(Last Updated on : 18/03/2009)
In contemporary India spices are used to rustle up scrumptious delicacies. However the Indian spices are more than just ingredients to add flavour and aroma to foods. In fact from times immemorial these had been associated with magical spells and herein lies the Oriental charm of the spices. Indian spices like cardamom, ginger, mint, parsley, etc were widely used for this purpose. However, magic need not necessarily refer to the supernatural always. A mouth-watering dish or a healing herb can also create a magical spell and the Indian spices perfectly serve these purposes.
The Indian spices play an important role in its economy as well. The Indian climate supports the growth of an array of spices and as a result the nation produces 75 types of spices out of the 109 listed with the International Organization for Standardization (ISO).
Even in the ancient and medieval ages the Indian spices played a significant role in strengthening its economic condition. The history of Indian spices narrates a long story of trading with the ancient civilisations of Rome, China, etc. With changing times, however, the spice trade grew in leaps and bounds and the Spices Board of India was set up to administer the spice trading. States like Kerala, Punjab, Gujarat, Manipur, Mizoram, Uttar Pradesh and several others are the hubs for growing spices. Besides exporting, these spices are also being used within the country for flavoring foods and in medicines, pharmaceutical, perfumery, cosmetics and several other industries.
Besides serving as culinary ingredients, Indian spices have medicinal properties too and are, hence, good for health. In addition to this spices are well known as appetizers and digestives and are considered essential in the culinary art all over the world. Some of them have anti-oxidant properties while others have preservative properties and are used in some foods like pickles and chutneys, etc. Some spices also possess strong anti-microbial and antibiotic activities.
Different parts of the spice plants are used to add flavour to the dishes. For instance, both the seeds and the leaves of the coriander plants are used as spices. Hence Indian spices are used in the forms of dried seeds, leaves, flowers, barks, roots, fruits and certain spices are grinded and used in the powder forms. At times a handful of spices are grind together and a paste is made to spice up Indian cuisines. As far as seeds are concerned these used in their original forms to enhance the flavors of certain food items. The seeds are also the fruits of that particular plant but because of their tiny size they are referred to as seeds.
Some common seeds which are used as spices are Ajowan, Anardana, Aniseed, Caraway, Celery, Celeriac, Coriander, Cumin, Indian Dill, Fennel, Fenugreek, Mustard, Poppy Seed, etc.
Leaves of some plants are used as a flavoring agent. These leaves have a distinctive flavour and when added with some other food they lend their flavour making it more tasty and delicious. Various leaves are used all over the world for culinary, medicinal and many other uses. Some of the commonly used spices which come under the leaf category are: Basil Laurel Leaves, Tejpat, Curry leaves, Peppermint Leaves, Mint Origanum, Parsley, Sage Savory, Rosemary Leaves and others.
Other types of spices can be derived from the flowers and fruits of a certain plants. Some common flowers which are used as spices are Rose, Caper, Rhododendron, Juniper, Kokam, Mace and Nutmeg, Vanilla, etc. Similarly the roots or parts of roots, of many plant species have become specialised to serve as spices. The following spices are basically roots used as spices and condiments: Galangal, Garlic Ginger, Horse Raddish, Onion, Stone Leek, Lovage, Shallot, Sweet Flag and Turmeric.
Some spices constitute the bark of a plant. These barks are highly flavoured and impart taste to a certain food item. Some spices do not come under any category of seed, fruit etc but yet belong to the family of spices. They are also used to impart flavour and taste to the food. Some common miscellaneous spices are Black Pepper, Long Pepper, Chabika, Clove, Amchur, Asafoetida, Karpoor, Arrowroot, Musk Mallow and others.
Besides these the Indian spices are also used in Ayurvedic medicines; as preservatives and perfumes. It does not matter in what forms these are used as the Indian spices are sure to cast a magical spell on whoever uses them.