Spices in Kerala
As per dictionary definition, spices are 'any of a
variety of pungent aromatic vegetable substances used for flavoring
food'. In ancient times, traders from all over the world sailed
hundreds of miles to import spices from India. Even today, spices
produced in the country hold much popularity throughout the world
because of their variety and quality. Moreover, they also have
medicinal values that are useful in certain diseases.
It is said that all the states of India produce atleast one spice in their respective region. Kerala, in particular, produces a whole lot of these spices in its verdant patches of hilly areas. Roaming around these spice plantations, you will feel the aroma transport you to another world. It is as if you are viewing and experiencing something you have never seen or felt before. Also, ample facilities are available to make you comfortable while you are on a spice tour in Kerala. Some of the plantations have guest houses to provide accommodation while at others you can put up with the owner and his family.
Imagine, getting up early in the morning to a spectacular view of plantation greenery all around you. A Spice tour in Kerala is definitely going to fill your heart with delight.
Important Spices of Kerala
Cardamom - This 'queen of spices' is probably found in every household in India. Abroad too, cardamom (Elettaria Cardamomum Maton) found its way long back. Today, cardamom is exported to foreign countries in different grades - 'Alleppey Green Extra Bold' (AGEB), 'Alleppey Green Bold' (AGB) and 'Alleppey Green Superior' (AGS). All these grades have tremendous standing amongst the buyers. Middle East, specially cannot do without Indian cardamoms since it is used daily to prepare a strong coffee. In India, it has multi-utility. It is used to flavour food, eaten as a breath freshner, added to tea and coffee to enhance its taste. Also, its oil is used in toothpaste, perfumes, food preparations and medicines. In Kerala, it is grown on the shady slopes of Western Ghats.
Pepper - Here's the 'King of Spices' - Pepper
or Piper nigrum. The spice, used in India since ages, has, in middle
ages made numerous western merchants rich as it commanded high price
from the buyers. The spice is indigenous to India and is still widely
used to flavour food. Its medicinal value is also renowned. Two of the
most famous varieties sold abroad include "Malabar Garbled"
and "Tellicherry Extra Bold".
In Kerala, it is grown in the tropical forest of the Malabar Coast. The plant is a climbing vine, which means that it requires the support of a tree or an artificial frame to entwine itself and grow.
Cinnamon - This is yet another spice apart from pepper that is indigenous to India. The importance of the spice in earlier era was comparable to gold. Cinnamon or Cinnamomum zeylanicum is a rolled dried inner bark of a tree of the laurel family. It is light brown in colour and has a likeable aroma. The spice and its oil is used as a flavouring agent as well as for medicinal purpose. Cinnamon too is exported in large quantity to European nation.
Ginger - The botanical name of the plant is Zingiber Officianale. Ginger is grown all over India, though the ones produced in Kerala are exceptional in quality. Ginger is actually an underground stem or rhizome as such when pulled out of the ground, it looks more like a muddy root. Nevertheless, the qualities of ginger as a flavouring agent, appetizer and a medicine, is indisputable. It is supposed to provide warmth to the body hence is widely used when afflicted with cough and cold. India produces nearly half of the ginger produced throughout the world and two of its best varieties are 'Cochin Ginger' (NUGC) & 'Calicut Ginger' (NUGK).
Vanilla - Unlike pepper and cardamom that are indigenous to India, Vanilla has found its way to India due to its commercial value. The spice, grown along the Malabar coast of Kerala is also a climbing vine and needs a support system to grown long. Its botanical name is either Vanilla planifolia or Vanilla tahitensis depending on whether it has originated in Mexico or French Polynesia. Vanilla is quiet common in India today and it is used in cookery, baking and the manufacture of perfumes and toiletries.
Nutmeg - Nutmeg is a native of Moluccas but it has been used in India for quiet a long time now. Throughout the world, nutmeg became popular when the Portuguese set up trade in Spice Island in the 16th century. By 18th century, its flavouring and medicinal value was known worldwide. In the 19th century, nutmeg also saw a number of nutmeg traders fighting and adopting manipulative tactics to keep the prices of nutmeg high. Today, these spices are used in both savory and sweet dishes. While in Italy, it increases the taste of pastas, in India it is added in the rich Moghul dishes. Arabs find that nutmeg very useful in lamb and mutton preparations. Nutmeg also has medicinal values.