Cooking Indian food without the usual array of aromatic spices seems improbable. Clearly, Indian spices have the magical quality to transform a mundane meal into a scrumptious delight. These spices are the backbone of the Indian kitchen. After reading this article, you would agree that despite using spices ever so often, we have been unaware of some of them. This is particularly because they are somewhat only locally prevalent.
If only the basic Indian spices complete your “masala-daan”, then you are surely missing on some spices that can invite some tempting flavors to your food. Here is a quick look at some unusual, delectable & aromatic Indian spices that can spice up your spice rack!
Radhuni or Ajmoda (wild celery fruit)
Widely used in Bengali cuisine, this spice looks very similar to carom seeds or Ajwain. You might recollect “Panch Poron”, a five ingredient tempering mixture? Yes, this popular tempering mix of the East includes Radhuni ( other four ingredients being fennel, fenugreek, cumin, and kalonji). For instance, when added to curries in its ground form, radhuni gives an unmistakably distinguishing flavor. Also, when it comes to fragrance, radhuni gives the same flavor as the celery leaves, only a bit stronger being in dry form. Any Bengali kitchen is incomplete without the crackling sound of radhuni in hot oil which makes the humble daal or shukto, a mouth-watering delicacy.
Jaiur (Winged prickly ash seeds)
More popular as the “Schezuan pepper” this Meghalayan spice has a slightly tangy tinge. The uniqueness of this pepper lies in the fact that first of all, it is not extremely spicy. Secondly, it does not make your tongue numb with heat. Instead, it has an undertone of sourness that imparts its distinguishing taste. The pods undergo a process of dry toasting and grinding. Then the seed husks are separated to be used as the spice.
Dagad phool or Kalpasi (black stone flower)
Widely used in Chettinad cuisine (a mix of Tamil Nadu, Hyderabadi and Maharashtrian cuisine), this is an edible lichen that grows on trees and rocks. Also known as the Patthar phool, this amazing spice has a distinct earthy flavor and it’s a must-have ingredient in Maharashtra’s famous goda masala. The characteristic woody fragrance of this spice can fit in well into any traditional spice mix. Be it the garam masala or the Chettinad masala, the Dagad phool acts as a good counterpart to the more stronger spices. Kalpasi is also a member of the famous Potli masala of Lucknow. The regions of Ooty and Kodaikanal are climatically the most appropriate for its growth.
Jakhiya (cleome viscosa)
Closer to the mountains, this spice is a staple of the Garhwal cuisine. The plant cleome viscosa is a native of the Himalayas. It is a wild shrub that bears these seeds. The sundried jakhiya is very less used in other parts of the country. The inhabitants of Uttarakhand especially the Garhwal region use jakhiya extensively in their food. Surprisingly, while jeera is the spice that is synonymous with tempering in almost entire India, the people here use jakhiya as a substitute for cumin as they prefer its earthy flavor and crunchiness.
Maratti maggu (Dried Kapok buds)
Did you know that you could eat the unopened flower bud of the silk-cotton tree? Yes, you read that right. The history of Indian spices reveals that Maratti maggu is the dried bud of the red silk cotton tree. This spice is widely grown and cultivated in the Chettinad region. At first glance, you will find it exactly like a clove except for its large size. But the flavor is entirely different. It has an earthy yet pungent flavor. Frying in hot oil helps to release the flavor of the spice. It’s mostly used to flavour khichdi, pulao or biryani rice dishes.
Maroi nakupi (Asian Chives)
When it comes to unusual Indian spices and their uses, one cannot beat the region of northeast India. It is home to some of the most unique spices. Maroi nakupi is nothing but Asian chives. These have a flavor that resembles a combination of onion and garlic. The Manipuris use this spice a lot in their dishes. You will find that most of the Manipuri dishes are cooked without onions while using only these Asian chives. All the parts of this plant are edible and used as flavoring agents.
Kanthari mulagu (White bird’s eye chili)
Also known as the white bird’s eye, this is a traditional south Indian variant of chilies. It is widely grown in Tamil Nadu and Kerela. Mostly used as a medicine for joint pains and hypercholesterolemia, this chilly is said to be extremeley hot. The use of this chilly is maximum in Kerala pickles.
Lakadong turmeric (curcuma lomba)
This is one of the finest turmerics in the whole world and a native of the hills of Meghalaya. The lakadong turmeric has the highest curcumin content among all the turmeric species. The health benefits of this spice are immense. Each and every part of this turmeric is edible. It is easily available in the markets of the Jaintia region as it is mostly cultivated there.
The history of Indian spices is overwhelming. If there is something that crowns the Indian cuisine, it is spices. Undoubtedly, condiments are the edible wealth of India!
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