Eight flavors to each spice?

As a hook to describe the complexity of spices and the layering of flavors in Indian cuisine, Raghavan Iyer talks about how spices have eight flavors depending on how they are prepared. The idea is that you get different flavors depending on:

  • plain(whole vs. ground)
  • toasted(whole vs. ground)
  • cooked in oil(whole vs. ground)
  • soaked in liquid(whole vs. ground)

I first heard Iyer’s description applied to cumin in a Splendid Table interview, and recently encountered it applied to coriander seeds in Iyer’s book 660 Curries. It makes sense that different components of a spice will react differently depending on their solubility in water or oil, and their reactions to heat.

Iyer is sometimes vague in his descriptions of the flavors, e.g. “Take those toasted seeds and grind them, and they smell nothing like any of their previous incarnations.” Has any one encountered (or home tested!) a detailed treatment of these “8 flavors” in various spices? I’m gonna try to do some experimenting on my own, and could use some vocabulary to stay somewhat consistent (like the wine wheel).


Makes perfect sense

1 Like

I can’t say I’ve ever done a formal side-by-side comparison, but I use cumin seeds, (for example), via all of those various prep methods and definitely know there’s a difference.

As Scubadoobie97 notes, “Makes perfect sense.”

Let’s eat!

Ditto. But I would be very interested to follow your experiments!

I’m only Scubadoobie97 when in Colorado :wink:


Darn autocorrect! :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:

Personally I think saying eight new flavors is both simplistic, and misleading. It is more of a continuum, than new flavors.

1 Like

I think of a continuum when adding small amounts of water to whiskey and tasting as you go. Raw, toasted or fried spices can be quite different

The ones cooked in oil and soaked in liquid, are those toasted first? For coriander and cumin seeds, I use all these combinations.

I think it’s pretty obvious, in general. My parents are from a region in Pakistan where usually untoasted spices are fried in oil. When I first read passages in Indian cookbooks extolling the virtues of toasting spices, I tried it for a while but I did not agree that toasting is better. I think it emphasizes different flavor notes, but does not “enhance” the flavor.

I agree in spirit with JMF. It’s not as big a deal as it’s made out to be. Whole vs ground is the most important distinction.

Help cover Hungry Onion's costs when you shop at Amazon!

Bessarabsky Market, Kyiv. Ukraine
Credit: Juan Antonio Segal, Flickr