The distinct aroma of Bengali cuisine is mostly due to the blend of spices known as panch phoron, or perhaps some other variation on this name (see below). Panch means “five” and phoron is “flavour” or “spice”, hence the common translation Bengali Five-Spice”.
Panch phoron is a colourful blend of flavourful seeds: the green of fennel seed, black mustard and nigella seeds, golden fenugreek and buff-coloured cumin seeds. Some variations may substitute anise for the fennel seeds or wild mustard for cumin, radhuni seed for mustard, and possibly black cumin for nigella. Generally the ingredients are added in equal proportions, though this can vary according to taste.
Panch phoron is usually fried in oil or ghee before adding anything else to the pot, flavouring the oil and releasing the aroma of the oils in the seeds and causing them to pop in the pan. Other ingredients are added at this point, the mixture adding sweetness and bringing forward the flavours of vegetables, beef, fish or lentils.