India has a rich heritage related to the spices which have been grown here. The story of spices in Kerala is thousand years older and the major contribution of spice export from India is also Kerala. Kerala has shown its dominance over spices and marked the richness of spices obtainable in its latitudinal area. Situated in Southwestern part in India, it has served a wide range of vegetarian as well as non-vegetarian food in its cuisine.
Kerala is the “Spice Capital of India” and “Land of Spices”. The trading business of spices in Kerala is very primitive including England and one of the oldest tradings of spices is with the Sumerians. So Kerala has become the leader of spices all over the world. The spice trade in Kerala is flourishing very well till date. There is numerous and varied type of spices grown in Kerala, some of them are listed below. Let’s take a look at them:
The Most Popular Spices in Kerala!
Pepper – The Black Gold
Pepper is considered as “king of Spices”. Its popularity, richness of flavour and medicinal values helped pepper to get the title of king of spices. Kerala’s pepper is often seen as the reason that has lead to colonial wars. The pepper has thus marked a changing scenario in the history of spice story of India.
Black pepper is the world’s most cultivated as well as the most traded spice in the world. It has been used in approximately every dish all over the world. In outer countries, pepper is paired with salt and it compliments every dish. It is produced by green circular drupes of the pepper plant. It helps in giving spiciness to any dish without adding chillies. Pepper has numerous health benefits also as it is rich in many vitamins and minerals. Some of the benefits are: it acts as an anti-inflammatory, it is a superb antioxidant and it helps in enhancing the absorption of nutrients.
Cloves- The Dentist!
Clove is yet another popular spice that is primarily cultivated in Kerala. Numerous types of oils are being produced by cloves and usually used in all meat dishes which enriches the flavour even more. Apart from its uses in dishes, it is usually being used in maintaining dental health also. Many toothpaste, soap and perfumes use cloves for its medicinal values. Apart from helping in maintaining dental health it also helps in improving liver health if taken on a regular basis. Also helps in maintaining the bone density. It can often be used as antioxidants. It can help in curing stomach ulcer also.
Cardamom- The Queen of Spices
The aroma and flavour of cardamom are very distinct from other spices, this distinct feature resulted in increasing the demand for cardamom. Due to its popularity, Europeans have started to use it and started cultivating it in their local areas. It is used as prime ingredients for the production of many breath fresheners also. Apart from Europe, African and Arabian people have also used it. It is called “Queen of Spices”. It is having numerous health benefits like other spices have. Some of the health benefits are lowering blood pressure, it helps in protecting from chronic diseases as it helps in anti-inflammatory. It sometimes helps in proper digestion as well as treatment of stomach ulcer.
Cinnamon – The Best Antioxidant Spice
Cinnamon is basically the inner bark of trees with the scientific name “Cinnamomum”. It generally came up as rolls because it comes from trees. The compound you take in by consuming cinnamon has great health benefits. Cinnamon is also a natural food preservative as well as a brilliant antioxidant. Due to its anti-inflammatory benefits, it is very beneficial for repairing of body tissues and also help in fighting against many infections also.
Ginger – The Digestive Expert
The versatility of ginger is responsible for the popularity of ginger across the world. Kerala is also known for the high-quality production of ginger. Ginger has numerous health benefits also apart from adding flavour to food. It has numerous compounds that are useful in maintaining the metabolism of the body. It helps in increasing the fighting capacity of white blood cells of the body against any external infection or microbes. Ginger also adds a unique flavour in every dish. It is also useful in the treatment of nausea, cold and flu, indigestion, inflammation and many more health issues. Nowadays, people are using ginger extensively in cake baking, biscuits, cookies and many more sweet dishes also.
Turmeric – The Natural Antiseptic
Turmeric is a very auspicious spice in ingredients. In almost every dish in India, turmeric enhances the taste as well as the dish’s colour. Not only a spice, but it is also a natural antiseptic as well as a natural body cleanser. Thousands of years back, people would use turmeric to beautify Indian beauties. It is also a natural acid indicator that can help in determining the acidity of any substance. Sometimes, people use turmeric in ice cream, baked products, yoghurt, biscuits, orange juice, dairy products etc. Turmeric is put in hot milk to make “turmeric latte” which is very beneficial yet again to increase the metabolism of the body.
Nutmeg – Fruit turned as a Spice
This is a mild spice growing primarily in Kerala and along with its use in spices, people use it in baking many desserts such as muffins, fruit pies, sweet bread, soups, cookie, puddings etc. That is because of its distinct flavour and aroma. Many essential oils come from nutmeg which acts as industrial lubricants. If you consume nutmeg in large quantity, it can result in hallucination and can ultimately lead to death. During pregnancy, you can take it only in a small amount because in large amounts it can affect the fetus as well as the mother.
Tamarind – The Indian Date
Tamarind is basically a fruit having edible pulp. It grows in Asia and North Africa. The sweet and sour taste of tamarind gave it the name “Indian Date”. These trees generally grow in tropical areas and Kerala is famous for its tropical weather. In South India, people use tamarind in “sambar” which is a perfect side dish for idlis. Due to its sweet and sour taste, it has become a flavouring agent in many Indian chutneys, pickles, curries and some summer drinks. Apart from all these uses in culinary, people use it in woodworking also. For example, they use it in making furniture, chopping boards and some small wooden objects. And due to tartaric acid present in tamarind, it can remove a layer of copper carbonate from any material as it is a weak acid.
Star-shaped Spice – Star Anise
Star anise is in the shape of a star. It is a product of pericarp of fruit which they remove just before the ripening of fruit. Many use it in biryani for adding an aromatic flavour. They also use it in mouthwashes, soaps, toothpaste and skin creams. Along with its use in many culinary dishes, it helps in solving many health issues such as constipation. It is a blood builder also. And if you have no sleep, it can help you get to sleep. It has anti-fungal properties and can also act as a mosquito repellent.
Curry Leaves- The Kerala Flavour Expert
It is a herb but it is also an excellent spice that grows in the lands of Kerala. South Indians add it in almost every dish such as lemon rice, sambhar, different types of chutneys and rasam as well. People generally grow curry leaves in a small area in the home. In general, people call curry leaves as “sweet neem leaves”. During any dish’s preparatory stage, people put curry leaves while frying onion or tomato. It then enriches the whole dish by its alluring fragrance.
Cambodge – The Malabar Tamarind
It is a very sour tasting fruit which becomes a spice after a very long procedure of processing, drying, and cleaning. It is generally termed as “Malabar tamarind”. This tree grows only in coastal areas. So Kerala became more valuable for production and trading of Cambodge. The fruit of Cambodge when dry, takes a shape of a ring. It is a great flavour for fish curries or meat curries. People use it in Ayurveda as well. Cambodge is an amazing antioxidant and a great catalyst which help in weight loss. It helps in easy digestion after a heavy lunch and it can cure severe ulcer also if you take it regularly.
Cumin Seeds – A spice for thousands of years
These are basically dry seeds that people add during the initial stage of preparation of any dish. It easily grows in the sub-tropic or tropic region. This plant is basically drought tolerant and using cumin seed has become a tradition in India. They make the seeds into a fine powder and then it becomes a primary ingredient in the preparation of curries. It is mixed with coriander seed powder in every North Indian curry.
Although grown in Kerala, every part of India and the world uses cumin as a brilliant spice. Apart from being a good and enriching spice, it is also a very good weight loss agent. Those who are trying to lose weight can take cumin seeds on a regular basis. High level of cholesterol is usually the cause for the heavyweight problem. And if you take cumin seeds regularly, cholesterol levels will reduce.
Vanilla- The world knows its flavour!
Vanilla is basically a flavouring agent used in cakes, puddings, sweets etc. It is an extract from the orchids of genus Vanilla. You will find them mainly in coastal areas of Kerala. It grows in vines which attach themselves to the trees around them. The process of vanilla production requires pollination. Pollination can be from insects, wind or by animals. These are basically pods which give a very rich flavour of vanilla. The main byproducts of vanilla are a vanilla extract, vanilla liquid or vanilla powder.
Basil – The Holy Plant
India has been the biggest producer of Basil. In India, people consider basil to be holy. Besides its uses in culinary, it is having a great use in the medicinal world. It is a small tender herb which doesn’t grow much and has a sweet pungent smell. Many eat it raw along with honey or jaggery to cure a cold or cough. It makes the immune system stronger. People add basil in sweet dishes as well as some quick salads or dishes for getting distinct flavours and fragrance.
Life is full of adventures and thrills and they add spice to our life. These spices of life make our life more happening and exciting. Same goes with food as well. When you add different spices in a dish, the dish will be excellent. We talked about different types of spices grown in Kerala. But have we?
Let’s just try to find an answer to this question. Kerala has gained its importance in the global spice market for growing high-quality spices. It has appropriate soil texture and climatic condition. Because of this, many emperor traders visited and captured India just because of the richness of spices.
How Kerala became so Rich in Spices?
Musiris port of Kerala was the trading hub of Spices in the past. Till now, Kerala has held its popularity and position in global markets because of its rich flavour and fragrance. Apart from adding a heavenly taste in every dish, spices of Kerala are raw materials in making different types of aromatic perfumes, essential oils, medicines as well as some preservatives. Kerala’s economy in spice has flourished because it exports its spices to international markets as well as to domestic markets. It’s a great matter of pride that a small state brings such a large revenue to the country. We can proudly say that Kerala is continuing to gift numerous good quality of spices all over the world without any fail.
Why only Kerala has such a diversity in the field of spices? Some of the spices such as ginger, pepper, clove, etc grow only in a hot and humid climate. So Kerala has ideal conditions for growing such a spice. The maturation of spices happens in a very dry climatic condition and the climatic condition in Kerala is also dry.
In southern India, Cardamom only grows in evergreen forests. For growing cardamom, you need loamy soil in waterlogged condition. The spices are grown in slopes so that it could be cultivated easily. Growing of cloves also requires hot and humid condition which is an ideal condition in Kerala. Another spice is Ginger which also requires a hot and humid climate, they grow well in sandy or clayey soil. You cannot grow ginger on a regular basis, so alternate crops like chillies, ragi, paddy, maize etc grow in the same field.
History of Spices in Kerala
Knowing about these extremely exciting spices and some facts, we might have a question: How did the whole world come to know India as a land of spices? So there is a vast history related to this question. Let’s briefly just discuss the history of Spices in Kerala.
Basically, the main turning point in this story was the visit of Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama in the Malabar’s Coast of Kerala. He only assisted in opening the closed doors of India that has led to many Colonizing wars that resulted in the rise and fall of many emperors. As European and other traders explored India for its spices, they came to know about Muziris hub which was then as a hub of spice export and import. Colonization has led to many changes and these changes have led the foundation stone of an emerging Spice hub.
Slowly after the end of Colonizing wars, India saw that it can be the world’s biggest producer of high standard spices. Kerala was emerging as the biggest spice hub in the world. It soon got to know about its own spice hub known as “Muziris Spice hub”. But soon in the year 1341, floods and earthquakes devastated the Muziris hub. But Kerala didn’t give up, they conserved their spices and maintained the largest Heritage Project ever happened in India named as “ The Muziris Heritage Project”. It has close to 21 museums to help the people of Kerala, as well as others, get to know about their own spices and spice heritage.
Spices in Kerala – Healthy or Not?
As you sprinkle spices in your food, did you ever wonder if these spices have any health benefits? The answer is yes for sure, the spices have given evidence to this answer everywhere every time. In Ayurveda also, every spice has its own significance and importance like its use in cold, cough or common flu. Some spices can prevent stomach ulcer and also help in digestion. And some spices help in getting a better immune system. So when you have spices, you have your own household remedies kept in small containers.
What you must do in your visit to Kerala?
So if you plan a trip to Kerala, don’t just visit the famous tourist places. Visit the museums in Muziris hub that will help you know about your own spice culture. You’ll know everything you need to know about spices when you visit Kerala. Origin of spices, their method of cultivation, their method of harvesting is also important. India will always be a spice hub in the world. But we have our own Spice hub as Kerala because Kerala is “God’s own country”.