Sambar Powder: The Maratha Spice Blend

Sambar powder is a spice blend used in sambar, a tamarind-based soup. One legend has it that a Maratha ruler invented sambar when he attempted to make dal himself while his chef was away. He did this by adding tamarind to dal and calling the resulting dish sambar. This type of sambar is still made today in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu where the dish is typically seasoned with sambar powder.

Another legend states that another ruler in Tamil Nadu invented it in the attempt to make a dal dish called amti for a guest visiting his court. The ruler’s name was Shahuji Bhonsle and he ruled from 1684 to 1712. The dish required kokum, which is a sour fruit that is often halved and dried to be used as a souring agent. Kokum was unavailable as was another essential ingredient, moong dal. Moong dal is known in the west as the mung bean. He used tamarind and toor dal (pigeon peas) instead to make the dish. Other sources claim that the dish actually originated in Karnataka, which is right next to Tamil Nadu.

Sambar powder flavor profile

Sambar powder’s ingredients are subject to variation, but common ingredients include:

Those ingredients make sambar powder a heavily aromatic spice blend with a spicy kick. The level of spice does vary from blend to blend.

Health benefits of sambar powder

Almost all of the ingredients in sambar powder provide significant amounts of vitamins and minerals, which makes it an effective tool for supplementing these nutrients and others in your diet. The nutrients in sambar powder include:


The red chili peppers in sambar powder contain high levels of vitamin A, while coriander seeds have smaller amounts. Mustard seeds offer modest amounts of various B vitamins.

  • Minerals: The turmeric in sambar powder supplies a considerable amount of iron, which is also found in coriander seeds and chana dal. Mustard seeds provide magnesium and a high level of selenium.
  • Fiber: Most of the ingredients in sambar powder are good sources of dietary fiber.

By including sambar powder in your diet, you may be able to treat or prevent health conditions like:

  • Skin diseases: Mustard seeds are thought to have anti-inflammatory properties that make them be beneficial for treating psoriasis and contact dermatitis.
  • Liver-related illnesses: Turmeric is a powerful antioxidant and is thought to be especially beneficial for liver health. It can help to keep your liver from being damaged by toxins.
  • Cancer: Both mustard seeds and turmeric show significant promise when it comes to cancer prevention. Mustard seeds contain a class of phytochemicals called isothiocyanates, while turmeric contains a compound called curcumin. There is evidence that isothiocyanates can inhibit cancer growth, especially in gastrointestinal and colorectal cancer. Curcumin is thought to have a similar effect on breast, prostate and liver cancer among other types of cancer.

Common uses of sambar powder

There are numerous versions of Sambar, with each region in India producing the dish in its own particular style. The dish sambar can include a vast number of fruits and vegetables, including bananas. For example, the Tamil Nadu version includes its seasonings in powder form while the neighboring state of Karnataka seasons theirs using spice pastes.

Migrants to Kerala from Tamil Nadu brought the sambar dish with them and added local ingredients like coconut. Sambar powder is a highly versatile spice blend that can work with a number of ingredients. In addition to its traditional use, you can use it like other spice blends. Use it to flavor soups, sauces and in dry rubs for meat.