Five Basic Spices for Making Delicious South African Curry

South African Curry

Aromatic spices are at the heart of South African dishes. It is indeed hard to describe the intriguing undertones and subtle aromas of food that is delicately spiced. Flavours can range from fragrant nutmeg, cloves, and cinnamon to pungency of hot chillis. Here are some of the spices that are popularly used in South African curry.


Cumin is a spice that adds a sweet earthy flavour to the dishes. It compliments a dish beautifully and its pungency is great for any gamey like a lamb, venison or goat. Cumin is the seed of an umbelliferous plant that belongs to the parsley family. It can be used as whole or ground into a brownish-green powder. The spicy, sweet aroma of cumin adds warmth to the dishes and is one of the key ingredients in South African curry, soups, and stews. It also has several health benefits like reliving stomach troubles, and as a digestive aid.


Fennel is a plant with aromatic stalk, bulb, and leaves. The seeds of this plant are used as an ingredient in South African curry powders. Fennel seeds can also be consumed whole. They produce a nice aroma that makes your South African curry recipes taste great. Fennel has a nutty licorice flavour and imparts a bright, light and spring-like quality to your dish. It is rich in Vitamins A and C, and also contains good quantities of calcium and potassium.

Coriander Seeds

Coriander seeds fall into the sweet or warm spice category. This implies that it is used as a base ingredient in spice mixes like curry powders. It has a mild citrusy flavour and an earthy aroma. It is a rich source of volatile oils that are released during cooking.

Apart from curries, coriander seeds are also used in the preparation of soups and stews. They can be used in whole or ground form. The flavour difference between the two, however, is pretty nuanced. The difference lies in the way they are used in cooking. Whole seeds are added at the beginning of cooking or used for marinades and rubs.

Ground version, on the other hand, can be added midway in the cooking process and imparts great flavour to the dish.


Cardamom has a strong, pungent, sweet aroma and flavour, with hints of mint and lemon. South African curries use a powdered form of cardamom. This spice is available in two varieties – green and black. Green cardamom is often considered as true cardamom and is commonly used in spice mixes. Black cardamom has larger pods and a smoky element that makes it ideal for savory dishes.

Mustard seeds

These small, perfectly spherical seeds are used in many cultures and traditions. While there are over 40 varieties of the plant, only two varieties are commonly harvested. One produces the commonly used pungent brown seeds that have a sharp and spicy flavour. The other variety yields yellowish- white seeds. Nevertheless, these seeds are essential for enjoying delicious South African curries.

Spices are the backbone of a great curry recipe. They impart great aroma and flavour that makes the dishes irresistible. A South African curry is a perfect blend of these spices and leaves you craving for more.