What is a Masala Spice Box?
Whether you are a refined Indian chef or a budding newbie, your kitchen would not be complete without the key Indian spices that – when combined – will make the perfect curry. Traditional Indian home cooks and increasingly, people worldwide are using the Indian Spice Box (or Tin) – aka as a Masala Dabba Spice Box – to store these essential spices, keep them fresh and also have them to hand all in one place.
In this article, you will learn about the key spices included in a Masala Dabba Spice Box (and that no kitchen should be without!), the rich history behind it, as well as some insider tips on keeping your spices fresh and flavourful for as long as possible.
What is an Indian Spice Box called?
An Indian Spice Tin or Box is traditionally known as a Masala Dabba Spice Box, and you might be interested to know that the Masala Dabba actually has a rich cultural history in India. A spice box would be given by a bride's mother as a wedding gift so that she could learn to cook amazing meals for her new family.
Spice Kitchen customers regularly tell us that they are buying our Indian Spice Tin for their children moving into a new home or leaving for university. We love to hear that the tradition of gift-giving a Masala Dabba Spice Box is still alive in our culture!
What is a Masala Dabba Spice Box?
A Masala Dabba Spice Box is typically one large (often round) stainless steel tin with an airtight lid that is designed to store and keep your spices fresh. It is a popular spice storage container used widely in many Indian kitchens.
Inside, you will find seven removable tins that you can decant your spices into, together with a metal serving spoon that can be used for accurate measuring of your spices.
What are the different types of Indian spices?
People can feel overwhelmed or nervous about cooking with spices, but here at Spice Kitchen, we find that once people understand what the different spices are and the flavour they can bring to their dishes, the whole thing is demystified.
It's often reassuring to know that several essential spices show up in almost every Indian recipe. These spices are used in different forms: whole, chopped, ground, roasted, sautéed, fried, and sometimes sprinkled on top of dishes at the end of cooking.
In terms of the flavour that the different spices contained within a Masala Dabba Spice Box offer, it's often enough to understand that:
- Chilli powder offers the most obvious form of heat but also adds a lovely vibrant colour too. Use sparingly if you are new to cooking with chilli.
- Cardamom offers a light and sweet, sweet flavour, with mild eucalyptus notes. This whole spice is a key ingredient in Rogan Josh.
- Cumin seeds When lightly toasted before adding to your dishes, cumin seeds offer that quintessentially Indian cooking aroma we all know and love. In terms of flavour, these seeds are just bursting with deep, earthy tones that will bring a lovely depth of smokiness to your dishes.
- Ground Coriander. Coriander is – incredibly – one of the oldest known spices in the world. The little round seeds are instantly recognisable, however, when ground and added to your dishes, they will offer warming citrus notes to elevate your recipes to another level.
- Turmeric is well-known for its beautifully vibrant golden colour, and this in itself will offer so much to your dishes over and above its characteristic earthy tones.
- Mustard seeds. The flavour of these beautiful little seeds is released when they are either crushes or tempered in oil. They offer a smoky, almost nutty flavour and are a staple in North Indian cooking.
- Cassia. Traditional Indian cooks use cassia instead of cinnamon in their cooking because – while the spices offer a similar flavour – cassia is slightly milder. This is the reason we have chosen to include Cassia Bark in our Indian Spice Tin instead of cinnamon.
- Cloves are really versatile and can be used whole or blended. They have a slightly medicinal flavour which some people love, and others don't enjoy. Be sparing with cloves at first, as they can overpower some of the more delicate flavours from your other spices.
- Garam masala. Essentially a blend of spices, the combination of which can vary from region to region.
What are the seven essential Indian spices?
If you want to try Indian cooking at home, the essential spices for any traditional Indian curry or recipe include: Chilli Powder, Cloves, Cumin Seeds, Cassia, Ground Coriander, Turmeric Powder and Cardamom.
All bring different benefits in terms of heat, flavour, warmth, colour and even health, and so it's totally up to you to decide how you want your dishes to turn out.
People are often worried about cooking with spices, but we are here to say that it's OK to experiment and find the spices you like the best. If a spice you don't enjoy is listed in a recipe, and either you don't like it or don't have it, leave it out. While there are some tips to cooking with spices, there are no hard and fast rules, and the important thing is that you are happy with the results!
What to put in an Indian Spice Box?
Your Spice Kitchen Indian Spice Tin comes packed with nine incredible spices. However, you can be totally creative and free to switch the spices in our separate storage jars depending on what you use the most.
So, after cooking with your Masala Dabba Spice Box for a few weeks or months, you might decide that you like to use more cinnamon in your cooking or that you prefer cayenne pepper to chilli powder.
The key is to make it work for you.
Which is the best Masala Dabba Spice Box?
When choosing an Indian Spice Box, you'll want to take into account several factors. Firstly, the range and quality of spices. Most spice collections in a Masala Dabba Spice Box offer you seven spices, whereas we have decided to offer nine beautiful spices. This is because the range of spices in our spice tin provides you with the full range of spices you will need to cook any Indian curry.
Can we keep masala in a wooden box?
There are many reasons why we wouldn't recommend storing your lovely spices in a wooden box. Firstly, spices are beautiful, and their colour adds vibrancy and interest to any kitchen. We love to store our spices in a stainless-steel Indian Spice Tin with a Perspex lid.
Not only can you see all your lovely spices this way, but the stainless-steel tin with lid option offers an airtight solution, meaning your spices stay as fresh as possible for longer.
An airtight lid helps to keep out air and moisture, which are two of the enemies when it comes to destroying the freshness of your Indian spices.
Which masala box is best?
If you are looking for the perfect Masala Dabba Spice Box to add to your kitchen, the Spice Kitchen Indian Spice Tin offers you a whopping nine spices and includes all of the spices you could need to make any Indian curry.
You will receive our award-winning Garam Masala, Chilli Powder, Cumin Seeds, Ground Coriander, Turmeric Powder, Mustard Seeds, Cassia, Cardamom and Cloves.
What's more, the Spice Kitchen Indian Spice Box comes with a beautifully illustrated recipe book that shares many of our family secrets and favourites.
There is the option for your Indian Spice Box to come wrapped in a handmade, recycled silk sari, making it a stunning addition to your kitchen shelf or table.
The stainless-steel tin with a Perspex lid ensures the quality and freshness of your spices.
How do you clean a masala box?
You can clean your Indian Spice Tin the way you would any kitchen container. Hot, soapy water is fine.
As you wash your Indian Spice Box, just be careful not to use any hard, abrasive scouring pads, as these can scratch and damage the stainless-steel container.
The key, however, to cleaning your Masala Dabba Spice Box is to make absolutely sure it is thoroughly dry before putting any spices into it. This means leaving it to dry on your sink unit and then wiping completely with kitchen roll or a freshly washed towel, inside and out. Take extra care to dry around the seal and on the underside of the lid, as this is where moisture can collect. Water is one of the worst things to happen to your spice collection, and so be patient when allowing your storage container to dry after washing it.
How do you store Indian spices?
Traditionally, Indian households use a stainless-steel spice box – or Masala Dabba Spice Box – to store their most-used spices. This, in our opinion, is the best storage option, as you'll have all of your favourite spices in one airtight container.
At Spice Kitchen, we freshly grind all of our spices to make sure they are super fresh. Spices can lose their punch, and it's really important to take stock and throw out anything that is losing its vibrancy or beautiful smell.
As a general rule, your ground spices will last about six months, while whole spices such as star anise or cardamom can retain flavour for an incredible five years. A little tip from Sanjay is, before you throw away a spice, sprinkle a little on your hand and give it a sniff. Fresh spices are so fragrant, and you'll instantly be able to tell if it's past its best. Spices that are too old aren't going to add good flavour, which is terrible news for your dishes and so get rid!
The key to freshness and retaining the best flavour is to ensure that your Indian spices are kept out of direct sunlight, and so find a place in your home where is shade. Ideally, you want to keep your spices in a cool, dark place. A cupboard is perfect, as long as it isn't close to a radiator or your oven.
The other thing to consider is keeping your spices close to where you'll be preparing your food, as you're going to want everything in easy reach when you're busy cooking up a storm in the kitchen!
A Masala Dabba Spice Box is your go-to 'friend in the kitchen' when you want to make a fantastic curry for your family or loved ones. Not only will it store all of your favourite spices in one place, but it will also keep them fresh and flavourful for much longer than if you kept them in unsealed packets in your cupboard. The freshness of your spices is the key to great flavour, so remember to keep your spices away from sunlight or any direct heat from your oven.
There is room to store the seven essential spices of Indian cooking in your tin; you will have everything you need to hand to make almost every Indian curry you can imagine.