The Ultimate Guide – 22 Essential Spices for Indian Cooking

indian spices

Indian spices are the holy grail of any desi (Indian) household. If you’re from a desi family, or just love and want to make Indian food at home, you will need a unique blend of spices. There are a ton of spices, herbs, and concoctions to every indian dish, but this can be simplified according to your comfort level when making any Indian dish.

What are Indian Spices?

Indians call spices, masalas. Masalas are a blend of many spices that make up combinations like garam masala powder, or a masala paste that includes ginger, garlic, or chili paste. The term masala is also used to describe various Indian dishes like chana masala, rajma masala, or paneer tikka masala.

There is a core set of spices that we refer to as Indian spices. That list is broken down for you below.

Wiki’s fun fact: India handles about 70% of the world’s spice exports, and is also home to one of the the highest variety of spices in the world!

indian spice container

The photo above is what I have for my basic Indian masalas. It is one of my mom’s masala dubbas (dubbas are just a Indian word for container). It’s a stainless steel round container with baby cups filled with different masalas. It comes with a stainless steel lid to keep the masalas safe and intact. I now consider the stainless steel container to be a family heirloom.

I use these dubbas to hold some of my regularly used masalas. I’m about to purchase a second dubba from my local desi store, since I’m moving from 10 years of cooking in the novice stage, to being a self-proclaimed intermediary of desi cooking. Ha.  

Where to Find Indian Spices?

You can find all these masalas at your local Indian store. You definitely have a store in your city cause we are everywhere. 🙂 More recently, I have started seeing most of these spices at my local grocer – Safeway, Krogers, Giant, Whole Foods, Lotte, and others. And if all else fails, Amazon.

The Best Indian Spice List

I’ve categorized them from novice to aficionado based on how in-depth you want to go, but honestly the novice list is mostly what you’ll need. Once you have these spices, the trick is in the length of time you wait before adding in spices to “cook” in whatever Indian recipe you are making, rather than how much you add.

Here are some of the main masalas that every kitchen should have.

1. Novice

  1. Garam Masala
  2. Red chili/Cayenne powder (pick anything from medium hot to very hot)
  3. Turmeric powder
  4. Mustard Seeds
  5. Cumin Seeds
  6. Coriander powder
  7. Cumin powder
  8. Cardamom
  9. Cloves
  10. Cinnamon sticks
  11. Although not a spice, always keep ginger and garlic on hand. If you are like me and will forget or let it rot, get the ginger and garlic paste instead. It’s pre-packaged and will last a long time.

You could probably whip up a lot of Indian cooking with only these masalas. But if this list is child’s play to you… read on.

2. Intermediate (in addition to the above…)

  1. Pepper corns
  2. Fenugreek/Methi seeds and powder
  3. Tamarind paste
  4. Fennel seeds
  5. Fresh or Dried Curry Leaves
  6. Fresh Cilantro leaves

The two lists above should cover a lot of indian cooking, but if you want the complete indian kitchen, add the masalas below.

3. Aficionado (in addition to the above and above…)

  1. Mace and Nutmeg
  2. Bay Leaves
  3. Saffron
  4. Dried Mango/Amchur powder
  5. Asofetida/Hing powder

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Cooking anything can be therapeutic. But cooking with intention, patience and layering of spices is what Indian cooking and healthy eating brings to your table. Get the first list of spices and get yourself a masala dubba. I’m going to predict that your masala dubba will show you a world of flavor. Welcome to desi cooking, poppet.  

I do not endorse any brands. The links provided are for convenience purposes only.

Featured photo courtesy of

Article last updated September 10, 2021

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