the end of a dish like it’s typically done with dal or simmered lentils.

Powdered Spices such as turmeric, red Chilli Powder, Asafetida, Cumin Powder, Dhaniya Powder, Ginger Powder, Garlic Powder are added at the beginning or in the middle of the recipe since they need to be cooked through to bring their flavors out. On the other hand, Chaat masala and Garam masala maybe added just before finishing the dish to give it a warm end note.

Fresh Ground spices include Ginger Paste, Garlic Paste, Ginger Garlic Paste or other blended masalas (spice blends).

Like I mentioned before, spice powders and wet blended spices such as ginger and garlic paste are added mid-way through the dish after sautéing onions and tomatoes and before adding vegetables or meats. Just an FYI- there’s nothing more off putting than the taste of raw uncooked ginger or garlic in your curry! It needs to be cooked through till the raw smell turns into an aromatic flavor.

Well. That sounds like a long list of spices. Doesn’t it? Now, you really don’t need all the spices mentioned above to cook great Indian. If I were to pick just 5 spices they would be: Turmeric Powder, Chilli Powder, Dhaniya Powder, Garam Masala, & Ginger garlic Paste. With just these 5 spices you can make a great Indian curry in minutes. Please check back for recipes !

Buying and Storing Spices:

The easiest way to know when to stop using a spice that’s been sitting in the pantry forever is to check the expiry date on the bottle. Most spices have a “best by” date on the container. If not, a general rule of the thumb is to keep powdered spices for a year and whole spices for up to two. Some spices such as black cardamom, sesame seeds develop a funky smell after about a year, which is good indication that they probably have turned rancid.

My advice would be for you to buy spices in whole and store them in an air tight containers in a cool dry place. Roast and grind them in a coffee grinder or mortar and pestle as needed, to make your own spice blends or masalas.  Spice blends can be made by roasting and grinding whole spices or by combining various ground spices.

Here are some spice blend recipes to get you started:

Tandoori Masala


Coriander Seeds- 2 tsps

Cumin Seeds- 2 tsps

Cinnamon Sticks- 2 inch piece

Whole Cloves- 1 tsp

Black pepper corns- 1 tsp

Green Cardamoms- 4

Bay leaves- 4


Roast all the spices together and blend in a spice blender or coffee grinder. Keep in an air tight container up to twelve months.

Curry Powder             


Coriander Seeds- 2 tsps

Cumin Seeds- 2 tsps

Asafatedia Powder- ¼ tsp

Garlic Powder- 1 tbsp

Ginger Powder- 1 tbsp

Cinnamon Powder- 1 tsp

Cloves Powder- 1 tsp

Cardamon Powder- 1 tsp

Chilli powder    – 2 tsps

Turmeric Powder- 1 tsp


Roast the whole spices and blend in a coffee grinder. Mix with the other spice powders. Store in an air tight container.

Chettinad Masala


Red Chili Powder- 1 tbsp

Coriander Powder- 1 tbsp

Fennel Powder- 1 tbsp

Crushed black pepper- 1 tbsp

Cumin Powder- 1 tbsp

Ginger Powder- 1 tbsp

Garlic Powder- 1 tbsp

Garam Masala Powder- 1 tbsp

Dessicated Coconut powder- 2 tbsps

Curry Leaves Powder- 1 tbsp


Mix all spice powders and store in an air tight container.

blackpepper cardamom cinnamon cloves coriander cuminseeds curryleaves DriedMethi garlic redchilli saffron sesameseeds spices

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About Saffron Valley: Saffron Valley, with two locations in the Salt Lake Valley, is a top-rated Indian Restaurant offering a unique menu with classic restaurant, home-style, and authentic street foods of India from the North, South, East, and West.

Blog: www.thesaffronclub.com

Website: www.saffronvalley.com



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