Panch phoran is a Bengali spice blend that is sometimes referred to as Indian five spice. You will need it for a variety of dishes such as shukto and other favorites from Eastern India and Bangladesh. It may not be easy to find this spice blend in a hurry unless you live near an Indian grocery store. If you need a panch phoran substitute, try one of the following options:
Your best bet: Make your own panch phoran
As with most spice blends, making your own is often the best and easiest alternative to a premixed blend. Panch phoran is no exception. Most of the constituent spices can be found online. If that is not an option, consider your local Indian grocery store. Spices like nigella seeds and radhuni are not widely available in the west, which means that your best bet may be to opt for a substitute. Radhuni is particularly difficult to find outside of India; Indian immigrants in the West often use celery seeds instead. Oregano is often recommended as a nigella substitute.
One of the factors that make panch phoran so easy to make is that the traditional blend requires the same amount of each spice. In other words, there is no complex recipe to follow. Note that this is all subject to the taste of the cook, which means that you should adjust the ingredients if the standard blend does not suit your palate.
A decent second choice: Curry powder
When considering a substitute for a spice blend, it is often a good idea to look at the main flavor in the blend. With panch phoran, there are a couple of heavy hitters when it comes to pungency; however, few spices come close to fenugreek when it comes dominating other ingredients. With most curry powder blends, fenugreek is as prominent in the flavor profile as turmeric is in the color. Speaking of which, you will want to use curry powder only on dishes where the bright yellow color is not a problem. Note also that curry powder is (as the name suggests) powder, which means that it will not be as useful for tempering as the whole spices in panch phoran since it is more likely to scorch. You will have to add it to the dish in powdered form, either before or after you finish cooking.
Because the spices in curry powder are not as pungent as panch phoran’s ingredients, you should consider using more of it. Still, it is a good idea to start with an equivalent amount and then add more to taste.
In a pinch: The three strongest components (Fennel seed, cumin and fenugreek)
Panch phoran is known for the pungency of its five ingredients, but some are more pungent than others. If you are in a hurry, you can just use the three most intense spices if you don’t have all of them. Of course, this means that your dish will be missing some of the background notes from the remaining two spices; however, you will have the main ones covered. Fennel seed, cumin, and fenugreek will convey most of what you want from a panch phoran blend. These three spices are also much easier to find in an American grocery store when compared to nigella seeds and radhuni.
When using this abbreviated version of panch phoran, you will want to increase the amounts of each spice to compensate for the missing ingredients. If you planned on using a tablespoon of panch phoran, you will want to increase each of the three to 1/3 tablespoon from 1/5 tablespoon.
Berbere spice is a fenugreek-heavy Ethiopian spice blend that can provide a similar flavor profile to panch phoran but with a little chile heat on the back end.