10 Common Spices You Might Have

Before you read on, pause and go to your kitchen right now!

Take a good look at your spices box and without looking at their labels, name at least 5 of them! Leave out the orang putih herbs like oregano and rosemary, we’re going local! It may be a little hard to believe, but as far as the tradition of Malaysian cuisine preparation goes, we like to campak-campak our spices and herbs into our cooking, just like how our Mak, Ahh-Mah and Amma trained us to. Somehow always menjadi.

If you had trouble naming most of them, we don’t blame you. We’ll admit it’s a little hard to remember them especially since we’re all so used to dashing a teaspoon-size from each tub for every dish.

Today we’re probably going to shame your spices knowledge a little- but it’s for your own good! So next time you find yourself having to cook abroad, at least you’ll know what to bring from back home. In case your mom’s too busy, that is. (Ahem!)

Let’s get started!

  1. Bunga Cengkih (Clove)

Bunga cengkih

You’d have seen this one lurking around in your Biryani. Besides giving that warm-spicy seasoning to our favourite Indian rice, these mini streetlamp-looking things actually can prevent constipation and contain a good amount of Vitamin K which is an important factor in bone health and wound healing. Read more: https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/benefits-of-cloves#section1


  1. Bunga Lawang (Star Anise)

Aren’t they beautiful? These seed pods are a must in Chinese cooking! In soups, roasts and braised dishes, they carry a sweet-warm flavour reminiscent of licorice. Did you know that it is the primary source of shikimic acid used in medicinal drugs as an anti-viral? It’s pretty impressive that we have something that is used to fight influenzas hanging around in your house.

Read more: https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/star-anise#benefits


  1. Halba (Fenugreek)


Used commonly in Indian dishes for its sweetening and thickening properties, fenugreek hails from the soy family. Besides users of fenugreek reporting that they smell like maple syrup, this herb actually helps mothers produce more milk! Rich in antioxidants, studies show that it’s great for both men and women’s general health.

Read more: https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/fenugreek#bottom-line


  1. Jintan (Cumin)

Jintan Putih

Cumin is a good source of iron, manganese, magnesium, calcium, phosphorus and vitamins A, B6, C, E and K. It is said that a teaspoon of cumin daily can help you meet your daily nutrient requirements. How did we not know a powerful super food was just lepak-ing in our kitchen?!

Read more: https://www.organicfacts.net/health-benefits/seed-and-nut/health-benefits-of-cumin.html


  1. Biji Buah Pala (Nutmeg)

Biji buah pala

Some of us who were very prone to accidents growing up might be familiar with nutmeg! To prevent a bruise bump from forming, nutmeg powder is made into a paste and gently applied to the affected area. It turns out, it has anti-inflammatory, antioxidation and pain-relieving properties that make it an effective remedy for when you get a boo-boo.

Read more: https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/nutmeg-benefits#section1


  1. Buah Pelaga (Cardamom)

Buah pelaga

Looks like  what we’re learning from this article is not to judge something right off the bat. Because bitter spices and herbs actually make food and drinks a 100 times more delicious! Cardamom is found in that masala tea and biryani that you love so much. It also helps people with high blood pressure because of its high levels of antioxidants.

Read more: https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/cardamom-benefits#section1


  1. Serbuk kunyit (Turmeric powder)

Serbuk kunyit

This is probably the most recognisable spice and if you don’t know it.. You probably haven’t experienced the ‘joy’ of having yellow-stained hands after marinating chicken or prawns. And if you’ve been to a full-on Indian wedding, you’d have seen the haldi used as a bride’s mask- turmeric contains curcumin, which is a strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compound. The yellow also gives you a healthy glow!

Read more: https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/top-10-evidence-based-health-benefits-of-turmeric#section4


  1. Biji Sawi (mustard seeds)

Biji sawi

Comes in black and yellow, we’ve seen it commonly used in local fish dishes like kari ikan and soups. But don’t let its common usage fool you, researchers are constantly studying it in gastrointestinal and colorectal cancer research for its phytonutrient compounds, which are said to be a great relief for skin diseases such as psoriasis and contact dermatitis and its anti-Inflammatory effects from Selenium and Magnesium helps bronchitis and asthmatic patients.

Read more: https://www.organicfacts.net/health-benefits/herbs-and-spices/mustard.html



  1. Kayu Manis (Cinnamon or Cassia)

Kayu manis

Surely you’ve seen those viral Whatsapp messages about Ceylon Cinnamon vs Cassi Cinnamon. Cassia, though not a true cinnamon, is not ‘poisonous’ as the viral message claims. Cassia cinnamon helps to improve insulin sensitivity, thus improving blood sugar control. Ceylon Cinnamon is loaded with powerful antioxidants, such as polyphenols and a great natural food preservative. Its usage in cooking is mainly for its beautiful warm aroma.Read more: https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/10-proven-benefits-of-cinnamon#section1


  1. Bonus: Rempah Empat Sekawan

4 sekawan 

This is a bonus one which is a group of four spices that have been mentioned above individually, but together, are the most commonly used spices in Malaysian cooking and are often referred to as ‘empat sekawan’- the four friends.  They are star anise (bunga lawang), cinnamon or cassia (kayu manis), cardamom (pelaga) and clove (bunga cengkih)!

The Chinese also have a group of commonly-used spices called the 5 spices. They are very similar with the exception of some:- star anise, cloves, cinnamon, Sichuan pepper and fennel seed. Some versions include others such as anise seeds, ginger root, nutmeg, turmeric, amomum villosum pods, cardamom pods, licorice, orange peel, or galangal.

Rempah ratusSource: https://www.thespruceeats.com/how-to-make-five-spice-powder-4065302

So there you go, more than 10 spice names that have been saving your dishes 🙂 It’s empowering too to know what you put in your food! At Ahh-Yum we definitely are a fan of using beneficial spices and herbs, especially the ones above, and staying away from nasties like MSG, artificial preservatives and colouring. We believe that when you eat healthy, you feel healthy and when you eat bad, you’ll most definitely feel bad. The choice is yours!