This spice mix, panch phoran, is the taste of Bengal. It is a blend of five spices, hence its name which translates literally into English as “five spices”.
It is used in almost every recipe from Bengal. Typically you will temper some mustard oil with these spices to start the dish. Or you might pour the tempered oil over dal or vegetables.
The mix has a slightly bitter taste from the fenugreek seeds with earthy flavours from the cumin and and nigella seeds.
Panch phoran is always used whole and never ground.
The ratios of the five spices are consistent – a rare thing in Indian cuisine – and each spice is in equal quantities. What is debated is whether mustard seeds or celery seeds are used. Traditionally, celery seeds are used, but mustard seeds are a common substitute.
You can readily purchase panch phoran from Indian grocers. Look on the ingredients panel for those that use celery seeds, rather than mustard seeds, and check that it contains nothing other than celery, fennel, cumin, fenugreek and nigella seeds. Look also at packaging dates to ensure you get the freshest possible mix.
Of course, a homemade version is better. This is nothing more than a mix of fresh spice seeds – and freshness is the key requirement for this mix.
A link to our recipe is below.