spices of kerala


Gods own country – Kerala is also known as the land of spices. Kerala is home to a variety of spices: pepper, vanilla, cardamom,  clove,  cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and turmeric. The flavour of spices lingers long in one’s tongue and even longer in one’s memory. The warm, humid climate of central Kerala, the hazy hill stations with their loamy soil rich in organic matter and reasonable amount of rainfall contribute to the production of spices in Kerala.

Details of kerala spices

BLACK PEPPERBlack Pepper is the dried berry of Piper nigrum, a climbing, perennial shrub mostly found in hot, moist region of Southern India. Under cultivation pepper vines are trailed over supporting plants, and the climbing woody stems have swollen nods with clinging roots at each node, which helps in anchoring the vine to the support trees. Also it requires hot and humid climate with above moderate rainfall. Roughly mashed black peppercorn is produced from the still-green unripe drupes of the pepper plant, cooked briefly in hot water, both to clean them and to prepare them for drying. Black peppercorn is considered spicier than white peppercorn. Black pepper either powdered or its decoction is widely used in traditional Indian medicine and as a home remedy for relief from sore throat, throat congestion, cough etc.

Pepper is largely used by meat packers and in canning, pickling, baking, considering for its preservative value. It has the ability to correct the seasoning of dishes, therefore used as a final dash at the end of cooking to effectively adjust the flavor. It is an important component of culinary seasoning of universal use and is an essential ingredient of numerous commercial foodstuffs. It is also used as an ingredient in spice mixes. Black pepper is an essential ingredient in Indian system of medicine. On top of making food delicious, pepper also Improves digestion, reduces intestinal gas, acts as an Antioxidant, and is also anti-carcinogenic.

WHITE PEPPERWhite pepper grains consist of the seed of the pepper plant alone, with the darker colored skin of the pepper fruit removed. This is usually accomplished by a process known as retting, where fully ripe peppers are soaked in water for about a week, during which the flesh of the pepper softens and decomposes. Rubbing then removes what remains of the fruit, and the naked seed is dried. Alternative processes are used for removing the outer pepper from the seed.

White pepper is sometimes used in dishes like light-colored sauces or mashed potatoes, where ground black pepper would visibly stand out. They have differing flavor due to the presence of certain compounds in the outer fruit layer of the drupe that are not found in the seed.

CARDAMOMCardamom is the dried ripe fruit capsules, often referred as the Queen of Spices, because of its very pleasant aroma and taste. Cardamom is a perennial, herbaceous, rhizomatous ginger like plant. It is one of the most exotic, highly prized and is one of the world’s very ancient spices. Warm humid climate, loamy soil rich in organic matter, distributed rainfall and special cultivation and processing methods all combine to make Indian cardamom truly unique in aroma, flavour, size and colour tempting parrot-green. Cardamom oil is a precious ingredient in food preparations, perfumery, health foods, medicines and beverages. This Queen of Spices is from the High Ranges of Kerala.

Cardamom also helps with common cold, indigestion, stomach cramps, flatulence, cleansing, asthma, halitosis and sore throat. Some practitioners of Ayurveda also advise its use for treating infection of the urinary tract. It also enhances appetite and provides relief from acidity in the stomach.

CLOVECommercial Clove is the air-dried unopened flower bud obtained from evergreen medium sized tree. The use of clove in whole or ground form is mainly for culinary purposes and as a flavoring agent in food industry. Its flavor blends well with both sweet and savory dishes. It is highly valued in medicine as carminative, aromatic and stimulant. The antiseptic and antibiotic properties of clove oil are used in medicine especially in dentistry, oral and pharyngeal treatments. It has wider applications in preparations of toothpaste and mouthwashes, soaps and perfumes. It is also reported to help diabetics in sugar assimilations.

Cloves have the distinction of having the highest antioxidant activity of any food! Cloves reduce tooth pain and have analgesic properties that can be used for treatment of various dental problems like tooth aches. They also boost memory and blood circulation,. They are also a natural anesthetic (due to the eugenol oil) which is why they were often used for dental procedures in centuries past and are still used in some cultures to remedy toothache.

GINGERGinger of commerce is the dried underground stem of the herbaceous tropical plant. The whole plant is refreshingly aromatic and the underground rhizome, raw or processed, is valued as spice. Ginger is a slender perennial herb, 30-50 cm tall with palmately branched rhizome bearing leafy shoots. It is a tropical plant with the centre of origin in India and Malaysia. Ginger requires warm and humid climate and thrives well from sea level to an altitude of 1500 mtrs above sealevel. A well distributed rainfall (150 to 300cm) during growing season and dry spells during land preparation and harvesting are required for the crop. Though grows on a wide range of soils, lateritic loams are preferred for higher yields.

 In herbal medicine, ginger is regarded as an excellent carminative (a substance which promotes the elimination of intestinal gas) and intestinal spasmolytic (a substance which relaxes and soothes the intestinal tract). Modern scientific research has revealed that ginger possesses numerous therapeutic properties including antioxidant effects, an ability to inhibit the formation of inflammatory compounds, and direct anti-inflammatory effects.

TURMERICTurmeric is the boiled, dried, cleaned and polished rhizomes of Curcuma longa. The plant is a herbaceous perennial, 60-90 cm high, with a short stem and tufted leaf. It is a native of India. Turmeric is used to flavour and to colour foodstuffs. It is a principal ingredient in curry powder. Turmeric oleoresin is used in brine pickles and to some extent in mayonnaise and relish formulations, non-alcoholic beverages, gelatins, butter and cheese etc. The colour curcumin extracted from turmeric is used as a colourant. Turmeric is also used as a dye in textile industry. It is used in the preparation of medicinal oils, ointments and poultice. It is stomachic, carminative, tonic, blood purifier and an antiseptic. It is used in cosmetics. The aqueous extracts have biopesticidal properties.Turmeric is a natural antiseptic and antibacterial agent, useful in disinfecting cuts and burns.

NUTMEGNutmeg is the seed of the tree, roughly egg-shaped, derived from several species of tree in the genus Myristica. The most important commercial species is Myristica fragrans. Nutmeg is usually used in powdered form. This is the only tropical fruit that is the source of two different spices, obtained from different parts of the plant. Several other commercial products are also produced from the trees, including essential oils, extracted oleoresins, and nutmeg butter. Nutmeg and mace have similar sensory qualities and is used for flavouring many dishes, usually in ground or grated form, and is best grated fresh in a nutmeg grater.In Indian cuisine, nutmeg is used in many sweet, as well as savoury, dishes . It is also added in small quantities as a medicine for infants. It may also be used in small quantities in garam masala

STAR ANISEStar anise is the dried, star shaped fruit of Illicium verum. It is an evergreen tree attaining a height of 8-15 meters and a diameter of 25 cm. The leaves are entire, 10-15 cm long, 2.5 – 5 cm broad, elliptic, flowers are solitary, white to red in colour. Fruits are star shaped, reddish brown consisting of 6-8 carpels arranged in a whorl. Each carpel is 10 mm long, boat shaped, hard and wrinkled containing a seed. Seeds are brown, compressed, ovoid, smooth, shiny and brittle.

 It is used to flavour vegetables, meat, and to marinate meat. It is used as a condiment for flavouring curries, confectionaries, spirits, and for pickling. It is also used in perfumery. The essential oil of star anise is used to flavour soft drinks, bakery products and liquors. The fruit is anti-bacterial, carminative, diuretic and stomachic.

VANILLAVanilla, a member of the orchid family is a climbing monocot possessing a stout, succulent stem; short petioled, oblong leaves; about 20 cm long. The inflorescence is a raceme with 20 or more flowers. Fruit popularly known as ‘beans’ or ‘pod’ is a capsule, nearly cylindrical and about 20 cm long. In India Vanilla is predominantly grown by small and marginal growers in their fields interplanting with other crops. It is grown largely in organic conditions. Vanilla is used mainly as a flavoring material; a critical intermediary in a host of pharmaceutical products and as a subtle component of perfumes. As a flavouring agent, it is used in the preparation of ice creams, milk, beverages, candies, confectionaries and various bakery items.

CINNAMONCinnamon is the dried inner stem bark of Cinnamomum Verum. Cinnamon plants are grown as bushes. When the plants are two years of age, they typically measure at about 2 meter in high and 8-12 cm at the base. It is at this stage they are ready for harvesting. In India, it is grown in locations in Kerala. The commercial products of cinnamon are cinnamon bark, leaf and cinnamon oil. Cinnamon bark is a popular spice with a delicate fragrance and a warm agreeable taste. It is used in the form of small pieces or powder. It is widely used in flavouring confectionary, liquors, pharmaceuticals and cosmetics.

It is found to help diabetics in digestion of sugar. It has astringent; stimulant and carminative properties and can check nausea and vomiting. The cinnamon bark oil has anti-fungal properties and cinnamon leaf oil is widely used in perfumery and cosmetics.

CORIANDER-Coriander (Coriandrum sativum), is an annual herb in the family Apiaceae. The leaves are variable in shape, broadly lobed at the base of the plant, and slender and feathery higher on the flowering stems. The seeds are generally used as a spice or an added ingredient in other foods or recipes, although sometimes they are eaten alone. All parts of the plant are edible, but the fresh leaves and the dried seeds are the parts most traditionally used in cooking. The leaves have a different taste from the seeds, with citrus overtones.  The fresh leaves are an ingredient in many Indian foods (such as chutneys and salads). Chopped coriander leaves are a garnish on Indian dishes such as dal. As heat diminishes their flavour, coriander leaves are often used raw or added to the dish immediately before serving. The dry fruits are known as coriander seeds. In Indian cuisine they are called dhania, and Malli in Malayalam. The seeds have a lemony citrus flavour when crushed, due to terpenes linalool and pinene. It is described as warm, nutty, spicy, and orange-flavoured. They are used extensively for grinding and blending purposes in the spice trade.

It is commonly found both as whole dried seeds and in ground form. Roasting or heating the seeds in a dry pan heightens the flavour, aroma and pungency. Ground coriander seed loses flavour quickly in storage and is best ground fresh. Coriander seed is a spice in garam masala. They are the main ingredient of the two south Indian dishes: sambhar and rasam.

CUMINCumin is a flowering plant in the family Apiaceae, native to India. Its seeds are used in the cuisines of many different cultures, in both whole and ground form. It also has many uses as a traditional medicinal plant. Cumin seed is used as a spice for its distinctive flavour and aroma. It is globally popular and an essential flavouring in many cuisines, particularly South Asian, Northern African, and Latin American cuisines. Cumin can be found in some cheeses, such as Leyden cheese, and in some traditional breads. Cumin can be an ingredient in chili powder and is found in  garam masala, curry powder, etc. Cumin can be used ground or as whole seeds. It helps to add an earthy and warming feeling to food, making it a staple in certain stews and soups. It is also used as an ingredient in some pickles and pastries. In Sanskrit, cumin is known as jira “that which helps digestion”. In the Kerala Ayurvedic system, dried cumin seeds are used for medicinal purposes. These seeds are powdered and used in different forms like kashaya (decoction), arishta (fermented decoction), vati (tablet/pills), and processed with ghee, a semifluid processed butter. It is used internally and sometimes for external applications also. In Kerala, water is boiled with jeera seeds, giving it a golden hue; and consumed for its distinctive and refreshing taste. It is believed that cumin is beneficial for heart disease, swellings, tastelessness, vomiting, poor digestion and chronic fever.

MUSTARDMustard seeds have been highly prized culinary oil-seeds being in use since earlier times. The seeds are fruit pods obtained from mustard plant, in the Brassica family.. Black mustards are commonly seen in South Asia. The seeds are sharp and more pungent. and German cooking. Whole seeds, ground or powdered form, prepared pastes, sauces and oil are all used in cooking. Mustards exude pungent nutty flavor when gently roasted under low flame. Different kind of mustards employ mustard seeds mixed with herbs, spices, honey, tomato, etc., in many parts of the world. Mustard paste is used in salad dressings, sandwiches, and hot dogs and in mayonnaise. Mustard oil is one of popular cooking oils used in many North Indian and Pakistani recipes.

CURRY LEAVE-The curry tree (Murraya koenigii or Bergera koenigii) is a tropical to sub-tropical tree in the family Rutaceae, which is native to India and Sri Lanka. Its leaves are used in many dishes in India and neighboring countries. Often used in curries, the leaves are generally called by the name ‘curry leaves,’ although they are also literally ‘sweet neem leaves’ in most Indian languages. The leaves are highly valued as seasoning in southern and west-coast Indian cooking,  especially in curries, usually fried along with the chopped onion in the first stage of the preparation. They are also used to make thoran, vada, rasam and kadhi. Leaves can also be harvested from home-raised plants as it is also fairly easily grown in warmer areas of the world, or in containers where the climate is not supportive outdoors.

The leaves of Murraya koenigii are also used as an herb in Ayurvedic medicine. They are believed to possess anti-diabetic properties. Although most commonly used in curries, leaves from the curry tree can be used in many other dishes to add flavor. Murraya Koenigii due to its aromatic characteristic properties find use and application in soap making ingredient, body lotions, diffusers, potpourri, scent, air fresheners, body fragrance, perfume, bath and massage oils, aromatherapy, towel scenting, spas and health clinics, incense, facial steams, hair treatments etc. In the absence of tulsi leaves, curry leaves are used for rituals and pujas.

TAMARINDSweet and tangy, tamarind is one of the widely used spice-condiments found in every South-Asian kitchen! Tamarind is a very large tree with long, heavy drooping branches, and dense foliage. Completely grown-up tree might reach up to 80 feet in height. During each season, the tree bears curved fruit pods in abundance covering all over its branches. Each pod has hard outer shell encasing deep brown soft pulp enveloping around 2-10 hard dark-brown seeds. Its pulp and seeds held together by extensive fiber network. While lemon compose citric acid, tamarind is rich in tartaric acid. Tartaric acid gives sour taste to food besides its inherent activity as a powerful antioxidant. It, thus, helps human body protect from harmful free radicals. Tamarind fruit contains many volatile phytochemicals such as limonene, geraniol, safrole, cinnamic acid, methyl salicylate, pyrazine and alkyl­thiazoles. Together, these compounds account for the medicinal properties of tamarind.

This prized condiment spice is a good source of minerals like copper, potassium, calcium, iron, selenium, zinc and magnesium. Its pulp has been used in many traditional medicines as a laxative, digestive, and as a remedy for biliousness and bile disorders. This spice condiment is also used as emulsifying agent in syrups, decoctions, etc., in different pharmaceutical products.

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