We feel that it is very important–and also find it extremely interesting to know and understand a little bit about the spices and ingredients that make up the food we eat. It’s all part of the experience!
Click around to explore the commonly used spices and ingredients used in our products.
The “cinnamon sticks” we most typically use are not really true cinnamon sticks at all, they are actually tree bark from a close relative and called, Cassia. However, in the United States, cassia is often sold under the name of cinnamon and used instead. Cassia has a much stronger and somewhat harsher flavor than cinnamon. In appearance, it is medium to light reddish brown in color and hard and woody in texture, where as “true” cinnamon is lighter in color and has a finer, less dense, crumbly texture. Cassia bark (referred to as cinnamon sticks) can be found in our “Tandoori Chicken & Naan Mix”, “Vijay’s Masala Chicken & Rice Palau Mix” and in our “Rice Palau”.
The fennel plant is highly aromatic and flavorful herb with many culinary and medicinal uses. The plant is a hardy perennial with yellow flowers and feathery leaves. The bulb like stem base is used as a root vegetable, and the seed, (which is actually the fruit) is about 4 mm long and about 2mm wide with vertical ridges. Its flavor and aroma is similar to anise and star anise. In India, fennel seeds are mostly used in cooking and it is also used as a breath freshener after meals. It is known to have a variety of medicinal uses in various cultures, such as aid in digestion, act as a diuretic, improve eyesight, and even improve breast milk supply in nursing mothers. Fennel seeds can be found in our “Tandoori Chicken & Naan Mix” as both a whole spice for cooking and in candied form as a breath freshener. We also use it as a spice in our “Masala Chai”.
Black Pepper is the most common spice in the world, native to and extensively cultivated in India. It's the small dried fruit, produced from the still-green unripe drupes of the black pepper flowering vine. The drupes are cooked briefly in hot water to clean them and to prepare them for drying. The drupes are then dried in the sun or by machine for several days, during which the pepper around the seed shrinks and darkens into a thin, wrinkled black layer. Once dried, the spice is called black peppercorn, which are ground into powdered pepper. Peppercorns lose their flavor and aroma through evaporation and when exposed to light. So airtight storage and grinding just before use is recommend for optimal flavor (and that’s why we have you grind it fresh in our “Tandoori Chicken & Naan Mix”)!
Cumin is the seed from an herbaceous annual plant called cuminum cyminum; a member of the parsley family. Sometimes confused with the caraway seed, cumin is oblong in shape, longitudinally ridged and yellow-brown in color. It is the second most popular spice in the world after black pepper, used ground or as whole seeds. It adds an earthy, warm feeling to cooking, making it a staple in many dishes. Apparently, superstition during the middle ages cited that cumin kept both chickens and lovers from wandering. It was also believed that a happy life awaited the bride and groom who carried cumin seeds throughout their wedding ceremony. Cumin is one of the main spices of “Garam Masala” and is used in our “Spinach & Potato Pakora Mix”, “Tandoori Chicken & Naan Mix”, “Vijay’s Masala Chicken & Rice Palau Mix” and our “Rice Palau”.
Green Cardamom is the fruit of a perennial herb related to ginger. It is native to India where it is often referred to as, “The Queen of Spices” as it is also apparently the world’s third most expensive spice (saffron and vanilla are the first and second). The dried green pods are three sided and about 1-2 cm long. Each pod has about 20 little black seeds, which are the main source of scent and flavor. We always suggest buying the whole pods (over ground cardamom) because they retain their flavor for a much longer period of time. To use them, just crush or smash the whole pod, which is very easy with a mortar and pestle and then remove the green shell and use the seeds. It is very aromatic and used in our “Masala Chai” and many other sweet recipes such as our “Besan Almond Shortbread”.
(pronounced: KAH-lah ee-LIE-chee)
These large black pods are used as a spice, and should not be confused with green cardamom (which are much smaller and offer a sort of euculyptus flavor). Black Cardamom have a smoky flavor and aroma that derive from traditional methods of drying them over open flames. They are used in a lot of savory recipes and are an important component of the spice mixture, “Garam Masala”. They are one of the more difficult spices to find, and there are no good substitutes. Black Cardamom pods can be found in our “Tandoori Chicken & Naan Mix”, “Vijay’s Masala Chicken & Rice Palau Mix” and in our “Rice Palau”.
Coriander seeds are the fruit of the herb commonly referred to as Cilantro in the United States. The fruit, or seeds are dry little spheres about 3-5mm in diameter that have a warm, nutty, spicy and orange flavor when crushed. Ground coriander seed loses its flavor quickly in storage, so it is best ground fresh. The seeds are often briefly roasted in a dry pan to enhance their flavor or aroma. Coriander seeds are a main component in “Garam Masala”, and are used in most of our savory dishes. The fresh or raw leaves are also frequently used in Indian cooking, almost always put in last, as heat quickly diminishes their flavor. We include the whole seeds in our “Tandoori Chicken & Naan Mix” for fresh grinding, and ground coriander can be found in “Vijay’s Masala Chicken & Rice Palau Mix”.
Cloves are actually the aromatic dried flower buds of a tree in the myrtacease family. When harvested they vaguely resemble small irregular nails in shape and are about 1.5-2 cm long. They consist of a long calyx, terminating in four spreading sepals and four unopened petals, which form a small ball in the center. Beyond culinary uses, cloves are also used in Indian Aryuvedic medicine, as well as western herbalism and dentistry, where the essential oil is used as a painkiller for dental emergencies. As for culinary uses, cloves are used in both whole and ground form and are found in many sweet and savory dishes. They are an important component in the spice mixture, “Garam Masala”. We also include them in our “Tandoori Chicken & Naan Mix”, “Vijay’s Masala Chicken & Rice Palau Mix” and in our “Rice Palau”.
There are several different types of bay leaves used in cooking, and some actually are not even bay leaves, (but still just called that). For example, the Indian Bay Leaf is actually the leaf from the ‘cinnamomum tejpata or malabathrum’ tree. So, while it is in the same family, it is of a different genus than the typical bay leaf (bay laurel) that is commonly used in western cooking. In appearance, Indian Bay Leaves are about twice as long and wider than traditional bay leaves, are usually olive green in color, may have some brownish spots and have three veins down the length of the leaf. They have an aroma and flavor more similar to that of cassia or cinnamon, while a traditional bay leaf’s aroma is more reminiscent of pine and lemon. We use Indian Bay Leaves (the larger leaf on the bottom) in our “Tandoori Chicken & Naan Mix”, “Vijay’s Masala Chicken & Rice Palau Mix” and in our “Rice Palau”.