panch phoron is a combination of five spices (panch in Hindi and in Persian means five). The most popular quintet is: mustard seed, cumin seed, fenugreek seeds, nigella seeds (see black cumin), and fennel seeds. However, alternatives include aniseed (see anise), cassia leaves, and red chillies.
This spice mixture comes from the eastern coastal state of Bengal and gives a distinctive aroma and flavour to pulse and vegetable dishes. The spices, which are usually left whole, are fried in hot oil or ghee, to which they impart their perfume, before the other ingredients are added.