Spices are strongly flavored or aromatic substance of vegetable origin, obtained from tropical plants, commonly used as a condiment. In ancient times, spices were as precious as gold; and as significant as medicines , preservatives and perfumes. India – the land of spices, plays a significant role in the global spices market. It is said the Western colonization of India was the attempt of the West to control the spice trade from the state of Kerala. The arrival of Portuguese explorer Vasco Da Gama in 1498, in Calicut and the trade was a result of the same. That’s how much the historic endeavor of Kerala’s dedicated farmers in the spices scenario colours the dream of this marvelous land which has had a unique and diverse culture with immense potential to grow and transmit with a view to conquering the world by touching the hearts of millions with the glorious antiquity of Kerala spices.
The story of Kerala’s spices dates back to many thousands of years into the past. Kerala is famous in the world due to total monopoly over spices. In the last decade the international trade in spices has grown to an estimated 500,000 ton of spices and herbs valued at more than 1500 million US dollars. It is a matter of pride for the tiny state of Kerala that the bulk of this trade is still from Kerala. “Idukki” is known in many names as “God’s own district”, “land of spices”, the second largest district of Kerala where 90 percent of land is covered by forests and plantations. This land is the primary producer of Pepper and centre of production and marketing cardamom, ginger, cocoa, Tea and coffee.
Kerala gastronomy is as diverse as its culture, with a wide array of unique and appetizing dishes for every palate. Flavoured by the abundance of scrumptious herbs and spices that are predominant in the region where the cuisines are widely prepared and enjoyed, the characteristics of each cuisine varies widely from each other. The following authentically prepared spices/condiments, masalas, and curry powders have several health benefits, and also help in bringing diversity and gives quite an exquisite flavour to Kerala Cuisine.
1. Black Pepper
Black 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 support as columns, 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. Other products in use are pepper oil, oleoresin, micro encapsulated pepper, green pepper in brine, dehydrated green pepper, frozen pepper etc. Black pepper is an essential ingredient in Indian system of medicine. Also, it is eliminated from the diet of patients having abdominal surgery and ulcers because of its irritating effect upon the intestines, being replaced by what is referred to as a “bland” diet. On top of making food delicious, pepper also Improves digestion, reduces intestinal gas, acts as an Antioxidant, and is also anti-carcinogenic.
2. White Pepper
White 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, including decortications, the removal of the outer layer through mechanical, chemical or biological methods.
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. White pepper is used in products like mayonnaise where, black specks of black pepper are not preferred.
Cardamom 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. India, a traditional exporter of cardamom to the Middle East countries where it goes mostly into the preparation of ‘Gahwa’ – a strong cardamom – coffee concoction without which no day is complete or no hospitality hearty for an Arab. Indian cardamom enjoys a premium preference in the Middle East, by Japanese and Russians who relish it for its distinct enriching properties. This Queen of Spices is from the High Ranges of Kerala.
All the different cardamom species and varieties are used mainly as cooking spices and as medicines. In general, Elettaria subulatum (the usual type of cardamom) is used as a spice, a masticatory, and in medicine; it is also sometimes smoked; it is used as a food plant by the larva of the moth Endoclita hosei. Cardamom is used as an ingredient in traditional systems of medicine in China, India, Korea, and Vietnam. It is also used as a traditional flavoring to Turkish coffee. 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; treats mouth ulcers and nausea.
Commercial 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. In Indonesia, the lion share of production is consumed in production of Kretek cigarettes 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, and are beneficial for the heart, liver and stomach. Cloves can effectively cure many digestive problems like stomach ulcers, flatulence and dyspepsia, since they stimulate your body’s enzymes and boost digestion. Because of the antiseptic and germicidal benefits of cloves, they help fight infections like cold, flu, bronchitis, arthritic pain and athlete’s foot. They are stimulating and have antibacterial, antiviral, antifungal and antiseptic properties. 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 Cloves inserted into oranges create a natural air purifier.
Garlic is a member of the Lily family and is a cousin to onions, leeks and chives, and is guaranteed to transform any meal into a bold, aromatic, and healthy culinary experience. The garlic plant’s bulb is the most commonly used part of the plant. With the exception of the single clove types, garlic bulbs are normally divided into numerous fleshy sections called cloves. Garlic cloves are used for consumption (raw or cooked) or for medicinal purposes. They have a characteristic pungent, spicy flavor that mellows and sweetens considerably with cooking. Both the cloves and the entire bulb are encased in paper-like sheathes that can be white, off-white, or have a pink/purple hue. Although garlic cloves have a firm texture, they can be easily cut or crushed. The taste of garlic is like no other—it hits the palate with a hot pungency that is shadowed by very subtle background sweetness. While elephant garlic has larger cloves, it is more closely related to the leek and therefore does not offer the full health benefits of regular garlic.
Green garlic is often chopped and stir-fried or cooked in soup or hotpot in Southeast Asian and Chinese cookery, and is very abundant and low-priced. Additionally, the immature flower stalks of the hardneck and elephant types are sometimes marketed for uses similar to asparagus in stir-fries. The flavor of garlic varies in intensity and aroma with the different cooking methods. It is often paired with onion, tomato, or ginger. Garlic softens and can be extracted from the cloves by squeezing the (root) end of the bulb, or individually by squeezing one end of the clove. In Korea, heads of garlic are fermented at high temperature; the resulting product, called black garlic, is sweet and syrupy, and is now being sold in the United States, United Kingdom and Australia. Garlic may be applied to different kinds of bread, usually in a medium of butter or oil, to create a variety of classic dishes, such as garlic bread, garlic toast, bruschetta, crostini and canapé.
Ginger of commerce is the dried underground stem of the herbaceous tropical plant grown as an annual. 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. The leafy shoot is a pseudostem formed by leaf sheath and bears 8 to 12 distichous leaves. It is a tropical plant with the centre of origin in India and Malaysia. Now it is widely cultivated in India, Jamaica, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Malaysia, Southern China and Japan. Ginger requires warm and humid climate and thrives well from sea level to an altitude of 1500 mtrs above MSL. 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.
Historically, ginger has a long tradition of being very effective in alleviating symptoms of gastrointestinal distress. 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.
Turmeric 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 and is cultivated in the States of Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Orissa, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Kerala. 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. When combined with cauliflower, it has shown to prevent prostate cancer and stop the growth of existing prostate cancer; and it has also shown to prevent breast cancer from spreading to the lungs in mice. Turmeric also reduces the risk of childhood leukemia and is a natural liver detoxifier. It is a potent natural anti-inflammatory that works as well as many anti-inflammatory drugs but without the side effects. It has shown promise in slowing the progression of multiple sclerosis in mice. It is a natural painkiller and may aid in fat metabolism and help in weight management. Turmeric long been used in Chinese medicine as a treatment for depression. Because of its anti-inflammatory properties, it is a natural treatment for arthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Promising studies are underway on the effects of turmeric on pancreatic cancer. It has been shown to stop the growth of new blood vessels in tumours. It speeds up wound healing and assists in remodelling of damaged skin.
Nutmeg 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, an evergreen tree indigenous to the Banda Islands in the Moluccas (or Spice Islands) of Indonesia. 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. Dried, shredded nutmeg rind with sugar coating is used as toppings on the uniquely Penang icing. Nutmeg rind is also blended or boiled to make iced nutmeg juice.
In Indian cuisine, nutmeg is used in many sweet, as well as savoury, dishes (predominantly in Mughlai cuisine). It is also added in small quantities as a medicine for infants. It may also be used in small quantities in garam masala. Ground nutmeg is also smoked in India. In Indonesian cuisine, nutmeg is used in various dishes, mainly in many soups, such as soto soup, baso soup or sup kambing. In Middle Eastern cuisine, ground nutmeg is often used as a spice for savoury dishes. In original European cuisine, nutmeg and mace are used especially in potato dishes and in processed meat products; they are also used in soups, sauces, and baked goods.
It is also commonly used in rice pudding. In Dutch cuisine, nutmeg is added to vegetables such as Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and string beans. Nutmeg is a traditional ingredient in mulled cider, mulled wine, and eggnog. In Scotland, mace and nutmeg are usually both essential ingredients in haggis. In Italian cuisine, nutmeg is almost uniquely used as part of the stuffing for many regional meat-filled dumplings like tortellini, as well as for the traditional meatloaf. Japanese varieties of curry powder include nutmeg as an ingredient. In the Caribbean, nutmeg is often sprinked over drinks such as the Bushwacker, Painkiller, and Barbados rum punch. In the US, nutmeg is known as the main pumpkin pie spice and often shows up in simple recipes for other winter squashes such as baked acorn squash.
9. Star Anise
Star 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.
Star Anise is indigenous to South Eastern China. Commercial production is limited to China and Vietnam. In India, it is produced to a small extent in Arunachal Pradesh and Kerala. Star anise is one of the signature flavours of Chinese savory cooking. The five-spice powder mix common in China contains star anise. 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. It is considered useful in flatulence and spasmodic.
Vanilla, 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. Although the major vanilla producing countries are Madagascar, Indonesia, Mexico. Comoros and Reunion, the cultivation is gaining in Kerala, Karnataka and Tamilnadu since early 1990s.
The area under cultivation at present is about 1000 ha, of which about 30% has started giving yield. The present production of processed vanilla is estimated to be around 6-8 tonnes annually in India. They differ in flavour and organoleptic properties as a result of growing conditions, harvesting and curing process. The Bourbon vanilla ranks tops in quality terms with its dark brown to shining red colour.
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.
Also see : Kerala Honeymoon Tour Packages
Arrowroot is the dried and powdered root of a perennial plant about two feet high with small white flowers; and fruits about the size and form of currants. The rootstocks are dug when the plant is a year old, and often exceed 1 foot (30 cm) in length and 0.75 inches in diameter. They are yellowish white, jointed and covered with loose scales. Arrowroot is indigenous to the West Indies, where native people, the Arawaks, used the powder. The Arawaks used the substance to draw out toxins from people wounded by poison arrows. Its name is thought to be derived from that practice.
Arrowroot is used as an odorless baby powder; and is a product for use in cookies, baby foods, dessert mixes and breakfast foods. It is used in production of high quality computer paper as well as for a myriad of food, beverages, animal feeds and pharmaceutical products. In its natural form it is in high demand as a cooking thickener of gravies, sauces and pie fillings. It is also more easily digested than other thickening agents. It is the only starch product with a calcium ash.
Arrowroot is a nutritious food that assists in the bodys maintenance of acid and alkaline balance, and it majorly helps with discomfort caused by diarrhea. There have been many studies performed on the possible remedies of arrowroot for digestive discomforts and distress. In a lot of gastrointestinal ailments, arrowroot powder is consumed orally to improve the symptoms. Apart from its popular use in digestive ailments, there are cultures where arrowroot is made into a poultice and applied on the areas of the body where the skin is painful and irritated. Among the other uses of arrowroot are poison antidote, gangrene treatment, inflammation, weight gain, and insect bite treatment.
Cinnamon 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. Cinnamomum verum is mostly cultivated in Sri Lanka, Malagasy Republic and Seychelles. It has originated in the central hills of Sri Lanka. In India, it is grown in locations in Kerala. The commercial products of cinnamon are quills, quillings, featherings, chips, cinnamon bark oil and cinnamon leaf oil. Quills are scraped peel of the inner bark of the mature cinnamon shoots, joined together with overlapping tubes, the hollow of which has been filled with smaller pieces of cinnamon peels which is dried first in the sun and thereafter in the shade. Quillings are broken pieces and splits of all grades of cinnamon quills. Featherings are feather like pieces of inner bark consisting of shavings and small pieces of bark left over. Cinnamon chips are rough unpeelable barks scraped off from the thicker stems. Cinnamon leaf and bark oil are obtained by distilling the leaf and bark separately. 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. Anti-Clotting and Anti-Microbial actions, Blood Sugar Control, it boosts Brain Function, it’s Calcium and Fiber protect against Heart Disease and improve Colon Health. The cinnaldehyde in cinnamon helps prevent unwanted clumping of blood platelets. Cinnamon’s antimicrobial properties are so effective that recent research demonstrates this spice can be used as an alternative to traditional food preservatives. Calcium and Fiber Improve Colon Health and Protect Against Heart Disease and also helps fight Diabetes.
Mace spice is a dried, outer aril, enveloping firmly around the nutmeg kernel. Nutmeg kernel and mace arils indeed are two separate spice products of same nutmeg fruit. However, mace characteristically compose higher concentration of certain essential oils and features refined yet intense aroma than nutmeg. For the same reasons, it commands higher price and special place in the kitchen spice box! Mace, as well as the nutmeg seeds were thought to have originated in the tropical rain forest of Indonesian Maluku Islands, also known as the spice Islands. Mace has a slightly delicate flavor and is often preferred in light dishes for the bright orange, saffron-like hue it imparts.
Both nutmeg as well as mace spice employed widely in the recipes. Although, mace and nutmegs can be used interchangeably, mace has a pleasant yet more intense flavor than nutmeg, and gives light saffron color to the dishes it added to. Mace blades should be fished out before serving. Instead, they may seep in hot water and the extraction may be directly added to the recipes. Mace is particularly sought after in sweet dishes. It gives sweet, warm and pleasant flavor, especially to the bakery foods like pastries, donuts, cake, etc. In the Indian subcontinent where it is popular as javitri, found in an array of sweet and savory recipes. It also employed as one of the common ingredients in the spice mix, particularly in Indian garam masala powder, and Moroccan, rass-el-hanout. Its freshly ground powder is added to meat stews, bean stews, sauces, and soups (sup kambing).
Coriander (Coriandrum sativum), also known Chinese parsley or Dhania, 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. However, some people experience an unpleasant soapy taste or a rank smell and avoid the leaves. The fresh leaves are an ingredient in many Indian foods (such as chutneys and salads); in Chinese and Thai dishes; in Mexican cooking, particularly in salsa and guacamole and as a garnish; and in salads in Russia and other CIS countries. 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. In Indian and Central Asian recipes, coriander leaves are used in large amounts and cooked until the flavour diminishes. The leaves spoil quickly when removed from the plant, and lose their aroma when dried or frozen. The dry fruits are known as coriander seeds. In Indian cuisine they are called dhania, and Malli in Malayalam. The word coriander in food preparation may refer solely to these seeds (as a spice), rather than to the plant. 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 and Indian curries which often employ the ground fruits in generous amounts together with cumin ,acting as a thickener in a mixture called dhana jeera. Roasted coriander seeds, called dhana dal, are eaten as a snack. They are the main ingredient of the two south Indian dishes: sambhar and rasam.
Outside of Asia, coriander seed is used widely in the process for pickling vegetables. In Germany and South Africa (see boerewors), the seeds are used while making sausages. In Russia and Central Europe, coriander seed is an occasional ingredient in rye bread (e.g. borodinsky bread), as an alternative to caraway. The Zuni people have adapted it into their cuisine, mixing the powdered seeds ground with chile and using it as a condiment with meat, and eating leaves as a salad. Coriander seeds are used in brewing certain styles of beer, particularly some Belgian wheat beers. The coriander seeds are used with orange peel to add a citrus character. Having a deeper, more intense flavor than the leaves, coriander roots are used in a variety of Asian cuisines, especially in Thai dishes such as soups or curry pastes.
Cumin is a flowering plant in the family Apiaceae, native from the east Mediterranean 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 seeds have eight ridges with oil canals. 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 from France. It is commonly used in traditional Brazilian cuisine. Cumin can be an ingredient in chili powder and is found in achiote blends, adobos, sofrito, garam masala, curry powder, and bahaarat. In South Asian cooking, it is often combined with coriander seeds in a powdered mixture called dhana jeera.
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, as well as spiced gravies such as chili. It is also used as an ingredient in some pickles and pastries. In Sanskrit, cumin is known as jira “that which helps digestion” and is called zira in Persian. 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.
Mustard 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. Some of close members of mustards in this family include cabbage, broccoli, brussels-sprouts, etc. White mustard seeds are light straw-yellow colored and are slightly larger than the other two varieties. White seeds exhibit mild pungency. Black mustards are commonly seen in South Asia. The seeds are sharp and more pungent than other two varieties. Brown mustard seeds are native to sub-Himalayan plains of Northern India.
Mustards are native to Asia Minor, but these days cultivated as one of the main commercial crop in Canada, India, China, and temperate climates of European region. It is used extensively in Indian, Pakistani, Bangladesh, Mediterranean 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. Brown as well white mustards are used in pickling with raw mango, bitter gourd, etc, in India. Mustard fish curry, prepared with thin mustard paste, coriander powder, chilies and nigella is popular in Bangladesh and West Bengal in Indian subcontinent. 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. American yellow mustard is prepared with white seeds, vinegar, spices, turmeric and sugar. Mustard oil is one of popular cooking oils used in many North Indian and Pakistani recipes.
17. Curry Leaves
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, and Sri Lankan 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.
Sweet 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.