|March 28, 2023


One of the interesting facts about Indian cooking is that there is a divide between North Indian and South Indian cooking in the use of Indian masalas. Of course, this difference also goes as far as the use of cooking oil.

Each region has its favorite oils. So, the same curry or dish made with distinctive spices will have an entirely different taste. The curry may look the same and have essential ingredients such as vegetables or lentils.

South Indian cooking, especially the Kerala style, is based upon many freshly roasted spices. These are mashed into chutney with coconut and then added to meats or boiled vegetables and lentils.

Though the North Indian and South Indian usage of spices is almost the same, the proportions of specific spices that give that unique taste edge tend to differ. For instance, North Indian masala typically uses more Cumin. South Indian masala substitutes it with mustard. Again, North Indian cooking utilizes raw mango powder (amchoor), while South Indians use tamarind or Kokum. North Indians love fenugreek leaves. South Indians prefer Curry Leaves.

Although there may be differences in the choices of spices, many essential ingredients remain the same. Both cooking styles use ginger, garlic, fresh pepper, cardamom, cloves, dried ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, etc. The proportion of these ingredients makes north Indian garam masala subtly different from south Indian garam masala.

South India's mountainous regions are the spice-growing regions for most Indian spices like cloves, black pepper, and cardamom. In contrast, the super-expensive saffron is grown only in one place – Kishtwar in Kashmir – in north India.

Although the spices used in both cuisines are roughly the same (turmeric, cloves, black pepper, cinnamon, cardamom, bay leaf, and asafetida, etc.), the difference lies in their proportion and usage. 

We can find a thousand different masala blends across India! In the South, spices are roasted, often with dry pulses and coconut. They're then ground fresh before every session of cooking. In the North, dry masala blends are more popular. People make them in advance by pounding together dry spices (coriander and Cumin primarily) and stored in glass bottles.

Of course, there are a lot of similarities as well between these two cuisines. Both are equally delicious and wow people.

Let's now see how North Indians and South Indians use spices in their respective recipes:



Cinnamon is a commonly used spice in the Indian subcontinent. It's used more in North India. You can find it in most homes, shaped like a bark. It is also known as dalchini or laung-patta. 

North Indians usually add whole Cinnamon in curries and dals. Cinnamon is a strong-smelling spice that enhances your senses and tangles the taste buds.



Cumin or Jeera is another commonly used spice in most Indian homes. It's much more pungent in taste and adds bitterness to the cuisine to enhance the other spices. You get wide varieties of Jeera, like brown or black Jeera. Black Jeera is also known as shahi jeera.

Indians usually roast Jeera before use. You can powder the Jeera or add it to any vegetable after roasting it. Indian recipes use Jeera in different kinds of dal, vegetables, etc.

People use Cumin to make different kinds of bread, adding a distinct flavor. Jeera rice from North India is rice sautéed with some smoked cumin seeds. Jeera has a lot of digestion benefits and improves immunity too.



Marathi, Gujarati, and South Indian recipes commonly use Fennel, especially in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. Fennel has a sharp, aromatic flavor and is known for boosting digestive functions.



Mughlai/North Indian recipes across the country use Cloves. They are a part of the five essential spices used in garam masala. Cloves are an irreplaceable part of the Indian cooking process. 

It is one of the rare species that adds warmth to the food, making it almost nostalgic. We also use Cloves as a mouth freshener. Cloves also help in controlling cough and cold.



Coriander seeds are also known as gota-dhania or sabood-dhania. These are a form of fresh coriander, but Indians dry and store them in airtight jars to enhance the flavor. Coriander or Cilantro seeds are light brown. 

Indian cooking uses coriander seeds in different cuisines across west and North India in whole or crushed forms. We roast them lightly to enhance the flavor and then crush or powder them.



Fenugreek is known as methi across India and has a very bitter taste. It's one of the best cleansers to detoxify the system and is suitable for hair and skin. 

Indian cooks use Fenugreek seeds with other ingredients like mustard seeds or even Fennel to cut out the bitterness and perfectly balance Indian dishes.  

Overall, Fenugreek has a very nutty and earthy flavor. People use it in sambar powder blend in southern India and different curries in the North. Fenugreek is used even in dishes like Aloo Dum or Mughlai cuisine. It is best to store this spice only briefly, as it loses flavor.


What are the differences between North Indian and South Indian cuisines?

Both cuisines are very different and easily accessible throughout the country. North Indian cuisine consists of various bread, rice, and vegetable preparations. South Indian cuisine is a rich mixture of spices and different rice flour preparations.

What is the difference between North Indian and South Indian garam masala?

The flavors are different between the two garam masalas. South Indian garam or meat masala contains cloves, Cinnamon, cardamom, Fennel, etc. North Indian garam masala powder includes Cumin, coriander, bay leaves, etc. You must use the right blend of spices for each dish.

How do the foods of southern India differ from those in the North?

Southern cuisine prefers grain as a staple. South Indian recipes also use tamarind for its sour flavor and sambar and rasam (thin, spicy broth). South Indian cuisine incorporates spices and milk as well.

Why is South Indian food so spicy?

Spices have delicious flavors. They have anti-bacterial properties that can kill around 75 percent of bacteria. Scientific research has also proved that herbs prevent food from spoilage. That's why South Indian (or Indian) food tends to be so spicy.

Which spice is essential in South Indian food?

South Indian food is very spicy and flavorful. Most Indian spices ginger, cardamom, Cinnamon, cloves, cassia, nutmeg, pepper, tamarind, curry leaf, and vanilla, to name a few — are grown in South India. Again, the food here is cooked almost exclusively in coconut oil instead of the heavier ghee used in north India.

Which South Indian state is famous for spices?

Kerala is called the 'land of spices .' It's famous for various herbs to satiate many tourists' curiosity (and palates!).