11 Important Spices of South India

South Indian Spices
South Indian food has unique combination of spices. South Indians systematically use spices in everyday cooking. It adds lot of flavour to the food and there are many beliefs about using spices in food. These spices are stored in a single box with many partition called Anjarai petti (in Tamil Nadu)
These are the 11 important spices in South Indian cuisine.

1. Turmeric powder

 Turmeric - Important Spices of India
Turmeric is a beautiful gift from mother nature, is an unique spice in Indian cuisine. This vibrant yellow powder is a main ingredient for colour in south Indian cuisine. While preparing dal for sambar or rasam or for cooking any non vegetarian food, we add a pinch of turmeric powder. Turmeric powder gives a very beautiful colour to the food and also leaves a mild flavour to it. 

Turmeric is not only used in cooking, but also regarded as a killer of evil spirits. So, in many temples, turmeric powder is distributed to everyone and is also used for many poojas. In India, Turmeric latte is given as a medicine to cure cough and cold. This is a regular practice for ages.
The medicinal benefits of Turmeric is everywhere on the internet, so it’s no brainer to you too. It cures many stomach ailments, especially constipation, lung infections, skin infection and inflammation. It is the most expensive spices in the world and it’s available in India almost everywhere. You can even use raw turmeric shoots in the food you eat.

2. Cumin Seeds

 Jeera - Important spices of south India
Cumin Seeds/ Jeera, is used everyday across India. Jeera is used for tempering in Indian Cuisine. In South India, we add jeera to Rasam or Kootu or Sambar. It is even added to many concoctions that are given in case of cough or cold. Roasted Jeera or spluttered jeera give an aromatic flavor to the dishes. It is an important ingredient in Garam Masala. Not only that, it also helps digestion; known for its curing properties for asthma and cold.

3. Mustard Seeds

 Mustard - Important Indian Spice
Mustard Seeds – The one spice that all the south Indian homes must have is mustard seeds. It is the main ingredient for tempering in any south Indian dish. The mustard seeds spluttered in hot oil and then added to almost all the south Indian food. South Indians believe that this process helps to get rid of toxins in the food. We add mustard seeds to pickles, especially Avakkai pickle. It gives a pungent taste to the pickle. It complements well with the sourness of mangoes and spicy red chili powder. Like other spices, mustard also have many medicinal values.

4. Coriander seeds

 Coriander seeds - Important South Indian Spice
Like jeera, coriander also has an aromatic flavour. Roasted and powdered coriander seeds gives a fantastic flavour to the food. This is the main ingredient in Sambar Powder. It gives the enhancement to flavor of the rest of the ingredients in Sambar powder. In everyday cooking, south Indians add these seeds to the fresh masalas. It is added in arachuvitta Sambar or morr kuzhambu and also for many subzis prepared across India. Fresh coriander leaves are also added to all the dishes of India as seasoning. Coriander is extremely good for controlling stomach disorders and also many medicinal properties. (refer google!)

5. Black Pepper

 Pepper - Important spices of India
Black pepper is extensively used around the world. In south India, we use black pepper powder for preparing Rasam. Brahmins avoid the intake of red chilies on the days when they give offering for forefathers. On these days, they use only pepper in place of red chilies. So, there are number of recipes that use black pepper powder as the main spice
It has lots of medicinal benefits and a very strong flavour. Hence, it is used to prepare many concoctions. It is best for sore throat and cough. A few pepper pods with fried gram gives a temporary relief for throat pain and it is very handy. Please make sure that you don’t take too much of it! There are serious side effects of overeating black pepper.

6. Fenugreek

 Fenugreek - Important South Indian Spice
Yet another important spice in India. The recipes like thokku/ chutney/ kuzhambu recipes tastes divine with fenugreek powder. It is an important condiment and is bitter. It gives superb taste to sambar if added to sambar powder. South Indians also add a little bit of soaked fenugreek, while grinding Idli batter. Vendhya Dosa is a very famous variety of dosa which has fenugreek as the main ingredient to the batter. A dash of fenugreek powder added to curd or butter milk or salads makes it more flavorful.

7. Hing

 Hing - Important South Indian Spices
Hing/ Asafoetida is yet another condiment, known as a digestive aid. It is used along with mustard seeds for almost everything we prepare in south India. Right from chutneys to sambars, from rasam to poriyal, we add a pinch of hing to everything. This gives an aromatic flavour to the dish. Powdered hing is mainly used by many. But, we also use small portions of hing cakes, which gives a strong flavour to Rasam or keerai/Greens.

8. Chili powder

 Red Chili Powder - Important Spices of South India
India has many varieties of chilies. In south India, we mainly use green chilies and dried red chilies. Powdered red chillies are added to spice up all the dishes that we prepare here. Apart from flavour, it also gives colour to the food. Sambar powder has roasted red chilies as one of the key ingredients. Salt and red chili powder serves as a preservative for pickles. Like other spices red chilies also have many curing properties and aids digestion.

9. Curry Leaves

 Curry Leaves - Important Spices of South India
No recipe in south India goes without adding a handful of curry leaves. These leaves are available a plenty across South India. It is usually given for free whenever you buy a basket of veggies from your local vendor down south. These leaves have an exotic flavour so unique to itself. Milagu Kuzhambu, Curry Leaves thogayal, Rasam, Stew and almost every recipe in all the cuisines of south India. Dired curry leaves powder is another condiment that we add to sambar or any mixed rice to give an extra punch. The health benefits of curry leaves are known to many

10. Cardamom

 Cardamom - Important Spices of South India
Cardomom/ Elakkai, is known for its unique flavour.  There are three varieties of cardamom. Black, green and white. Green cardamom is considered the best. The ones sold in all the local stores across India, are mostly dried green/ black cardamoms.
South Indian mountains cultivate cardamoms in India. So next time when you visit any of those south Indian mountains, make sure you collect as many varieties as possible. Apart from flavour it also has many medicinal benefits too.

11. Cinnamon

 Cinnamon - Important Spices of South India
Cinnamon is another super spice that gives unique flavour to your food. Cinnamon is known for its anti inflammatory properties. It prevents heart diseases, defends against Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases. It also lowers cancer risk and also acts as a mouth freshner. A tablespoon of cinnamon powder in warm water taken in empty stomach helps in weight loss. While the benefits of eating cinnamon is enormous, one needs to be very careful in choosing the right variety of cinnamon.
There are many varieties of cinnamon. The two important varieties are Ceylon cinnamon and cassia. Ceylon cinnamon is thin and brittle, that are rolled into many layers. Cassia is hard and can also be rolled, but it has a very strong flavor when compared to ceylon cinnamon. Ceylon cinnamon is the best when compared to the rest of the varieties. It is very low in coumarin (Coumarin is a substance that causes liver cancer). Ceylon cinnamon has 0.01% Coumarin whereas Cassia has 0.3% courmarin. So be careful if you are using cassia.
Author: Savitha Sampath for southindianfeast.in
Spice Glossary
Name of the Spice Tamil Telugu Malayalam
Turmeric Powder Manjal podi Pasupu Mahnzhal podi
Cumin Seeds Jeeragam Jeelakarra Jeerakam
Mustard Kadugu Aavalu Kadug
Coriander Dhaniya/ Kothamali Dhaniyaalu Malli
Black Pepper Milagu Miryaalu Kurumulagu
Fenugreek Vendhayam Menthulu Ualuva or Veyndhayam
Hing Perungayam Inguva Kayam
Chili Powder Milagai podi Kaaram podi  Mulakaipodi
Curry Leaves Karuveppilai Karuvepaaku Karuveypila
Cardamom Elakkai Elaichi Eylakka
Cinnamon Pattai Daal cheeni Pattah

2 Comment

  1. I love your blog Savitha, it’s got so much. Where should I start? I want a good sample of south Indian flavor. What’s a good introduction dish?

    1. Thanks so much Collen! You made my day:) You should start from Chutneys, pongal or Dosas. Awesome breakfast that you should never miss. Try Thogayals for quick lunch.
      Thogayal Recipes here – http://southindianfeast.in/category/chutney-recipes/
      super easy and Best breakfast recipe here – http://southindianfeast.in/ghee-pongal-with-masiyal-gojju/

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