Herbs and Spices in Pakistani cooking (2024)

It's National Herbs and Spices day so I've compiled a list of pantry essentials for Pakistani food. Check out my post on spices and why we use them for some more background and history of spices. Feel free to read more on each spice, I have linked my other posts on individual spices which go into more detail.

Jump to sections in this post:

  • Spices : cumin, coriander, cardamom, turmeric, paprika

  • Chilies : red chili, red chili flakes, fresh green chili

  • Spice blends : curry powder, garam masala, chaat masala, black salt

  • Whole seeds : cumin seeds, mustard seeds

  • Fruits : anardana, amchur

  • Herbs : mint, coriander, bay leaves, fenugreek leaves


Ground cumin

Ground cumin or cumin powder is made by grinding down roasted cumin seeds. Its become a recent favorite of mine to use in the kitchen in general. Ground cumin goes beautifully with vegetables, it has such a lovely distinct flavor, just keeping your food simple by just using cumin and chili or paprika goes a long way!

Coriander powder

Coriander powder is made by grinding down roasted coriander seeds. Its great in curries especially vegetables.

Cardamom powder

Cardamom powder is made by grinding down the seeds of cardamom pods. I use it when making Pakistani desserts. It is a little expensive but a little goes a long way!


Turmeric powder is made by grinding down dried turmeric root. It gives curries a distinct golden color and bitter flavor. Turmeric is known for its many health benefits too.


Paprika is made grinding down dried red peppers. Its gives curries color and a level of heat and sweetness.

Clockwise starting top left: Cumin, Coriander, Turmeric and Paprika, Cardamom.


Click here to read more about chilies

Chili powder

Red chili powder is made by grinding dried red chili peppers. Ground chili is my go-to when I want to add heat to my dishes. 1/2 tsp to 1 tsp should do the job, just be careful of the heat level as it may vary between brands.

Red chili flakes

Red chili flakes are made by grinding dried red chili peppers, just enough to get flakes instead of a powder. I use them in appetizers like kebabs and aloo tikki.

Green chili

Fresh green chili peppers are great in appetizers, salads and fresh vegetable curries. I like to freeze my peppers to last longer.

Herbs and Spices in Pakistani cooking (1)

Fresh green chili peppers, red chili powder and red chili flakes

Spice blends

Curry powder

Curry powder is a spice blend that can contain spices like turmeric, chili, coriander, cumin ginger, mustard, cinnamon and cardamom to recreate a typical 'curry' flavor. Feel free to add 1/2 tsp to 1 tsp when making a curry and any other additional spices you like.

Garam masala

Garam masala is a spice blend comprising of 'warm' spices like cinnamon, black cardamom, green cardamom pods, cloves, black peppercorns, cumin seeds and coriander seeds. It can also contain curry leaves, nutmeg, star anise and fennel. The spices are roasted and can either be used whole or ground down to a powder. I love using whole garam masala when making rice and ground garam masala in curries.

Chaat masala

Chaat masala includes spices and seasonings like salt, red chilli, paprika, coriander, cinnamon, ginger, aniseed, long pepper, cumin, green cardamom, black pepper, dried mango powder, clove, carom and citric acid. It packs in the heat, salt, tang, pungency, sourness, perfect for chaat and other appetizers,

Black salt

Black salt / Kala namak is made by heating Himalayan pink salt with other spices. Kala namak is known for its pungent taste and sulphuric aroma; it can can be used to season appetizers, fruits, drinks, chutneys. Black salt is also a little eggy in flavor so it's great when sprinkled on tofu scramble.

Clockwise starting top left: curry powder, garam masala, black salt, chaat masala

Whole seeds

Click here to read more on whole spices

Cumin seeds

I love adding whole cumin seeds to rice and curries. I normally either dry roast the seeds in a pan or fry the seeds as a first step to making curries. I sprinkle in cumin seeds while boiling rice for extra flavor too.

Mustard seeds

Black mustard seeds are amazing in vegetables. I normally heat the mustard seeds in a pan first, dry roast it till they start popping, then add the oil and other spices to fry.

Herbs and Spices in Pakistani cooking (2)



Anardana is made by grinding down dried pomegranate seeds into a powder and is used to add sourness and tang to food.


Amchur is made by grinding down dried unripe green mangoes.

Both Amchur and Anardana can add sourness, tang and acidity to any recipe without the extra moisture that lemon or lime juice would have. This is great when it comes to appetizers like pakoras (bhajis), aloo tikkis (potato cakes) and kebabs that you don’t want falling apart. They both provide some of the health benefits of mango and pomegranate when the fruits are not in season. Feel free to try out these spices and add them to chutneys, sauces, drinks, smoothies, curries, vegetables, fritters, or any food that you want to give some extra tang!⁣

Herbs and Spices in Pakistani cooking (3)


Coriander leaves

Coriander leaves are my personal favorite herb as it’s so versatile and pops up in most cuisines (South and East Asian, Caribbean, Mexican, Mediterranean and Middle Eastern). In terms of Pakistani cooking, I use coriander leaves as a garnish for any curry, use it in chaat, kachumber salad, kebabs and aloo tikki.

Mint leaves

In Pakistani meals, mint leaves can be used for chutney, in kebabs, chaat, raita and a garnish for dishes like biryani.

Herbs and Spices in Pakistani cooking (4)

Fresh mint and coriander leaves

Bay leaves

I keep dried bay leaves and throw in a leaf or two when making rice. I love the fragrance that it gives.

Fenugreek leaves

Dried fenugreek leave / kasuri methi can be added to curries in the last few minutes of cooking. It's fresh but bitter flavor works as a great seasoning on vegetable curries.

And there we have it! This is a summary of my go-to spices and herbs when making Pakistani food. Let me know what your favorite herbs and spices are and leave any questions you have in the comments!

Herbs and Spices in Pakistani cooking (2024)


Herbs and Spices in Pakistani cooking? ›

It is impossible to complete any Pakistani dish without implementing garam masala powder in some way, shape or form. In fact, Garam means 'hot' in Urdu which means that it increases the heat of a dish without overbearing the taste buds.

What herbs are used in Pakistani cooking? ›

Herbs and Spices in Pakistani cooking
  • Spices : cumin, coriander, cardamom, turmeric, paprika.
  • Chilies : red chili, red chili flakes, fresh green chili.
  • Spice blends : curry powder, garam masala, chaat masala, black salt.
  • Whole seeds : cumin seeds, mustard seeds.
  • Fruits : anardana, amchur.
Jun 10, 2021

What is the most used spice in Pakistan? ›

It is impossible to complete any Pakistani dish without implementing garam masala powder in some way, shape or form. In fact, Garam means 'hot' in Urdu which means that it increases the heat of a dish without overbearing the taste buds.

What are the ingredients of Pakistani cuisine? ›

Cumin seeds, chili powder, turmeric, and bay leaves are also very popular. In the Punjab province, spice blends are characterized by their use of coriander powder. Garam masala (a mixture of aromatic spices) is a popular blend of spices used in several Pakistani dishes including Bannu Pulao.

What is the difference between Indian and Pakistani spices? ›

Pakistani cuisine relies on simpler flavours, and India's spice palette is incredibly rich and intricate. India's core herbs and spices are cumin, coriander, cloves, red chilli, turmeric and saffron.

What spices are in Pakistani meat? ›

The Spice Bazaar
  • Cumin (Zeera): With its warm and earthy flavor, cumin is a staple in Pakistani kitchens. ...
  • Coriander (Dhania): Coriander, in both seed and powder form, is another essential spice. ...
  • Red Chili Powder (Laal Mirch): ...
  • Turmeric (Haldi): ...
  • Garam Masala:
Jan 3, 2024

What makes Pakistani food spicy? ›

Pakistani food is typically cooked with a variety of spices, including cumin, coriander, turmeric, and chili peppers.

What is parsley called in Pakistan? ›

جعفری Jafari

What is the most expensive spice in Pakistan? ›

Saffron is considered one of the most expensive spices in Pakistan. Known for its distinct flavor and vibrant color, saffron is derived from the Crocus sativus flower. The labor-intensive process of harvesting saffron contributes to its high cost.

What is Hing in Pakistani cooking? ›

In Western culture, Hing is commonly known as asafoetida. It originates from the resin of the Ferula foetida, and has been an integral part of Middle Eastern, Pakistani, and Indian cooking, especially in Punjabi cuisine, for thousands of years.

What food is most eaten in Pakistan? ›

Biryani is the most loved dish in Pakistani cuisine, and there's a never-ending debate whether biryani or nihari be given the status of the national dish of Pakistan. It's a meaty rice dish with alternate layers of buttery meat curry, fragrant saffron rice, crispy browned onions, parsley, and lemon wedges.

What is the national dish of Pakistan? ›

Nihari. Known as the "national dish of Pakistan", the word 'nihari' is derived from the Arabic word “nahaar” (morning), implying that this dish was meant to be eaten as the first meal of the day.

Why is Pakistani food so good? ›

Pakistani food is known to be aromatic, spicy, packed full of flavor and herbs, primarily because many spices and herbs are produced in the country.

Is biryani Indian or Pakistani? ›

Biryani is one of the most classic dishes in Pakistani and Indian cultures that includes rice and meet. The flavorful, aromatic dish is something that any lover of desi food is sure to crave. Today, you can easily find many different types of biryani on the menus of Indian and Pakistani restaurants around the world.

Is Garam Masala Indian or Pakistani? ›

Garam masala (from Hindustani گرم مصالحہ/गरम मसाला garam masālā, "hot spices") is a blend of ground spices originating from the Indian subcontinent. It is common in Indian, Pakistani, Nepalese, Bangladeshi, Sri Lankan and Caribbean cuisines. It is used alone or with other seasonings.

What is thyme called in Pakistan? ›

Thyme meaning in Urdu is Jungli podina (جنگلی پودینہ). Similar words of Thyme are also commonly used in daily talk like as Thymele, and Thymene.

What is the cooking method of Pakistani cuisine? ›

As a vital part of Pakistani cuisine, the Bhunai technique is used in order to cook many meat and vegetable dishes. The focus of the cooking method is to remove the excess liquid from the produce which is later enhanced in flavour through another universal technique known as sautéing.

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