Curry spice guide

481464493If you’re not already a seasoned curry cook the list of spices can look a little bit daunting, but don’t be put off. All are readily available and they all have so many uses.

Black onion seeds or nigella

These little black seeds have a pungent bitter taste. They’re also good in breads.


This small pod has a warm, spicy sweet flavour. Bash lightly and use whole, or extract the tiny black seeds inside and crush. Great in curries and rice dishes as well as desserts.

Ground coriander

Once the little round seed is crushed it adds has a wonderfully warm aromatic flavour. A key ingredient in garam masala. Also good in sweet cakes and baking.

Curry leaves

These little green leaves from a citrus tree are available dried or fresh. They have a lovely nutty aroma once fried.

Fennel seeds

These little seeds have a mild anise flavour that works well in curries. Also great in fish dishes and chicken recipes.


Available whole or ground, its pungent flavour is the smell you will no doubt associate with curry powders. It adds great depth of flavour, but use sparingly.


This bright yellow spice is from the ginger family. It adds a fantastic colour, is a great antioxidant and gives a lovely warm mellow flavour to curries.

The secret of great curries

A good curry isn’t all about blistering heat and tear-jerking spice mixes, it’s about a good balance of aromatic flavours and rich textures rounded off with some zesty lemon juice and a handful of fresh herbs.

If you’re unsure how hot your guests like curries, always err on the side of caution. Serve the meal with a selection of spicy pickles, fruity chutneys and cooling yoghurt dishes to allow everyone to add extra spice or cool things down a little as they fancy.

  • Adding salt to the onion when you cook it in oil really does help to draw out the moisture – the result is a wonderfully tender texture and great caramelising, which gives a really good depth of flavour to your curry. Just remember to go easy with any more seasoning and taste as you go.
  • Seed spices really do benefit from being lightly toasted and then lightly crushed before adding to your cooking. They become wonderfully aromatic and bruising them really does allow all those flavours to come out.
  • Always cook your spices off in the oil before adding any liquid. Again this helps to deepen the flavour as well as getting rid of any raw spice flavours.
  • Take real care with ground spices such as turmeric and chilli powder – they burn very easily in hot oil. Keep an eye on them and get ready to add a splash of water if it looks like they are catching.
  • Always check your seasoning at the end of cooking as this will really help to round off and balance the flavours of your dish. A squeeze of lemon or lime at the end of cooking also really helps to make the flavours more punchy!

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