Do I Remove Whole Spices Before Serving Indian Food?

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When cooking with whole spices, are you supposed to remove them before serving?

How to Remove Whole Spices from an Indian Dish

So you’ve finished cooking an Indian dish, and it’s delicious! Maybe it was my chicken biryani? Or perhaps one of my curry recipes on the blog? Now that you’re done cooking, you might be wondering – what do I do with the whole spices floating around/hiding in the dish?

If you’re asking yourself that question, know that you are not alone. This is one of the things that I get asked about ALL. THE. TIME.

And after answering this question in text messages, via email, in blog comments, and on social media, I’ve decided that it’s finally time to write a blog post about this because clearly, this is a question that needs answers.

How do you discard whole spices? The short answer is that you have a few options:

If you don’t want to read this whole post, here’s the short answer: move the spices to the side of your plate as you eat (give those eating a heads up to do the same). Or fish through the dish and remove them yourself (e.g., if you added 5 cardamom pods to the dish, remember to remove the 5 cardamom pods). Another idea is to fry the larger whole spices (cinnamon, clove, cardamom, bay leaf) in oil, remove them with a spoon and place them into either a teabag pouch or a metal tea strainer.

Now, here’s the long answer:

What do I do with my whole spices once I’m done cooking an Indian dish?

Do I leave whole spices in the curry? Do I pick them out? Do I warn my guests? 

Most of us who grew up in an Indian household are familiar with whole spices and know to move them to the side of our plate as we eat. I’m sure, at some point, every Indian person has accidentally bitten into a clove or cardamom pod. What do we do when that happens? Either eat it or spit it out. 🤷🏽‍♀️

It’s like eating an olive with a pit. You obviously don’t eat the pit.

No one gets annoyed about eating olives with pits, right? Think of large whole spices the same way.

Sure, biting into a clove isn’t the tastiest thing and can be kind of off-putting if you’re not used to it, but it comes with the Indian food territory. That’s how you know you’re eating some real deal Indian food – when the chef/cook doesn’t care to remove the whole spices (lol).

We are taught from a young age to look for whole spices as we eat. Honestly, I’m not even sure if it’s something we’re actually taught. I think it’s just something we learn… probably after biting into a clove as a kid. My toddler bit into his first clove a few months ago when he was around 15 months old. He made a face to show me that he wasn’t pleased… I’m sure I did the same thing as a kid.

Which whole spices are you not supposed to eat? Which ones are you supposed to eat?

You can, of course, search for whole spices as you eat – some of them are really easy to spot, like cinnamon sticks, star anise, or bay leaves. The trickier whole spices to find are cardamom pods and cloves. And what about curry leaves? Some people eat them, and some don’t. I personally don’t unless the leaves are small.

Then there are the whole spices that you’re supposed to eat – those are the tiny ones like cumin seeds, mustard seeds, and fennel seeds. You can also eat slightly larger ones like coriander seeds and black peppercorns.

That said, what do I do? Personally, when I’m serving Indian food to family, I leave the whole spices in the dish. If I’m having friends over who are not Indian, then I’ll either remove the whole spices myself or give them a heads up – letting them know there might be whole spices in their meal.

I Don’t Like That Answer. I Don’t Want to Bite into Whole Spices. What Else Can I do?

First, I’m going to tell you what NOT to do. Do not substitute whole spices with ground spices to avoid this issue. If a recipe calls for frying whole spices in oil, there’s a reason for it!

There was a good discussion in my facebook group about workarounds to this whole spices issue, and several people suggested using teabag pouches or a metal tea strainer. If you decide to do this, I would first fry the whole spices in oil, then after they have roasted in oil, use a spoon to scoop them into the pouch. This way, they will flavor the oil and then continue to flavor the dish through the pouch.

A simple but effective idea: remember the number of whole spices you use and remove them. If you use 5 whole cardamom pods, then make sure to remove 5 pods at the end. This is a lot easier when you count them out.

I realize that leaving whole spices in a dish is a pretty foreign concept to anyone who isn’t Indian, so I hope this post was helpful! If you have any tips, leave a comment letting us know what you do!

If you did find this helpful, check out the other posts in my Indian Cooking 101 Series!

Indian Cooking 101

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Find out more about my cookbooks Indian Food Under Pressure and South Asian Persuasion.

About Ashley

Hi, I’m Ashley. Thanks for being here! I truly believe that food brings us closer together. Gather around a table with good food and good people, and you’ll have the ingredients you need to create some happy memories. My hope is that you find recipes here that you can’t wait to share with family and friends.

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Comments

  1. ashish patel says

    Hey, I read your article and your information are such great and amazing it is so much helpful for me. Thank you so much:)

  2. Misha says

    I love Indian food and dont mind leaving the whole spices in however I’ve found a work around by pureeing the curry before adding any veggies or proteins. You may have to adjust the amount of spices. You may sieve or not sieve but it’s fine either way and the spices are very present!

  3. Tanya says

    My husband is Indian and I am not yet I’m the one always telling him whole and ground spices have different flavour and aroma therefore one cannot be substituted for the other. We’ve been trying to find a solution to the whole spice issue when adding tadka as my husband hates crunching into whole spices. Being Punjabi they don’t seem to use large whole spices often so it’s rather new for him when I do it. My solution which is similar to yours is the same technique used for making soups and stews when you want flavour from spices. You just bag it in that tea bag like mesh and tie it up then drop it in and let it infuse. Basically the tea bag solution as you say. This is a topic I’ve been looking to discuss on my blog also so thanks for sharing your experience!

    Tanya

    • My Heart Beets says

      No need to change what’s working for ya 🙂 Whole spices just add a different kind of flavor – permeates throughout the oil and adds a lot of aroma too. If you give it a try, tell me what you think 🙂

  4. Claire cornforth says

    Thank you for the advice. I have just made a beautiful curry but my husband doesn’t like the seeds etc. Everyone else loved it. What can I possibly do apart from sieve it. I do not want to take away any flavour. Could I puree it up perhaps. Thanks in advance

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