Indian food is not for the faint of heart! With delicious (and oh-so-hot!) spices, Indian food is flavorful and never leaves you feeling bored.
But at the end of the day … what exactly makes Indian food spicy? Our inquisitive minds are exploring Indian Cuisine!
What makes Indian food spicy?
The most traditional dishes of India are cooked with the addition of spices. And there are soooo many tasty spices to choose from! Simply an integral part. Organic spices, hot spices, hot peppers, blended spices, chili powder, mustard seeds and so on.
A few of the most popular spices used in Indian food are:
- Mustard seeds
- Black pepper
- Chili powder
Seeds can add spice and flavor, too! Such as:
- Sesame seeds
- Fenugreek seeds
And don’t forget about vegetables! Spicy vegetables like these can deliver a hot kick to any Indian dish:
- Red onions
Indian seasoning for your recipes
There are some seasonings that just scream, “Indian cuisine!” They’re used in many different dishes and have a unique texture, flavor, and heat.
Here are a few common Indian food seasonings:
Sweet curry powder
Curry powder is a mix of dried, ground spices that are yellow or orange in color. While curries are often used in global Indian cuisine, “curry” simply means “sauce” and is used to describe many different kinds of sauces. Curries are sauces, and curry dishes are dishes served in sauce. Sometimes, curry dishes don’t even contain curry powder (who knew?!).
Curry powder combines turmeric, coriander, cumin, ginger, chili powder, and black pepper together into a spicy, seasoned blend. Curry powder can support digestive health, heart health, and control blood sugar.
Rather than being tied to a specific recipe, tandoori is better described as an actual method of cooking! A tandoor is a clay or metal oven used in cooking or baking, and this is what “tandoori” is named after. A tandoor is used in Indian food to prepare breads, marinated meats, and vegetables over a hot charcoal fire.
The marinade in almost any tandoori dish starts with yogurt, which is mild in flavor but penetrates meat and holds the flavors of each spice in. In addition to yogurt, tandoori marinades are then traditionally flavored with ginger, garlic, coriander powder, cayenne pepper, and garam masala. This spice mixture is mellow but can be dialed up or down in spice by using more or less cayenne pepper.
Chicken tikka masala is a dish which includes marinated boneless chicken pieces that are cooked in a tandoor and then served in a subtly spiced tomato-cream sauce. It’s a popular dish in Britain and is a staple menu item in the curry houses of London, especially in the East End restaurants along Brick Lane, which is also known as “Curry Mile.”
It’s possible tikka masala was inspired by butter chicken, which is a popular dish in northern India.
This common blend of spices is warm and fragrant … so cozy! Garam masala is a popular Northern Indian spice blend used to flavor soup recipes, stews, and curries. The flavors aren’t necessarily spicy, but rather a warming mix with flavors like cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, and peppercorns.
To create your own spice blend, you can toast whole spices to bring out their flavor, then grind them.
Want your Indian food spicier?
Looking to dial up the heat even more? You’re in luck, because there are many ways to increase the spiciness in your Indian cuisine.
Add hot peppers
Chili peppers are primarily used in Indian food as a spice and can be cooked OR dried and powdered. Chili peppers contain a ton of vitamins and minerals but are usually eaten in small amounts due to their spicy flavor.
Chili peppers are also rich in antioxidant plant compounds like capsaicin, which is responsible for the pungent (hot) taste of chili peppers.
Add ground black pepper
Did you know that black pepper was once known as “black gold?” This beloved spice has a long and storied history due to its ability to flavor foods, act as a preservative, and add heat to a dish.
Black pepper was a cherished commodity in ancient Greece and ancient Rome, and it reached even greater popularity during the Middle Ages and Renaissance. Black pepper is a great spice because it helps stimulate the hydrochloric acid in your stomach so you can better digest and absorb the foods you eat.
How to reduce the spiciness?
What about those times when you accidentally added too much spice to your Indian dishes? No worries! There are several ways you can balance out the heat for a more mild flavor.
Add more yogurt
As mentioned a little earlier, yogurt is often added to Indian cuisine marinades. But if you add just a liiiiittle too much spice, a way to counterbalance spiciness is to add yogurt! This creamy ingredient is mild and can tone down the spicy heat.
Add more vegetables
Starchy vegetables like potatoes or sweet potatoes help absorb spices, so for those times when you added too much spice, simply add a few potatoes. Then, when you’re ready to eat, dispose of the potatoes before serving.
Add honey, sugar, or maple syrup
What better way to balance out spice than to add something sweet? If your dish is too spicy, try adding a dash of honey, sugar, or maple syrup! These deliciously sweet flavors can supplement the spicy flavor and tone it down without completely eliminating it.
Sugar and spice and everything nice … well, in our perfect version of Indian food anyway! ;) We hope you enjoyed learning about what makes Indian food spicy and how you can either dial up or tone down the spice in your Indian dishes.
For those times when you just don’t feel like cooking Indian dishes from scratch, there’s Proper Good Curries! Our Golden Lentil Dahl and Chana Masala are perfect curries to pair with our Basmati Rice for a quick and delicious Indian-inspired meal!