Sri Lankan Spices

Before I tell you about the Sri Lankan spices (or rather spice mixtures), let me remind you about this month’s Eating with the Seasons event that’s hosted here at Maninas. This month, we are celebrating the seasonal ingredients for January, so hurry up and send me your entries on or before 15 January! As always, I look forward to your seasonal tips and recipes!


Anyhow, back to Sri Lankan spices! In my introductory post on this beautiful and aromatic cuisine , I mentioned spice mixtures that are characteristic for Jasmine’s Sri Lankan cooking: Sri Lankan garam masala, Sri Lankan curry powder, etc. What I didn’t tell you then that Jasmine packed me home with a little treasure: stacks of her spices and recipes for how to make them! In addition to the curry powder and the garam masala, I’ve also got a recipe for her tempering spices and rasam powder. Enjoy!


Sri Lankan Garam Masala

Sri Lankan garam masala is very different from what I know as Indian garam masalas (For a wealth of regional Indian recipes, check out Vegeyum’s beautiful and informative post). The most important difference is that the spices not roasted; cinnamon, cardamom and cloves are simply ground together raw, and the flavours of cloves and cardamom are dominant. The masala is used in certain meat and vegetable curries, and the recipe is simple:


1 tbsp green cardamom pods

1 tbsp cloves

2 cinnamon sticks, about 7 cm in length each


Simply grind all the ingredients together.

NOTE: Proportion of the ingredients can vary. The flavours of cardamom and cloves are dominant, but to what extent? Play around and find your own winning combination!

At first, I found the flavour of raw cloves a little challenging, but I soon got over it, and got used to it. In fact, I started loving it, and craving it!


Sri Lankan Curry Powder

Sri Lankan curry powder is roasted, and not ‘raw’: the spices are roasted and then ground, which gives them a seductive nutty flavour. The curry powder is often added to the dishes at the final stages of cooking, to finish off the flavours. There are numerous versions of the recipe, and it’s usually homemade. This is Jasmine’s:


200 g fennel seeds

100 g cumin seeds

1 tbsp green cardamom pods

1 tbsp cloves

2 cinnamon sticks, about 7.5 cm in length each

a handful of curry leaves

pandan leaves, 7 cm piece (optional)


All the ingredients are roasted briefly together, and then ground.


Jasmine’s Tempering Spices

Jasmine uses this spice mixture for tempering her delectable dhals and vegetable preparations.


Brown mustard seeds

cumin seeds

fennel seeds


Equal amounts of these spices are simply coarsely ground all together (unroasted).


Jasmine’s Rasam Powder


1 cup coriander seeds

1 dessert spoon of cumin seeds

1 dessert spoon of fennel seeds

1 dessert spoon of black pepper

a few dried red chillies


The spices are simply ground all together (unroasted).

ALSO: Jasmine keeps at hand a mixture of freshly ground, raw cumin and black pepper, which I think is a great idea as I love both of these flavours.


I don’t have a recipe for Sri Lankan chilli powder (which is a mixture of spices),  as she shared with me some of her own, sent to her especially and all the way from Sri Lanka. I really am lucky! 🙂 (A quick note: I’ve noticed she uses chilli powder when cooking meat, and certain vegetable curries, and green chillies in other vegetable preparations and dhal.)

There you go! Now we’re all set to cook Sri Lankan! (Though I appreciate that many of these ingredients may be difficult to find for many people.) More delicious recipes coming next! In fact, I’m going to post a Sri Lankan recipe for a leek and cabbage side dish  with coconut for the January Eating with the Seasons, so stay tuned!



My other posts and recipes on Sri Lankan cooking:

The aroma of curry leaves: Sri Lankan cooking (Introduction)

Varar – Sri Lankan cabbage and leek with coconut

Sri Lankan coconut dhal

Sri Lankan Fish Cutlets


Leave a comment


  1. Some great spice mixes, thanks for sharing! I don’t think I’ll make this month’s event, but hopefully I’ll be back in for February!


  2. Super! Za Garam Masala i Rasam Powder imam sve sastojke tako da ću ih uskoro napraviti. 🙂
    Čekam ovaj poriluk jer baš je sezona i plac ga je pun, a meni nije ukusan spremljen kao obično varivo.


  3. SYLVIE, Thanks! I look forward to your entries. Hope you had a good break and happy new year!

    ANDREA, cool! samo vidi sto sam napisala ispod recepta o garam masali. Eno napisala sam post o poriluku. Probaj ga – cak i bez curry leaves, kombinacija okusa je fantasticna.


  4. realfoodlover

     /  25 January, 2009

    I am a fool! Hitherto I have only used sticks of cinnamon and whole cloves for sweet dishes. I have just realised – thanks to reading your recipe for Sri Lankan garam masala – I can use them in savoury dishes. What a revelation – can’t wait to try…

    However grinding them is another matter. I do not have a coffee grounder, only a pestle and mortar. What do you use?


  5. Jasmine calls the spices in garam masala ‘sweet spices’. Precisely because they’re also used in sweet dishes.

    Actually, I use pestle and mortat only. A very heavy duty one, though. But it’s still hard work.

    My mother-in-law recently used the food processor to grind some cinnamon (only a few small pieces). I’m talking the big bowl here. If you have a food processor with a smaller bowl, that would be even better. I have a Magimix that has 3 bowls of different sizes, which is really handy for chopping different quantities of food.


  6. realfoodlover

     /  27 January, 2009

    Ah, sweet spices – that makes sense. And makes me feel better about my ignorance!

    As for grinding – I will continue to investigate. I use a pestle and mortar – and my magimix is so circa 1980s…not sure if it is up for grinding.

    I think I need a mini coffee-bean grinder!


  7. I think my mother-in-law’s magimix is about the same age as yours! 🙂 thought it might have worked because they were sticks of cinnamon. Not sure what would have happened with say peppercons. Which makes me thing – how about a pepper grinder? That would work, too!

    I’d quite like a coffee bean grinder, too. I have one, but I use it for coffee only. It’s truly ancient, but it works a treat. I think it’s from the 70s or something. Let me know if you find a good one!


  8. I’m chiming in late with some quibbles and corrections. 🙂

    Curries, the spices involved, and how they’re used vary tremendously within Sri Lanka based on both ethnic and regional variations. Tamil Jaffna curries are very different from Moor Kurunegala curries, but even within the Tamil Jaffna community, there will still be variations.

    Curry powder in Sri Lanka is available both as roasted and as unroasted, and there are some regional offerings, ie Jaffna curry powder.

    In our household, we rarely use roasted curry powder, for example. We infrequently use unroasted curry powder, for that matter. For the majority of our recipes, we add the individual spices to each dish as needed rather than using premade curry or other spice mixes. This is how my mother-in-law (Kurunegala Moor) taught me, and it’s how my Sri Lankan cookbooks (sold in Sri Lanka for the Sri Lankan audience) do it.

    As well, the chilli powder that’s available in stores here is from a single chilli pepper and is available as both roasted and unroasted. I haven’t yet seen a chilli powder mix – it could be regional to where Jasmine is from or something special that her family does.

    I’m looking forward to reading more of your Sri Lankan recipes. I’m always looking for something great that’s new-to-me. 🙂


  9. Hi Laurie, welcome to my blog!

    I’m sure there are many ethnic and regional varieties in Sri Lankan cooking. Heck, spice mixtures vary even from family to family! I did say these are spice mixtures characteristic of Jasmine’s cooking. Sorry if that wasn’t clear.

    Thanks for informing me about the chili powder mixture (or not a mixture, for that matter). I didn’t know that.

    My friend uses both individual spices, and spice mixtures though.

    I borrowed a book from a friend written by Charmaine Solomon (Sri Lankan, Sinhalese I believe) that contains a lot of Sri Lankan recipes. Looks interesting!

    I will be sharing some more of Jasmine’s recipes. Stay tuned! And of course, I look forward to reading yours!


  10. Huh. Whaddya know, I am blind! Yes, you did mention that it was characteristic of Jasmine’s cooking, and yet I didn’t even see that. 😀 Sorry if I provided any more confusion than I usually do. 🙂

    I haven’t seen Charmaine Solomon’s cookbook, so I have no idea about her recipes, but I’m looking forward to seeing what you conjure up. 🙂


  11. That’s OK, no problem.

    It was great to read about your perspective on Sri Lankan food and your community, too.


  12. Ana

     /  6 July, 2010

    Those 3C’s (spices) are known as meat spices.

    Check spiceindiaonline for the Sri Lankan Chilli Powder. It is written as Sri Lankan Meat Curry Powder.

    The Powder you mentioned as Sri Lankan Curry Powder is a Sinhalese version which should have 8 spices. It is called Thunapaha (3 – 5)

    Tamils do not have anything as that. They have chilli powder and meat spices.

    Sri Lankan Fish Curry Powder:

    Hope that helps. I am not saying your friend is wrong. I think she got adapted to a fusion.


    • Hi Ana,

      Like I said above, these spice mixtures are characteristic for Jasmine’s Sri Lankan cooking – I don’t claim them to be Tamil at all. Also, the recipes above are Jasmine’s, so they carry her personal touch and they are how she makes them. She does say her cooking is a fusion of different regional styles, in fact she is Christian married to a Tamil, and combines different cooking styles.

      What do you mean by 3 Cs? 3 curries?

      Thanks for letting me know about what I knew as chilli powder! Now I can make it myself when my stash, generously donated by my friend, runs out. 😀


  13. Ana

     /  6 July, 2010

    3 Cs are Cardamon, Cinnamon and Cloves. 🙂

    Glad you found the link useful.


  14. Ana

     /  6 July, 2010

    Though we claim Sri Lankan food, those three races have different style of cooking. Like India (Punjabi food, South Indian Food, Bengali Food, Malayalee’s Food.) That is why I mentioned it. The way we make dal and the way Sinhalese make it are different. 🙂 My Sinhalese buddies put Rambai leave, Thunapaha and Chilli Flakes. They dont put black pepper. Whereas Tamils put, black pepper and not Thunapaha or Rambai. Rambai Leaves are used for meat curry.

    In India the Tamils call the red one as curry. We Sri Lankan Tamils call everything as Curry. Pal Curry is the White Gravy. Kuzhambu is (Kulambu is wrong) is the red spicy curry. So, it would be fine to write as Spicy Fish Curry or Meen Kuzhambu. Hope I cleared it. 🙂

    Good Day


  15. Ana

     /  6 July, 2010

    Rambai Leaves are used for meat curry in SL Tamil Version


  16. I enjoy exploring Indian regional cuisines a lot, and know there is a lot of variety in Sri Lankan cooking, so thank you for your comments and for all the information. I enjoy reading it.

    Hey, would you like to do a guest post on my blog about Tamil Sri Lankan food? If you’re up for it, that would be fantastic!

    How do you make your dhal? Dhal is some of my favourite food, so I’d love to know.

    What is Thunapaha?

    Also, can you recommend some good Sri Lankan cookery books? I have Charmaine Solomon’s Asain Cookbook which has a section on Sri Lankan food, mainly Sinhalese I think (she is a Sri Lankan author). Do you know it? If yes, what do you think of it?

    Also, if you know any Sri Lankan blogs, please drop me a line.


  17. Ana

     /  6 July, 2010

    Oh that’s a great honour to me. But I am afraid too. I follow my grand mothers recipe only. She is from Jaffna. People may find it unhealthy for the amount of coconut milk we use. Yet, I can give it a try as its an honour for me to share our recipes.

    Recipe for Dal Curry:
    Its a very simple version they use at homes.

    Sputter mustard seeds and fennel seeds. Once done add onion (cut lengthwise), Green chilli (slit opened), Garlic (cut into halves) and curry leaves. Keep sauteing until they turn lightly brown.

    Now add dal and water (the level should be one inch above the dal – inch is the hand measurement.) add some turmeric powder and bring it to boil.

    Once the dal get cooked add coconut milk, salt and pepper powder. Bring the flame to high for a min and they bring it back to medium and let it thickens.

    150 grams Dal
    1-2 medium size onion
    3-5 Green chillis
    8-10 Cloves of Garlic (Cut or grind it)
    1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon black pepper powder (You can grind half a teaspoon of whole pepper too.)

    If you are using coconut milk powder use 2 – 3 teaspoon powder. If you want you can add a bit more to make it thick.

    If you are using coconut milk use 150 ml low fat milk.

    You can add a teaspoon of ghee when you are adding coconut milk. We add ghee when we cook vegetarian meals. if not we dont add it.

    The oil we use are gingelly oil (sesame oil) and coconut oil. Mostly we sesame oil as its a healthy one.

    Since we dont get home made ghee here (Aussie), what I do is i heat a teaspoon of gingelly oil in a pan then add a small slice of butter and let it melt. then splutter mustard seeds and the rest. It gives good flavour to the curry.

    Sinhalese buddies Version: They guys are from Villages. So I believe they use the traditional version.

    They add rambai along with onion and the rest.

    The have a spice called Thunapaha (8 Different spices roasted and ground into powder)

    The also add Red Chilli flakes when they add turmeric powder.

    The rest is just the same.

    The dal curry looks yellow in colour.

    There is a spicy version of it. You just have to add the curry powder (the one called meat curry powder) along with turmeric powder. Do not need to add pepper.

    Hope it helps.



    • wow – thanks for the recipe! I will definitely try it when I come back from my holidays.

      (I removed your email from the comment so you don’t get a lot of Internet spam – but I have your email, no worries. It’s submitted together with your comments.)

      And thank you so much for agreeing to do the guest post! Please don’t be afraid! One great thing about blogs is that they are individual, and they are all about people – I’m know I will love reading about your grandmother’s recipes and about her if you write about her – and I’m sure many of my readers will!

      I’m away for a week from tomorrow, but do drop me an email if you have any questions, and I’ll get back to you after I come back.

      Once again, I look forward to your post!


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