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Cassia Bark

IMG 1760Is also grown in north-east India. It is often confused with cinnamon because of its appearance and aroma, which are similar. It tastes strong, woody and bittersweet, with a slightly sharp edge. In India, cassia is substituted for cinnamon, although not in sweet dishes because of its astringent quality. Cassia is sold either as pieces of bark or as a powder.

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Chillies are the pods of an annual plant of the capsicum family. There are hundreds of varieties but they all have fire power. Fresh unripe chillies come in various shades of green and in all shapes and sizes. The ripe ones are red and vary according to type in taste and heat. Chillies are always most pungent when raw, and mellow when cooked. When chopping chillies, make sure you don't rub your eyes as they will smart.

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IMG 2576 clovesThe dried flower bud of an evergreen tree. Cloves come from Madagascar, Brazil, Penang and Sri Lanka and are native to the Molucca Islands, which are now part of Indonesia. Cloves have a rich spicy aroma. Their flavour is strong, pungent and sweet. Used in excess, they will overpower other spices. Cloves are used in rice-with-meat dishes, such as biryanis and pulaos, and in garam masala.

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fenugreek250px IMG 1726The seed of an annual herb related to clover. It is small, hard, oblong and dull in colour; ground fenugreek is a warm yellow-brown with a bitter flavour that often dominates curry powders. Once it is cooked the flavour mellows. It is used in a wide variety of spice mixes – for example sambhar powder which flavours southern Indian vegetable and dal dishes.

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Mustard Seeds

IMG 2591 mustard seedMustard seed comes from three large shrubs, Brassica juncea, (brown mustard), Brassica nigra (black mustard) and Brassica hirta (white mustard). All three produce bright yellow flowers that die off to leave small round seeds. The brown mustard seed is more pungent than the white and is used predominantly in Indian cooking.

Mustard seeds are small, matt, hard, spherical, and either brown, white or black. When heated, they taste bitter, nutty, hot and aromatic. They are a key ingredient in some vegetable dishes and in pickles. In Bengal, they are often ground to make sauces for fish. Cooks in southern India fry a small quantity with other seasonings, such as cumin and curry leaves, before eating them – take care when you do this: the seeds pop in the hot oil and fly about with a life of their own. The spiciness of mustard seeds, no matter how pungent, does not linger, and they impart a rich, earthy taste to any dish.

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Spice Bites