TRAVEL AND TASTE: SPICY INDIA ~ FREE GUIDE TO SPICES

Curcuma Plant

Travel and taste: spicy India! Can you imagine your life without spice/s? Yes, both intense emotions and also culinary flavors in your daily cuisine! 🙂 Why do I want to take you on another journey to India? India is the largest producer, consumer and exporter of spices in the world! It can’t get bigger than that.

Let’s start exploring the spices of the world through the Indian lens. For many of them – their way starts here. In this article, I want to offer you a free guide to some of the most common spices. And hopefully, surprise you with some of the facts and suggestions. I am here in India now. Want to join me for this spicy tour?

TRAVEL AND TASTE: SPICY INDIA

  • India is the largest producer, consumer and exporter of spices globally
  • It produces about 75 out of the 109 varieties of spices indexed by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) 
  • India accounts for half of the global trading of spices
  • In the past years, top importers of Indian spices were the US, China, Vietnam, Hong Kong, Bangladesh, Thailand, UK, UAE, Malaysia and Sri Lanka
  • Top exported spices include: chili, cumin, turmeric and cardamom
Turmeric Plant with Roots
  • In the Hindi language ‘masala’ means spices while ‘masaledar’ means spicy. However if in the restaurant you will notice a dish with ‘masala’ word in its name, expect it to be very flavored and/or spicy
  • From my First Trip to India: From A to Z post: Just remember that ‘spicy’ or ‘chili’ has a different dimension here. So if you are coming from Europe, ask first for ‘zero spice’ food. Later you can enjoy adding more and more spice to your food.
  • If you want to try some authentic and homemade (plus not complicated!) dishes from India, check my Taste of India: Authentic and Homemade post
  • If you ever come across too spicy food, there are few ‘wild cards’ to use: lemon juice, yogurt or ghee (clarified butter)
  • And if you ever eat too many green or red chili flakes don’t drink water. Instead have milk, yogurt, ice-cream or ice-cube!

FREE GUIDE TO SPICES

COMMON SPICES

BLACK PEPPER

Where in India? Black pepper is native to the Malabar Coast of India and cultivated in the south part of the country.

How does it grow? The black pepper plant grows as a vine, it may attach itself to nearby trees for support. Peppercorn (pepper) is its fruit.

Key benefits:

  • High in antioxidants
  • Improves digestion
  • Helps with nutrient absorption

Culinary usage: too many to mention! 🙂

Spicy tip: Add a tinch of black pepper powder to a glass of tea or honey water. It works magic for cold and cough symptoms.

Interesting facts: It is the most traded spice in the world, and one of the most common spices in global cuisine. Black peppercorns are green when harvested, when dried they change color. White pepper is black pepper without skin.

CARDAMOM

Where in India? Cardamom is grown mainly in 3 states: Kerala – 70%, Karnataka – 20% and Tamil Nadu – 10%. Idukki in Kerala is the biggest cardamom-producing area.

How does it grow?

The cardamom plant is 1.5-3 meters tall. It is grown in the partial shade. The plant has small pretty flowers and it may produce black, white or red pods. Inside these pods are tiny black seeds, cardamom spice.

Key benefits:

  • Helps in body detoxification
  • Aids in weight loss
  • Cures urinary disorders

Culinary usage: Cardamom is used to flavor coffee and tea, especially masala chai. Moreover, it is commonly used when preparing meat, seafood, soups, vegetables and sauces.

Spicy tip: When making mango lassi, use mango, milk (optionally also yogurt) and sugar. A bit of ground cardamom sprinkled on top makes it even yummier!

Interesting facts: Cardamom is one of the oldest spices in the world. It is also the world’s second most expensive spice, after saffron. Green cardamom is the most aromatic, white one is simply a bleached version of the green one.

Cinnamon

Kerala Cinnamon

Where in India? Cinnamon, native to Sri Lanka, is cultivated in lower areas of Western Ghats in Kerala and Tamil Nadu.

How does it grow? Cinnamon spice is retrieved from the inner bark of several tree species. These are evergreen trees characterized by oval-shaped leaves, thick bark and berry fruits. The tree is grown for 2 years and then stems are cut. Next year about 12 new shoots come from the roots.

Key benefits:

  • It has anti-viral, anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties
  • Reduces blood pressure
  • Helps in toothache

Culinary usage: Cinnamon is mainly used for baking and dessert preparation. Bread, puddings, cookies or apple, pumpkin pies taste great with a pinch of cinnamon.

Spicy tip: To brighten your morning, sprinkle a bit of cinnamon powder on the top of your cappuccino or latte coffee. You can try it also with tea!

Interesting facts: The 2 most popular types of cinnamon are: Ceylon (from Sri Lanka, India, Madagascar and Seychelles) and Cassia (from Indonesia and China). Ceylon type is believed to be the true spice. Consuming a lot of Cassia cinnamon, due to a significant quantity of coumarin, might impact your health.

CLOVE

Where in India? Clove is mainly grown in the hilly areas of Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Karnataka.

How does it grow? The clove tree is a tropical evergreen tree that can reach up to 12 meters. It has small red-brown flower buds that are used as a spice.

Key benefits:

  • Boosts immune system
  • Protects the liver against infections
  • Helps to cure gum diseases

Culinary usage: Clove is commonly used in spice mix for meat rubs and marinades. It is also an important ingredient of the popular blends: Indian garam masala and Chinese five-spice powder.

Spicy tip: In case you have tooth pain: keep one clove on the tooth causing pain and bite it for a while. Cloves help also in sore throat and cold, it is enough to chew some raw cloves or add them to hot water or tea.

Interesting facts: Cloves can be used against ants in the home, thanks to their natural ant-repelling properties. Indonesia uses half the global cloves production. They are mixed with tobacco to make ‘kretek’ cigarettes.

CORIANDER seeds

Where in India? It is grown in Madhya Pradesh (largest volume), Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, and Rajasthan.

How does it grow? Coriander herb is a plant with bright green leaves and a flat and thin stem. It can be harvested when the plant is 15 cm tall. Seeds can be harvested once the plant develops flowers and seed heads which should be brown.

Key benefits:

  • Prevents allergies
  • Cures diarrhea
  • Regulates menstruation

Culinary usage: Coriander is used in most of the global cuisines. It can flavor curries, soups, stews, chutneys, salsas, meat, marinades.

Spicy tip: For effective treatment of menstrual cramps, boils a few coriander seeds in a cup of water and drink the liquid. In case of regular stomach pain – boil water mixed with coriander powder and drink it.

Interesting facts: The name coriander derives from the Greek word ‘koris,’. It is actually the word for stink bug. This reference is connected to the potential smell of bruised coriander leaves.

CUMIN SEEDS

Where in India? Cumin is mostly cultivated in the west of India, in the states like Rajasthan and Gujarat. The best for cumin cultivation is a moderate subtropical climate.

How does it grow? The cumin grows on an annual flowering plant that is usually 30–50 cm tall. Cumin seeds, small dried fruits of the plant, are harvested by hand after the small white or pink flowers bloom.

Key benefits:

  • Regulates digestion
  • Cures insomnia
  • Prevents cancer

Culinary usage: Cumin seeds are used both as whole or ground. They are an essential ingredient in many curries and spice blends. It is used for meat, stews, fish and vegetable dishes.

Spicy tip: Cumin seeds are a great acid neutralizer, help in better digestion and stomach pain. If needed, chew a handful of seeds. Additionally, you can try cumin seeds water (known as jeera water). It helps to remove acidity and bloating in case of indigestion. It also acts as a painkiller.

Interesting facts: Cumin is the second most popular spice globally, just after black pepper. During Medieval times, people believed that lovers and chickens will not run away if there is plenty of cumin at home. 😀 It was also used to pay taxes!

FENUGREEK seeds

Where in India? Fenugreek is cultivated mainly in Rajasthan, followed by Tamil Nadu, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh. The crop is mostly grown during the winter season.

How does it grow? Fenugreek is an annual plant. It produces white or purple flowers and straight or sometimes curved yellow pods. Seeds are stored inside.

Key benefits:

  • Lowers blood sugar levels
  • Reduces inflammation
  • Improves lactation

Culinary usage: Fenugreek seeds are used as whole or ground. They are used in spice blends, for example, garam masala or ‘panch phoran’ (Indian five-spice). Seeds are also added for meat rubs or as sprouts in salads.

Spicy tip: From my #StayHome & StayStrong post: Try fenugreek seeds tea (soak overnight one teaspoon of fenugreek seeds in water and drink it in the morning on empty stomach). It helps the body to produce perspiration, remove toxins and shorten the duration of fever; take it up to four times a day; additionally, lemon can be added to enhance the taste.

Interesting facts: Fenugreek names come from Latin ‘foenum graecum’ and means “Greek hay”. Roasted fenugreek seeds can be used as a substitute for coffee.

Indian bay leaf

Travel and Taste Spicy India Bay Leaf

Where in India? It grows on the southern slopes of the Himalayas and the North East mountains of India. Bay leaf can be also found in states like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Karnataka and Kerala.

How does it grow? Bay leaves grow on a tree that can reach up to 20 meters. They are native to India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan and China. Leaves have an aroma similar to cloves with a hint of peppery taste.

Key benefits:

  • Helps in cold and infections
  • Reduces nosebleed
  • Good for digestion

Culinary usage: Bay leaf adds subtle cinnamon flavor to many dishes like soups, stews, curries, rice. In India is it mainly used for dishes like biryani and as an ingredient of garam masala spice mix.

Spicy tip: Prepare a home-made tea of 3-4 bay leaves, few Tulsi leaves and black pepper. You can add honey based on your preference. Drink it 3 times a day. It helps in cough, cold, allergies and sinusitis.

Interesting facts: Bay leaves thanks to lauric acid are a great insect repellent. Keeping a plate of bay leaves will keep insects away. For some people consuming more than 1 gram of bay leaves per day might result in increased sweating,

MUSTARD SEEDS

Where in India? It is mainly grown in the North West area of India. Two key states are Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh, however, the production from Rajasthan depends a lot on the monsoon. The other important states are Assam, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Haryana and West Bengal.

How does it grow? Mustard seeds are small round seeds of different mustard plants. The three most common types and colors are: black, brown and yellow. It is easy and fast to grow mustard plants, they produce seeds in about 2 months.

Key benefits:

  • Help in respiratory disorders
  • Reduces risk of cancer
  • Cures acne

Culinary usage: They are used as whole seeds or ground, adding flavor to soups, curries and pickles. It is also the basis of mustard, the most popular way of using mustard seeds globally!

Spicy tip: Make your own natural scrub! Mix mustard seeds with lavender or rose essential oil. Use it both as face and body scrub! If you do not like oils, you can replace them with aloe vera gel.

Interesting facts: Canada is the biggest producer of mustard seed in the world. It manufactures half of the globally consumed mustard seeds. Some people in India and Denmark believe that it is good to spread mustard seeds around the house to keep evils away.

RED CHILI PEPPER

Travel and Taste Spicy India Red Chili

Where in India? Red chilies are cultivated in Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra. The crop is planted in August and September, followed by its collection in March and April.

How does it grow? Chili peppers are the fruits of plants from the capsicum type which are nightshade family (they grow at night). Green fruits (green chili) left to turn into a red color give a hotter taste. That’s India!

Key benefits:

  • Burns calories
  • Helps in congestion
  • Source of iron absorption

Culinary usage: For any dish that you want to spice up! From curry, pasta to chili chocolate cake or ice-cream!

Spicy tip: Got a bit bored with your butter taste? Add a bit (or more!) of red chili to melted butter. Ideal as a topping on the poached eggs or specifically Turkish eggs.

Interesting facts: The spiciness of chili peppers is measured on a scale called Scoville. For example, pimiento reaches 100-500 heat units, Jalapeno 2500-5000 while Bhut Jolokia (from Assam in India) over a million. Bhut Jolokia for a long time was claimed to be the hottest chili in the world (it is 400 times hotter than Tobasco sauce). That record was broken by the Carolina Reaper pepper, originating from South Carolina in the US, reaching nearly 2.2 million units on the Scoville Scale. Ready to try it?

TURMERIC

Travel and Taste Spicy India Turmeric Fingers

Where in India? It is grown mostly in Andhra Pradesh (nearly 60% of national production), Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Orissa, Gujarat, West Bengal, Meghalaya, Maharashtra and Assam.

How does it grow? Turmeric is the root of a flowering plant, Curcuma Longa, from the ginger family. The plant, native to India and Southeast Asia, is perennial and rhizomatous. It is cultivated at a temperature of 20 to 30 °C. 

Key benefits:

  • Reduces inflammation
  • Detoxifies the liver
  • Improves skin health

Culinary usage:  It is widely used to spice meat, stew, curry, rice, quinoa, bulgur, couscous and other vegetable dishes.

Spicy tip: From my How to Overcome the Lockdown post: turmeric is helpful in dry cough; roast the root and then powder it (unless you are using ready powder), then mix it with honey (2 tablespoons of honey for 1 tablespoon of turmeric powder); take it twice a day after food

Interesting facts: Turmeric is known as an ancient spice. Its history goes back to the Harappan Civilization, 3000 BC. Before knowing its culinary and medical benefits, it was used to dye clothes. It gives an excellent orange-yellow color.

Unusual spices

To continue in the next blog post! 🙂 Stay connected to discover what’s on the unusual Indian spices list!


What is the one spice you can’t live without? Or the one that you want to try but didn’t have a chance yet? I hope you enjoyed this reading and discovered something new.

Moments that matter, no matter how spicy.

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