Seeds, Nuts, Herbs, & Spices

Just as food absorbs the flavor of spices, it absorbs the attitude of those who cook and serve it.


Seeds, nuts, herbs, and spices have their own special places in food production. They all improve food value with respect to nutrition and fibers. They bring medicinal value to the food. They are the food additives that bring flavors, enhance taste and aroma, and increase beauty of the food.

Culinary Seeds

Seeds are used for making gravies and an important ingredient in cakes, desserts, and candies. Seeds provide variety of uses such as seasoning, baking, and pastes. Seeds are also used for preparing various sauces.

Introduction to Seeds

The following seeds are generally used for culinary purpose −

Seed How it Looks Culinary Uses

Caraway (Dark brown 3-4mm long ridged grains. Also called Shah Jeera.)


They are often used for seasoning.

Serbia − Used to sprinkle on breads.

India − Used in rice dishes.

Europe − Used in cake.

Middle East − Used in Caraway pudding.

Carom/Royal Cumin (Greyish brown colored, 2mm long, pointed oval shaped, ridged, and spicy seeds. Also called Ajwain.)

Carom Mostly used in India in seasoning to bring flavors to the food. Because of hot taste, cannot be consumed raw. It is often paired with lentils and beans to reduce gaseous effects.

Coriander (Yellowish green colored, Oval round 3-4mm long, 2-3mm diameter seeds. Also called Dhaniya Beej.)

Coriander Used roasted and powdered as a flavorful condiment in Indian, Pakistani, Sri Lankan, and Bangladeshi Cuisines.

Cumin (Light brown colored, 2-4mm long, ridged seeds. Also called Jeera.)


In India, they are roasted and powdered, and used in tangy foods to enhance flavor. It is also one of the five ingredients of Chhonk.

It is also used in curd based salad and other Indian cuisines.

Fennel (Green/Olive green colored 3-4mm long, 1-2 mm wide, ridged, sweet and spicy seeds. Also called Saunf)


Mostly used for flavoring all over the world. Used in Italian sausages, risotto, and Indian gravies from Gujrat and Kashmir. Eastern Indian states use it in five spices mix called Panch Poran.

It is consumed as after meal digestive and mouth freshener.

Fenugreek (Dark yellow colored, twisted cylinder shaped matt finished 2-3mm long seeds. Also called Methi Danaa.)


Sprouted seeds and Microgreens are used in Indian Salads named Pachhadi. Also used on Chhonk. Powdered fenugreek seeds are used in crispy tea time Indian snack called Mathhri.

Turkey − Paste is used in preparing Pastirma, a dish of air-dried and cured beef.

Egypt & Persia − Used in Pita bread.

Flax (Dark brown or yellow glossy, oval shaped pointed at an end, 3-4mm long flat seeds. Also called Alsi.)

Flax In India, they are roasted and powdered with paprika and salt to be eaten with boiled rice. Contain high amount of Omega-3 fatty acids. Often sprinkled on wheat breads.

Mustard (Black/Brown/White with husk and dark yellow without it, round seeds of 2mm diameter. Also called Sarson.)


Used as a main ingredient in Chhonk. Mustard leaves are used in vegetable preparation or stews in North India. Its oil is used in cooking and pickles.

Europe − Used in Mustard sauce.

Nigella (Black seeds of 1-2mm length. Also called Kalaunji.)

Nigella Used in cooking flatbread in North Indian cuisine. Also used as a part of gravies, pulses, and curries in India and Middle East. Used in preparing Armenian string cheese.

Pomegranate (Pale red/brown colored dried seeds with juicy coat that brings tangy taste. Also called Anardana.)

Pomegranate Dried seeds are used as an acidic agent for chutney and curry preparation in Indian and Pakistani cuisines. Used fresh in salads and food garnishing. Used dried or powdered in preparing syrups and spreads.

Poppy (Small creamy white or black colored kidney shaped seeds of 1mm size. Also called Khaskhas.)

Poppy Used as pastry filling when powdered and pasted with milk. Sprinkled on breads and cakes. It is used in preparing gravies and sweet breads in Indian cuisines.

Pumpkin (Creamy White with husk and Light Green meat inside, flat oval shaped 6-8mm long pointed seeds.)

Pumpkin Used extensively in US, Mexico, Europe, and Africa as a roasted snack or in cooking.

Sesame (Light brown colored 2-3 mm long, 2mm wide, oval shaped pointed flat grains. Also called Til.)


They are used as toppings on buns and breads.

Japan − Unhusked seeds are used in Gomashio, a seasoning for rice.

India − Roasted seeds are mixed with jiggery, rolled into balls or stuffed in flatbread, mixed with paprika to make Malagai Podi. Sesame oil is used in cooking and pickles.

Middle East Cuisine − Ground into paste named Tahini.

Mexico − Used as a food additive.

Water Melon (Black or Brown colored oval shaped flat seeds when unhusked, creamy white when husked.)

Water Melon They are used for garnishing cakes and breads, in salads, and preparing white gravies.

Culinary Nuts

Nuts are the edible seeds covered with hard kernel. They are used in preparing gravies, salads, and sauces. They are an important ingredient in cakes, desserts, chocolates, ice creams, and confectionery. Nuts have high amount of oils and high fat contents.

Introduction to Nuts

In the following table, we have discussed some commonly used culinary nuts −

Nut How it Looks Culinary Uses

Almond (Cream colored with shell and deep brown without shell oval shaped flattish nut. Also called Badam.)


Can be consumed roasted, salted, or spicy as a snack. They are blanched to remove the coat and are used in Indian royal gravies and biryanis. Also used on Falooda, a dessert made of vermicelli cooked in milk and Shreekhand, a dessert made of hung curds. Used as an additive to cereal, cakes, ice creams, and pastries.

Greece − Used in wedding sweet called Amygdalota.

Iran − Sea salt dipped and dried almonds are consumed as snacks.

India − Used extensively in Mughlai cuisine.

Italy − Almond macaroons.

Cashew (Light Brown with coat and Creamy white colored without coat, kidney shaped nut. Also called Kaju.)


Consumed roasted, plain, salted, or spiced as snack. Also used in preparing Kaju Katli, a dessert made of cooking cashew powder in milk and sugar.

India − Cashew powder is used as a base of various sweets and desserts named Suji Halua, and Modak. Used in gravies and curries such as Khoya Kaju and Kaju Usal. Also used in preparing Cashew vinegar and Feni, an alcohol.

Chestnut (Green hairy shell outside and a dark brown glossy, half onion shaped nut inside.)


Dried and milled into flour to add into breads, pancakes, pasta, and polenta. Used as a thickening agent in soups and sauces. Can be eaten candied, boiled, steamed, deep-fried, grilled, or roasted.

Croatia − Used in fritters.

Hungary − Used in dessert named Gesztenyepüré.

Swiss − Along with Kirsch, used to make a dessert called Vermecelle.

Coconut (Green when tender, brown when ripe, two shells-outer with coir, inner very tough kernel. Bigger than tennis ball without outer shell. Filled with sweet water. White fruit meat is seen when broken. (Also called Nariyal.)


Coconut is grated, dried, and powdered to use as ingredient in cakes, swiss rolls, and biscuits. Also used for presentation of food.

India − Used in preparing sweets called Coconut Burfi and Modak. Also used in gravies and chutneys, the dip made of grated fresh coconut with herbs and chilli ground to paste.

Hazelnut (Onion shaped, reddish brown, hard outer shell. Light brown fruit meat inside.)

Hazelnut Used in pralines and chocolates. Also used in chocolate truffles, Nutella chocolate spread, and Frangelico liqueur. Hazelnut oil is used as a cooking oil.

Macademia (Milk chocolate colored shell of around 3 cm diameter with a white spherical seed of ½ to 1 inches.)

Macademia Used ground as a filler and flavor enhancer in minced meat, poultry, and seafood preparations. Used powdered nuts in pastry or as a topping of pies. Roasted nuts yield a strong flavor. Its oil is used as salad dressing.

Peanut (Light brown ridged thin shell contains 1-4 peanuts. Light pink or deep crimson pink nuts inside arranged in a row. Also called Ground Nuts.)


Used in peanut butter spread. They can be consumed raw, roasted, spiced, or salted as snack. First press oil is used in cooking.

India − Used as an important ingredient in Sabudana Khichri, a snack made of soaking Sago, and Chikki, a sweet toffee. They are added to snacks named Poha and Chiwra, the wet and dry snacks made of beaten rice. Powdered or pasted peanuts are used in thickening gravies and chutneys.

Pistachio (Creamy white smooth and hard shell containing light olive green and violet colored seed meat inside. Also called Pista.)

Pistachio Used for presenting Mughal sweets such as Halwa, Firni, Faluda, and Sheerkurma. Also used ground in Indian popsicle made of thick milk and sugar called Kulfi.

Walnut (Spherical hard and rough shell of around 3cm diameter. Dark brown brain shaped nut meat inside.)


Used chopped in cakes, cookies, pralines, pie toppings, and brownies. Halves are used for salads, dressings, and food presentation.

Middle East cuisine − Used in preparation of chicken.

Italy − Pesto sauce.


Herbs infuse unparalleled aroma and flavors that enhance the taste of the food preparation. A hint of herbs is just enough to arouse the sense of hunger. They also bring medicinal value to the food. Knowledge and use of herbs brings glamour to the cookery and the dish itself.

Introduction to Herbs

Here are some popular herbs with culinary use −

Herb How it Looks Culinary Uses

Cilantro (Fresh Lush green colored glossy leaves of frilled round shape on greenish white or purple soft stem plant. Also called Dhaniya.)

Cilantro Leaves are used mainly for food garnishing. They are also used to prepare Kothimbir Vadi, a steamed snack made of wet mixture of gram flour and chopped cilantro, and Kothimbir Bhaat (Coriander rice) in Maharashtra state of India. Dried or fresh leaves are used in preparation of curries and pickles.

Parsley (Leaves are similar to Cilantro except they are pointed instead of round.)

Parsley Parsley is used all over the world as a food additive in various cuisines. It is used in soups, sauces, and salads. It also lessens the need for salt in soups.

Basil (Lush green colored oval shaped and roundly pointed, thin glossy leaves. Also called Tulsi.)

Basil Basil is mainly used in Italian cuisine such as Pizzas and Pastas. It is also used in Thai cuisine. It can be used dry or fresh.

Water Cress (Leaves are round, lush green and glossy.)

Water Cress Used in salads, soups, and sauces.

Lemon Grass (Long dull green matte finish leaves originating from portion of stem near ground. Also called Gavati Chaha.)

Lemon Grass It is used in Thai cuisine for flavoring spicy Thai curry. In India, it is used to prepare aromatic tea.

Mint (Dark green colored leaves of little rough surface are connected to deep purple colored stem. Strong herb. Also called Pudina.)

Mint It is used in salads, salad dressings, yodurt dips, and soups that need sharp taste and aroma. In India, it is used in street food called Pani Puri. It is an important ingredient in Mint Chutney. It is also used in a chicken dish named Mint Chicken. It is also used in jellies, candies, and mint- based drinks.

Oregano/Pizza Herb (Spade-shaped, olive-green leaves on purple brown stalk.)

Oregano/Pizza Herb Dried leaves are more flavorful than fresh ones. It is used in authentic Italian and Mexican cuisine. In turkey, it is used to flavor lamb and mutton. It is used with paprika and salt as a condiment in Barbecues and Kebabs

Sage (Grayish-green colored, long oval shaped leaves with a silvery covering. Strong herb.)

Sage Used as an additive in soups, sauces, and various dishes. Best used when fresh. Being highly aromatic, it is used sparingly. Stems are tossed to add aroma to barbeque or grilled dishes.

Tarragon (Long, narrow pointed, flat, green leaves with licorice flavor.)


Used in mainly in Béarnaise Sauce for steaks or eggs Benedict. It goes well with mayonnaise to dress various veg and non-veg dishes. Used in preparing tarragon vinegar.

Slovenia − Used as a cake condiment.

Iran − Used to flavor in Sabzi Khoran, a side dish.

Persia − Used in pickles.

Thyme (Small lush green paired leaves on the pinkish-purple stem. Medium flavored herb with 300 types.)

Mainly used in Southern Italian cuisine in pasta sauce. While cooking with Thyme, it is used at early stage to bring out the aroma. Also used in French cuisine for preparing various sauces.

Rosemary (Dark green needle shaped leaves)

Rosemary Used in stuffing of duck, chicken, lamb, meat steaks, etc. Also used in sauces and dressings.


Spices are used in cuisines mainly in South Asian cuisines such as Indian, Sri Lankan, Pakistani, Indonesian, Malaysian, and Bangladeshi. They are also used in Mediterranean, European, and American cuisines. A spice can be any part of the plant from a seed, fruit, root, bark, bud or vegetable substance, which is especially used to flavor and color the foods. Spices bring in exotic aroma to the cooked food and also promise health benefits.

Introduction to Spices

Let us now know about the commonly used spices −

Spice How it Looks Culinary Uses

Asafoetida/Stinking Gum (Dried gum acquired from a tap root of the herb found in Iran and mountains of Afghanistan. Also called Hing.)

Asafoetida Used largely as a condiment in Chhonk in Indian cuisine and in preparing pickles. It is highly aromatic and can contaminate the taste of food hence it is used sparingly.

Bay leaves (Aromatic leaves of Bay tree with bitter, sharp taste. Also called Tez Patta.)

Bay leaves The fragrance of leaves is more noticeable than their taste. They are used in soups, stews, meat, seafood, veg and non-veg dishes, and sauces.

Cardamom (Seeds of a plant named Amomum, comes in light green/ brown colored ridged pods with dark brown or black seeds with intense aroma and sharp taste. Two types: Green and Black. Also called Ilaichee.)


Mostly used in Asia. Widely used in both sweet and savory dishes. Black and Green, both cardamom seeds are important components in spice mixes, such as masalas and curry pastes.

Green cardamom is used in sweets and spiced tea. Seeds are also used in mouth fresheners and in confectionery.

Cinnamon (It is a light brown colored bark of a plant named Cinnamomum Casia with sweet and hot sharp taste and aroma. Also called Daalchini.)

Cinnamon It is used in both; sweet and savory cooking. Cinnamon powder is used in baking. It is one of the main ingredients of Garam Masala, an Indian spice mix. It is used for veg as well as non veg dishes.

Cloves (Dark brown colored aromatic buds of the flowers of a plant named Syzygium Aromaticum. Also called Laung.)

Cloves Used grated in Asian, African, Mexican, and Middle East cuisines. It lends hot flavor to the meat and vegetable stews, fruits, and hot beverages.

Dry Mango Powder (Pale yellowish green colored fine powder made of sun dried raw mangoes. Also called Aamchur.)

Dry Mango Powder Used in Indian and Middle Eastern cooking. Also used to bring sourness to the stews and to tenderize meat.

Mace (Yellow/orange colored covering of the Nutmeg seed having delicate flavor as Nutmeg. Also called Javitri.)

Mace Used to impart light orange color to the stew.

Nutmeg (Egg-shaped seed around 20-30 mm long and 15 to 18 mm wide. Also called Jaiphal.)

Nutmeg Mainly used in Indian (Mughlai) cuisine. It is also a main ingredient in Garam Masala and Pooran Poli, a sweet flatbread made of mashed cooked grams and jiggery.) Used sugar coated shreds in Malaysian cuisine as a topping and in the ice cream like dessert named Ise Kechang.

Chili/Paprika (A long, thin, pointed fruit of the plant. Often comes in various colors and contains Capsaicin that produces intense burning sensation. Also called Mirch.)

Chilli Often used after having an idea about its hotness on the Scoville Heat Unit (SHU) when green, fresh red, or dried red. Dried chilies are ground into fine powder. Used in savory dishes in the cuisines of Mexico, Turkey, Hungary, Europe, South Asia, Pakistan, and Australia.

Saffron (Crimson red colored fragrant stigmas of the saffron flower from a plant named Saffron Crocus. Also called Kesar.)

Saffron One of the costliest spices available in the world. Used in Indian sweet and savory dishes and in Thick milk ice cream of south Asia named Kulfi. Used in Indian sweets for garnishing and bringing deep orange color to the food.

Star Anise (Flower like looking dry brown colored fruit with cluster of 8 sections each containing a seed. Also called Chakra Phool.)

Star Anise Used in spiced tea in Indian subcontinent. Also used as an important ingredient in Biryani Masala and Garam Masala, the Indian spice mixes. It is also used to bring flavor to meat dishes. Vietnamese use it in soup, Chinese and Malaysians use it in their cuisines and French use it in preparing wine.

Turmeric (Tuber of turmeric plant that induces deep yellow color and sharp hot taste and aroma. Also called Haldi.)

Turmeric Often used fresh for pickles. Dried and powdered for storing. It is one of the main ingredients in Chhonk. Used in margination of meat and seafood before cooking.

Vanilla (Long dark brown drumstick-like ridged pods derived from an orchid named Vanilla. It has sweet mild aroma.)

Vanilla The aroma extracted from the plant is available as a liquid essence. Used in confectionary, ice creams, flavored yogurts, cakes, and cookies.
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