October 18, 2017

What Wikipedia Does Not Say About Indian Spice Substitute

Post by Admin

 Difficult to find spices with alternative substitute to work with

Do you skip making a dish after going through the list of ingredients just because you don’t have it? Do you ever wonder what the possible spice substitute would be in case your nearest supermarket does not stock them?

The good thing about working with spices is that they are not always a MUST have ingredient.

The average Indian dishes have a minimum of 7-9 ingredients out of which 3-4 may be just spices. So this in effect gives you the flexibility to use alternative spices as long as its not the key or main spice used in the dish, such as mustard gravy or pepper chicken!

What amount of alternative spice substitute should you be using?

Although I am telling you that you have the option of going for an alternative substitute for the spice you either do not have or have run out of. But does that mean that you can use and replace the exact same amount of it?

This question is a bit tricky to answer since there are many factors that depend on what should be the correct replaced amount.

  1. The quantity you are cooking

    The quantity of the raw material used will have a direct relation to the amount of spice substitute you need. Ensure that the amount of raw material to spice replacement is in proportion.

  2. The type of Spice Substitute

    Not all spices have the same level of taste or flavour. Few spices are stronger which means you will need less of it while others may have a subtle flavour content so you may need to use double the quantity compared to the actual spice. 

Understand the taste and the flavour quotient of the spice you will be using as a substitute before you add to balance the taste.

3.  Using fresh spice substitute instead of powder

Not all spices can be substituted with another spice. Sometimes similar flavour can be derived from using fresh ingredients such as onions, ginger, garlic or fresh herbs.  When you do use fresh ingredients, you are likely to use more in quantity to the dish.

4. Health and personal reasons to look for suitable alternatives

Few may also need to look for spice substitute because of an eating lifestyle, intolerance/allergy or simply a personal dislike to a particular spice. Having the alternatives and substitute works in their favour so that they do not have to compromise on the taste or try the dish.

Therefore choose alternatives which suit your purpose.

Keeping these tips and factors in mind lets find what spices work best in case you are looking for options.

Indian spice substitute for difficult to find spices

A Comprehensive Chart of Best Alternative and Spice Substitute for popular Indian Spices

 Name Of Spice

 Substitute Option 1

Substitute Option 2


It is a gun resin with a very strong flavour. Use sparingly in dishes.

 Onion and Garlic powder  Shallots, Fresh Garlic or leeks

Floral, citrusy and with robust flavour. A very popular spice in Indian dishes

Cinnamom and Cloves Cinnamom and nutmeg (just a pinch)
 Caraway Seeds

Comes from the cumin seeds family, mild and sweet in flavour

Roasted cumin seeds Dill
Carom Seeds

Similar to caraway seeds with licorice undertones

 Dried Thyme  Roasted cumin seeds
Chat Masala

A street food seasoning sour in taste

Dry mango powder/Lemon juice  Sumac powder
 Chilli powder

Spice that renders heat and sometimes colour to the dish

 Omit from dish   Green chilli/ pepper powder
 CinnamonWoody smoky undertones used in savoury and sweet dishes  Nutmeg/Allspice   Mace

A bud with very robust and strong flavour

Nutmeg/Allspice Cinnamon
 Coriander leaves

Fresh herb mostly added to add extra depth of freshness to the dish

 Omit completely  A small mix of Parsley, tarragon and dill leaves
 Coriander powder Cumin powder – If not already used in dish  Curry powder
 Cumin Powder Coriander powder – If not already used in dish  Curry powder
 Curry Leaves

A very important Indian herb with lemony flavour

Lemon zest Kaffir lime leaves
 Curry Powder  Garam Masala powder  A mix of coriander powder, cumin powder and turmeric
Fennel Seeds

Liquorice in taste. Adds a distinctive flavour to the dish

Dill Star Anise/ caraway seeds
 Fenugreek Seeds

A popular whole spice used in many Indian dishes. Has a slight bitter tone.

Mustard seeds Curry powder
 Fresh Ginger

A popular aromatic used for making sweet and savoury dishes

Ginger powder  Allspice powder
 Garam Masala

Popular Indian spice blend used in most Indian spices.

 Curry powder Allspice and cumin

Robust and strong pungent spice. Use sparingly in dish

 Nutmeg Allspice
 Mustard paste

Very pungent and sharp to introduce heat and smoothness to a dish

Dijon mustard sauce A small portion of horseradish or wasabi paste
 Mustard Seeds

Normally used as a tempering or pickling spice

 Caraway seeds Nigella Seeds

Strong yet delicate;y flavoured spice with a sweet woody tone


 Mace Cinnamon
Poppy Seeds

Used whole or as paste to give texture to dish

 Chia seeds   Melon seeds (for paste only)
Pomegranate seeds

Souring agent to add tartness to dish

Sumac powder Lemon juice

A flavouring and colouring agent with strong sweet taste

Rose essence and turmeric Cardamon
 Star Anise

Woody and earthy it adds a distinctive flavour to the dish

 Chinese five spice powder  Cinnamon/ fennel seeds/ Aniseed

Mainly used as a colouring agent to give the dish a pale yellow appearance

Tomato paste Curry powder

Experiment with the substitute before you say No

One way of understanding if you really like a recipe or a particular substitute or not, is by giving it a try.

Before you give up on making a dish because you do not have a particular ingredient, I would suggest finding a suitable alternative as in most cases you will realise that the alternative does the job too!

Start with substitute you think is the best match and become adventurous. Trying out new things even without the right kind will widen your culinary skills making your kitchen life so much easier.

It may not work each time but from my personal experience of using substitutes, I can guarantee that it will not be catastrophic as long as you have the right balance of taste and correct amount used.

Use the list above as a starting point as most of the substitute mentioned are easily available in your local supermarket. You do not need to find and make a trip to an Indian store for it.

Do you have any spice substitute

As I said at the very beginning spices are very flexible ingredient to work with which makes them easy to either omit or replace if needed.

Would really like to hear your experimentation with alternatives and spice substitute as we all benefit from learning and sharing more!

And if you think that the post and the spice substitute list will help others then I would really appreciate a share by clicking the share or save button below.