30 Asian Spices and How to Use Them

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Let’s learn about Asian spices, the various types and how to incorporate Asian spices into various dishes and recipes.

Various spices resting on a blue wooden board.

Introduction to Asian Spices

Asian spices are a large and diverse group of spices originating in Asia. They can be used in any type of food to add flavor. There are many different types of Asian spices, but they all fall into one of three categories:

  • Pungent Spices which contain volatile oils that give them their distinctive aromas, include ginger, black pepper, white pepper and turmeric.
  • Fragrant Spices which have fragrant essential oils that give them their aroma and flavors include star anise, cinnamon bark and cardamom pods.
  • Aromatic spices are made with aromatic essential oils that give them their distinctive aroma. These spices may include cumin, peppermint and ginger. The oils are sourced from the bark, stems and leaves of plants.

What are the Different Types of Spices Found in Asian Cooking?

1. Turmeric

A wooden bowl filled with ground turmeric powder.
Turmeric.

Turmeric is a spice with a rich, pungent flavor. It’s a popular component in Indian cuisine, and it’s used to make curry. Turmeric has been used in Asia as well as in the West for thousands of years. It is rich in anti-inflammatory properties.

Turmeric Recipes

2. Cinnamon

Ground cinnamon resting in a wooden dish.
Cinnamon.

Cinnamon is a spice that can be used in a variety of dishes. Once harvested, cinnamon sticks are dried and then grounded into a powder. When cooking, it’s important to know the difference between ground cinnamon and whole cinnamon sticks. Ground cinnamon is made from pressed ground-up sticks or quills that have been dried and then ground into powder. Whole sticks are pieces of bark from the cinnamon tree which have not been dried and then ground into powder. Cinnamon is a spice that can be used in a large variety of dishes.

Cinnamon Recipes

3. Ginger

A small glass bowl of ground ginger.
Ginger.

Ginger is a spice that is native to Asia, but has grown prolifically in Europe and the Americas. Used primarily in cooking, ginger can be used as a spice for meats and vegetables to add flavor or used as an ingredient in marinades. Ginger has also been known to reduce pain from inflammation and serve as a natural remedy for migraines.

Ginger Recipes

4. Cardamom

Green cardamom pods resting in a small white ceramic dish.
Cardamom.

Cardamom is a spice commonly used in many desserts and drinks. It is also used as a digestive aid, as a tea addition, and is sometimes used to flavor coffee. It is highly fragrant, with a slightly sweet flavor profile. You can buy it whole in cardamom pods or in powder form. It is a staple in Indian cooking.

Cardamom Recipes

5. Black Pepper

Black peppercorns and ground black pepper resting on a wood table.
Black pepper.

Black pepper is a spice, derived from the fruit of a vine native to south India, and commonly cultivated in tropical countries. Black peppercorns, which typically contain a small amount of piperine as well as a significant amount of pyrazine (both aromatic organic compounds), are used by many cultures worldwide in both ground and whole forms.

Black Pepper Recipes

6. Coriander Seeds

Coriander seeds and ground coriander.
Coriander.

Coriander is a spicy, citrusy herb that can be grown in most parts of the world. It can be used to flavor many different dishes. Coriander is often used in Mexican and Indian cooking as well as in certain types of curry dishes from a few different cuisines.

Coriander Recipes

7. Curry Leaves

Green curry leaves resting in a round wooden bowl.
Curry leaves.

Curry leaves are the edible leaves of the curry plant. They can be used as a main ingredient in dishes like Saag Paneer, a popular Indian dish. Curry leaves add an earthy and spicy flavor to dishes. They can be used fresh or dried and are often added with other ingredients such as ginger, garlic, onion or cilantro.

Curry Leaves Recipes

8. White Peppercorns

A wooden spoon filled with round white peppercorns.
White peppercorns.

In Asian cooking, white peppercorns are often ground as a final step to add flavor to a dish, or they can be used whole. Because they have a stronger flavor than black pepper, they are more frequently ground and used sparingly in a dish.

White Peppercorn Recipes

9. Cloves

A small glass dish filled with ground cloves.
Cloves.

Cloves are the dried flower buds of a tree in the family Myrtaceae (Myrtle). Cloves are aromatic and warming when eaten, used as a natural remedy or used in cooking. It is important to use whole cloves when cooking as opposed to ground cloves because they will have a stronger flavor. Pre-ground cloves lose their potency quickly – so if you want to store them for later use, make sure to keep them stored in an airtight container in a cool, dark place.

Clove Recipes

10. Chiles

Fresh bright red chiles.
Chiles.

Chiles are a type of hot chili pepper and are used in many cuisines across the world. They generally come in two types, sweet and spicy. Chiles are often dried, ground or chopped to create an aromatic seasoning. Some popular Asian chiles are the dried red pepper flakes that are a popular condiment in Asian cuisine, and Thai chiles. A few different types of chili peppers are used in traditional Asian cuisines like Indian curry, Thai curry and Indonesian sambal. Chiles are often dried, ground or chopped to create an aromatic seasoning.

Chile Recipes

11. Chinese chives

A wooden basket filled with Chinese chives.
Chinese chives.

Chinese chives are a variety of onion that has a mild taste and grows in clumps. They have an oval-shaped bulb with long, flat leaves. This plant is one of the most versatile vegetables because it can be eaten raw or cooked. It can replace chives, onions and scallions in many dishes, but it does not have the same pungent smell as onions or garlic

Chinese Chive Recipes

12. Galangal

Fresh galangal root.
Galangal.

Galangal is a root native to Southeast Asia. It is closely related to ginger and grows in tropical climates. It has a peppery, slightly sweet taste that is great for cooking and can be used in soups, stews, sauces, noodle soup, marinades and more. The plant’s root can be ground into a powder or sliced in thin strips to be added to dishes as desired.

Galangal Recipes

13. Golden Needles

A close shot of dried lily buds.
Golden needles aka dried lily buds.

Golden needles in Asian cooking are the dried buds of the lily plant. Dried lily buds are the perfect addition to your Asian cooking. They have a sweet and delicate flavor that is perfect for meat dishes, soups, broths, and stir fries.

Golden Needles Recipes

14. Kaffir Lime Leaves

Close shot of green kaffir lime leaves.
Kaffir lime leaves.

Kaffir lime leaves are a type of citrus fruit that are used as an herb in many Asian dishes. They have a distinct aroma and flavor that is often described as earthy, herby, and citrusy. One way to use the leaves is by boiling them in water until they become soft and then using the water for stocks, soups, or sauces.

Kaffir Lime Leaves Recipes

15. Lemongrass

Sliced lemongrass resting on a wooden cutting board.
Lemongrass.

Lemongrass is a plant native to Asia. It has a pleasant, lemon-like scent and flavor that can be used in cooking, drinks, and herbal remedies. Lemongrass can be found at many grocery stores or purchased online.

Lemongrass Recipes

16. Sichuan Peppercorns

Sichuan peppercorns resting in a wooden bowl.
Sichuan peppercorns.

The Sichuan peppercorn is a spice that is used to add flavor to many Asian dishes. The taste of the peppercorn is milder than regular black pepper and leaves a tingling sensation on the tongue. It is certainly one of the more unique Asian spices.

Sichuan Peppercorn Recipes

17. Star Anise

Close shot of star anise pods.
Star anise.

Star anise is the seed pod of an evergreen shrubs native to China. Anise has been used in cuisine for centuries and is still used today in many dishes. It can be found in dishes such as Vietnamese pho and is a great way to flavor a broth in general.

Star Anise Recipes

18. Thai Basil

Fresh thai basil leaves.
Thai basil.

Thai basil is the most common variety of the sweet basil plant that grows in Southeast Asia. It has a distinctive anise flavor and aroma, with hints of licorice and spice. Thai basil has a purple-green color and is one of the more common fresh Asian spices.

Thai Basil Recipes

19. Cumin

Close shot of cumin seeds in a wooden bowl.
Cumin seeds.

Cumin is a seed and ground spice that has been used for thousands of years in many cultures. In India, it is often found in lentils, curries, pickles and chutneys. In the Middle East, it’s often found in soups, lamb dishes and grilled meats. Cumin is also a key ingredient in Mexican cooking.

Cumin Recipes

20. Black Sesame Seeds

A small wood bowl of black sesame seeds.
Black sesame seeds.

Black sesame seeds are called hei zhi ma in Chinese, meaning “seed of the dark” and have a thin, black skin. They have a slightly sweet flavor and are high in calcium and iron.

Black Sesame Seed Recipes

21. Cilantro

A fresh cilantro bundle on a wood table.
Fresh cilantro.

The cilantro plant is a member of the Apiaceae famly and is also known as coriander. It has been used for centuries as a culinary and medicinal herb in many cultures. Commonly used in Asian cuisine, the leaves are usually finely chopped to form part of a sauce, salad or garnish, such as in Thailand’s popular dish green curry.

Cilantro Recipes

22. Fenugreek Seeds

A white dish filled with fenugreek seeds.
Fenugreek seeds.

Fenugreek is the dried seed of a plant in the pea family. Fenugreek seeds are used in South Asian and Middle Eastern cuisines to flavor dishes. The seeds are typically roasted or ground before they are added to food.

Fenugreek Recipes

23. Five-Spice

An assortment of dried spices used in Chinese five spice.
The spices used in Chinese five-spice.

This mixture of five spices is a common blend in Chinese cuisine. The blend can be used on meats and vegetables, but is most commonly found in sauces. Five spice powder can be found at many grocery stores and specialty markets.

Five Spice Recipes

24. Curry Powder

A close shot of orange curry powder.
Curry powder.

Curry powder is a blend of spices commonly used in Indian, Thai and other Southeast Asian cuisines. Curry powders usually consist of a mixture of coriander seeds, cumin seeds, turmeric, red pepper and other spices.

Curry Powder Recipes

25. Mint

A close shot of fresh mint leaves.
Mint.

Mint is a herb that grows in most regions of the world, and is widely used in both Western and Eastern cooking. It has a fresh, strong aroma and taste that’s used to add a cooling flavor to food.

Mint Recipes

26. Nigella

Black nigella seeds spilling out of a glass jar.
Nigella seeds.

Nigella is a flowering plant related to the cabbage. The seeds are used as a spice and for medicinal purposes. They are mainly used as a condiment or flavor in some dishes. Nigella seeds, an herb native to Africa and the Middle East, are rich in nutrients and offer unique health benefits. It is commonly used in Indian cuisine.

Nigella Seed Recipes

27. Garam Masala

A small wooden bowl filled with garam masala and a wooden spoon.
Garam masala.

Garam masala is a spice blend usually consisting of coriander, black pepper, cumin, cardamom and cloves. This spice blend is used in both Indian cooking and other cuisines around the world to flavor dishes such as curries, soups, rice pilafs, grilled meats, and grilled vegetables. Garam masala may be purchased at most grocery stores or markets.

Garam Masala Recipes

28. Seven-Spice

A close shot of Japanese seven spice blend.
Seven spice.

Seven spice, also known as Shichimi Togarashi, is a blend of spices in many different combinations. It can be used in stir fries, appetizers and more. The ingredients can vary but they are typically: poppy seeds, white sesame seeds, red pepper, ground ginger, citrus powder, seaweed flakes and Sancho peppercorns. It is typically used in Japanese cuisine.

Seven Spice Recipes

29. Fennel Seeds

Fennel seeds in a small wooden spoon.
Fennel seeds.

Fennel seeds are a type of edible seed used in many world cuisines. Fennel seeds are often used to add a flavor that is similar to anise in dishes such as Indian curry.

Fennel Seed Recipes

30. Mustard Seeds

Yellow mustard seeds in a small white ceramic dish.
Mustard seeds.

One of the most common spices used in Indian cooking is mustard seeds. Mustard seeds are actually the fruit of a special kind of plant, and they’re very easy to grow in your own garden (or even on your windowsill). They come in different colors, too. You will often find them used in Indian curries.

Mustard Seed Recipes

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