Seasonings of Life

Indian spices create intrinsic layers of flavours that leave foodies yearning for more


Farhana Chowdhury

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Published: Mon 17 Aug 2020, 2:05 PM

Last updated: Thu 19 Oct 2023, 2:53 PM

The lip-smacking and addictive flavours of Indian cuisine owes itself to the rich variety of spices that originate in the country. These ingredients, whether used individually or blended together, outrival other cuisines in terms of taste and aesthetics. Be it savoury, sour, spicy or sweet - each seasoning plays a role in marinating dishes to perfection and impart a succulent and mesmerising tang that brings both Indian and non-Indian foodies back for more. If you look into the past, Indian spices have a long, rich history, where certain countries even waged war in order to get their hands on its unique flavours!

Here are few spices that are proudly Indian, inseparable from the cuisine, and plays an important role in wellness:

Cardamom (ilaayachee)

Not the most welcome taste when you accidentally bite into it while tucking into a wholesome serving of biryani (been there, done that!), but cardamom is an important ingredient that lends a fresh aroma and flavour. The true enhancer lies within the seeds once cracked open during the cooking process. Cardamom is not just used in dishes, but also beverages, including tea. Interestingly, it has long served as a breath freshener, anti-oxidant, improves digestion and even contains cancer-fighting compounds.

Turmeric (haldi)

A warm, bitter flavour enhancer, turmeric has a significant place in Indian history, with a mention in Vedic culture, religious contexts that date back to 1500 BC, as well as medical records. Dubbed the "spice of life", the distinct yellow powder has been scientifically proven as an anti-inflammatory ingredient, known to boost brain function and lower risks of certain diseases. It is also used as a topical ointment, in organic skin remedies, and is part of some states' wedding customs.

Tamarind (imli)

Syrup, check! Sauces, check! Candy, check! Tamarind is enjoyed in a variety of forms and is a star ingredient in several savoury dishes, drinks and desserts, giving you that tart, lip-puckering sensation. Commonly found in supermarkets as a thick pulp with a distinct earthy scent, tamarind is often moulded into a paste or liquid, before being added to dishes. Aside from lending a sweet-tangy flavour, it assists in weight loss, improves eye health and also boosts blood circulation and immunity, among benefits.

Cumin (jeera)

Cumin stands apart with an earthy, nutty flavour that adds a smokey depth to dishes. Its unique composition - prepared in powder or whole form - makes it an essential spice in Indian cuisine. It pairs well with meat, vegetables and rice-based dishes, and at times, crushed and lightly toasted for use as garnish in yoghurt-based drinks, soups and salads. Benefits range from improving blood cholesterol and easing pressure to being a rich source of iron and aiding in weight loss.

Clove (laung)

The clove may not seem very impressive in appearance, but it lends a powerful flavour with a lingering aroma through its composed bud. The clove is versatile in the sense that it pairs well with both savoury and sweet dishes. The ingredient plays a prominent role as an anti-oxidant and is anti-septic in nature, which is why you may have noticed the use of clove oil to treat toothaches. It also promotes bone health, reduces stomach ulcers, regulates blood sugar, and popularly used in non-edible products such as toothpastes, soaps and perfumes.

Rise of the spice

Spices exports from India reached $359 million in June 2020, compared to $292 million in the same month last year, marking a rise of 23 per cent.

According to Deepak Sood, Secretary General, The Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (ASSOCHAM), the demand was due to the population's desire to strengthen immunity.

"Thanks to the efforts of the Aayush Ministry and traditional knowledge about spices being a strong immunity builder, an increasing number of Indians are taking to higher consumption of spices. But the rising exports trend does show how the world is benefitting from these items," he added.

Pepper, cardamom, ginger, turmeric, coriander, cumin, celery, fennel, fenugreek, nutmeg, spice oils and oleoresins and mint products are the major spices shipped abroad. Indian spices reach almost to the entire world while the main importers include the US, UK, Germany, France, Italy, Canada, Australia, UAE, Singapore, China and Bangladesh, among others.

Spice in numbers

9.41 million tonnes:

Estimated grand total of spices produced in India between 2019 and 2020.

1,100,250 metric tonnes:

Spices and spice products exported to countries around the world in 2018-2019

65,140 metric tonnes:

Spices and spices exported to the UAE alone between 2018 and 2019

Chillies Largest exported spice from India to the world (2019-2020), followed by turmeric

Source: DGCI&S Kolkata/Exporters returns/DLE from customs

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