Indian Tadka: The Art of Tempering Spices

Indian tadka involves frying whole and ground spices to unleash more of their flavor and aroma. Read on to learn about the art of tempering spices to make your food taste even better!

indian tadka in large metal wok

Indian cuisine is popular around the world, and for good reason. Their dishes are aromatic and full of vibrant flavors, and occasionally, a burst of spicy heat.  Who can resist a mouthwatering butter chicken, chana masala, or dal gosht stew?

Some of the vibrant flavors in those Indian meals come from an infused cooking oil or ghee that is added to the dish, either during or after the cooking process. 

The process itself (a verb) and the resulting liquid (a noun) share the same name, or rather, one of several names, depending on the region it’s made in.

Indian Tadka

Alternate names / spellings: tarka, chhonk, chaunk, bagar, baghaar phodni, vagarne, oggarane (and likely, a few others)

The Hindi word tadka is a homonym. Think back to school and you may recall learning that homonyms are words that have more than one meaning. (The dog will bark vs. the bark on a tree.)

In English, tarka means, to temper, or tempering.

map of India

The Tarka Technique: Tempering Spices

The Indian tadka technique is, at its core, very basic, and it isn’t a difficult process to make one, but it does require some planning and prep work to prevent things from burning.

spices getting tempering in hot oil - tadka

If you make chocolate confections,  you may be familiar with tempering chocolate, which is completely different from tempering spices. 

Tempering spices involves frying or roasting whole or ground spices in a cooking oil or another fat (typically ghee) to release their essence.

Tempering chocolate involves heating and cooling chocolate to stabilize it for making chocolate candies.

Again, the tarka technique is the physical act of blooming a spice mixture. The resulting spice-infused oil, also called a tarka, is then used to add flavor to a dish.

5 spoons, each holding a different whole Indian spice

When to Make and Use Indian Tadka 

As you’re creating a recipe, there are 3 ways to use the infused oil to add flavor to the dish.

  1. At the beginning of the cooking process

    Let’s say you’re making an Indian curry recipe. You might start by first making a tadka in the bottom of the pot, then adding the other curry ingredients to the spiced oil.
  2. During the cooking process.

    As a stew or dal simmers in the pot, you might temper a spice mixture to stir into it.

    As you are frying spices, keep in mind that a ground spice will cook faster than whole ones. Add the whole ones to the pan first and a minute later, add the ground spice(s).
  3. As a garnish.

    Finishing or garnishing a dish with a drizzle of Indian tadka is a great way to add a boost of flavor and aroma. You might drizzle some over scrambled eggs, or to garnish a bowl of lentils or cauliflower soup.

Regardless of when the tarka is made and added to the dish, the ingredients will receive a punch of vibrant flavor and incredible aroma!

tadka spices on soup top


What spices and leaves are in tadka?

The actual spices in a tarka will vary depending on the dish being made. Essentially, any whole or ground spice may be used. Various kinds of chiles, ginger, garlic and shallots. Also, edible leaves such as curry, bay leaf, and kaffir lime leaves are great choices for an Indian tadka.

What kind of oil is best for tempering spices?

While technically, any cooking oil or fat could be used to make a tarka, those with a high smoke point are best (canola oil, grapeseed oil, peanut oil, safflower oil). This is also why ghee or clarified butter are often used. You’ll want to use something with the least likely chance of burning.

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I was bitten by the cooking bug as a kid cooking and baking along side my mom. After an ROP restaurant course in high school, I went to work in restaurants and catering. My love of travel and food has led me across the world and I love to share those foods with family and friends.

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