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21 May, 2022
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History of Indian Spices: Facts You Must Know!

Without the perfect tempering of Indian spices, no native food would be close to complete. Also, no cooking narrative about the sub continental dishes would be accurate without mentioning them. 

The amazing aroma, impeccable taste, unusual color, and mouth-watering flavor of Indian food are known all across the globe. A whole lot of ingredients combine together to produce an exclusive Indian cuisine. The secret to Indian food’s delectable flavor is the proportionate blend of spices that have been utilized for centuries and now have immense international acclaim. 

Both Indian and Egyptian spices are regarded as the world’s best quality spices in terms of flavor and their enticing aroma. Mughals were the first to combine spices in the early 14th century, and they created exquisite cuisine with a unique mingling. Every year, India produces around two million tonnes of spices. The country is one of the greatest exporters in the world, accounting for almost 40% of the global spice market.

The History of Indian Spices

The history of Indian spices is traced back to approximately two thousand years Before Christ (BC). Cinnamon and black peppers were the first spice plantations, and they established the foundation for many trading partnerships, especially with the Romans and the Arabians. They eventually became one of the world’s most commercially viable farm products. It was said that in the 12th century, a pound of nutmeg was worth more than a pound of gold in Europe.

Vasco da Gama set sail for India in 1498, choosing his sea route from the southernmost part of Africa. He was in desperate search of a straight passage to a region where spices were found in abundance and at affordable rates.

His landing on Indian Malabar Coast, the spice trade’s epicenter, signaled the beginning of open trade exchange between Southeast Asia and Europe. The Portuguese had ultimately captured the coastal spice-producing region in a few years. They established a near-monopoly on the Indian spice trade that continued for nearly a century. It paved the way for an extremely profitable revenue accumulation for the then Portuguese empire.

Spices of India not only just made people prosperous; they also fueled explorations and opened a lot of trade routes. It helped to shift the balance of global power. Columbus was looking for a speedier route to India when he stumbled upon the American territory. The aroma and bounty of Indian spices influenced European palates and subsequently became a measuring rod for determining riches and social standing.

Justifying Indian Spices

India’s ability to grow spices is partly due to physical attributes. The Indian climate is most conducive to spice cultivation, with high humidity and fluctuating weather conditions allowing cushion for the farming of a diverse range of spices. 

There’s a high prospect of cultivating products like turmeric, black pepper, clove, cinnamon, coriander, and red chilli. Among these, so many spices are indigenously produced. However, others have their roots in foreign soil. Spices enjoy their vast popularity in India for reasons other than their culinary value. 

Medicinal Aspects

Some spices like ginger, fenugreek, and turmeric, have healing properties for thousands of years. They are even inscribed in ancient Vedic texts. Ginger helps mitigate dyspepsia. Turmeric is thought to be effective for curing stomach ulcers, and pepper is indeed an antihistamine.

Spices have long been known to prevent the growth of microorganisms. It is because of this reason that they are employed in food preservation. Considering the absence of electricity in several rural parts of the country, village people still use these spices to preserve their food from turning stale. 

Fennel, cloves, and cardamom are proven mouth-refreshing spices that are frequently served after meals in urban eateries and restaurants to ease digestion and alleviate heartburn. As India advances toward becoming a power center in the international scenario, the country’s bonding with spices has never been more significant, serving as an integral part of its national identity.

Spice Categories

Indian spices are divided into three groups. Fresh spices, such as garlic, ginger, green chilli, bay leaf, curry leaves belong to the first category. The second classification is whole dried spices, which include cumin seeds, coriander seeds, mustard seeds, red chilli, cardamom, and nutmeg. The third type is powdered spices such as chilli powder, coriander powder, cumin powder, turmeric powder, and fenugreek powder.

Turmeric powder, cumin powder, coriander powder, chilli powder, and garam masala are some of the most frequently used powdered spices. These spices are essential in every domestic kitchen and restaurant. These powdered spices are used in almost all Indian cuisine. When cooking with spices, it’s necessary to keep in mind to allow them to blend first before applying acidic ingredients like vinegar, lemon, or tomatoes. Since acid inhibits the spice preparation, you may get a raw spice flavor in your meal.

Spice Storage

Glass containers are ideal for storing Indian spices. The shelf life of certain spices is reduced when they are exposed to heat, moisture, or air. If you put the spices in plastic bottles, the color of the spices will absorb into the bottles, and they might get discolored. Whole spices have a long shelf life. On the contrary, ground spices will last for 1-3 years. The lasting duration of the spices lastly depends on how they are stored. When a spice smells pleasant during the cooking process, it indicates that it is in decent shape.

Conventional Indian cooking demands the use of a variety of spices, blended in small amounts as needed and applied at regular intervals throughout the cooking process. Spice knowledge will assist you in the preparation of a wide range of traditional Indian cuisines.

Final Words

In the Indian subcontinent, spices were not only used in cooking but were also administered to treat illnesses. They appeal to human senses by filling the nostrils with a delightful fragrance, the tongue with a distinct flavor, and even eyes with colorful ingredients. Ground spices, curry powder, and other mixed granules all contribute to the flavor and aroma of the Indian cuisine.

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