India, the Mistress of Spices

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India, the Mistress of Spices

If variety is the spice of life, then India is a big plate that’ll surprise and heartily delight food connoisseurs from all around! From garam masala and ginger-garlic in the North to kadipatta and curry powder in the South, from paanch phoron and mustard in the East to goda masala and chilli powder in the West, India is a humble abode of exotic, aromatic spices! Producing around 3.2 million tons* of spices every year, these seasoning elements add a characteristic fragrance to the entire country and bind us all in a culinary platform. The term masala has become synonymous with Indian cuisine around the world, to an extent that a passerby would instantly recognize an Indian house just by taking a whiff of the warm, scented air!

The careful selection and blending of spices in Indian culinary is an ancient art. What spices do to food is sheer magic. It not only enhances its taste, but also improves the appearance, emits pleasant fragrance, and augments the natural flavors of vegetables and meat. Some are even used as preservatives, in pickles and chutneys. However the delicate mix of fresh and dried spices is not just restricted to the confines of the kitchen. The same play a significant role in Ayurveda, the Indian branch of medicine, and are responsible for many preventive and curative drugs. Spices were also used to make perfume and incense in the ancient and medieval times. What is readily available and affordable today, the same spices were in the bygone era very expensive, as much as gold and silver. This very greed led many voyagers from as far as Greece, Portugal and Great Britain, to India via the Malabar Coast.

India is the largest producer and exporters of spices, its collection ranging from pepper, asafetida, ginger, turmeric, fenugreek, bay leaf, chilli, cardamom, celery to fennel, saffron, cumin, coriander, cinnamon, tamarind, clove, nutmeg and whole lot of other taste enhancers. The cultivation of such an enormous variety is largely due to the versatile climate of India. Thanks to India’s mixed bag of tropical to sub-tropical to temperate, it can produce around 75 varieties of spices out of 109 listed with ISO**. Among the 28 states, Kerala, Punjab, Gujarat, Mizoram, Manipur and Uttar Pradesh contribute significantly to the country’s overall production.

So, which of these condiments and seasonings are the most expensive? Saffron definitely is the costliest. It is notoriously pricey and a pound of good quality can cost up to US$ 5000. Kashmir is the hub of India’s production and its Saffron is touted as the best quality! Vanilla, widely grown in Mexico, Madagascar, Indonesia and Tahiti, remains in the second position. Cardamom comes in third on the list of most expensive spice in the world, and Guatemala and India are its largest producers! Peppercorns also require special mention in this category. Pepper may not be a costly item, but it is, the world’s most traded spice! After Vietnam, India is the world’s largest producer and exporter of Pepper. It is in the quest of pepper, the Black Gold of pre-historic times, that Vasco da Gama came to India!

History of spice in India is, probably, as old as its human civilization. What started 7000 years ago, or maybe more, is still going and growing. We survived and so did our spices! India still continues to churn out tons and tons of spices every year, not only that, today it also dominates the world trade of spices!


By |January 3rd, 2012|INDIA|4 Comments


  1. GB January 8, 2012 at 1:34 am - Reply

    Your write-up on the spices of India is very informative. I guess, you must have done a lot of research work on this subject.

    • VIWA January 8, 2012 at 10:09 am - Reply

      @ GB – Yes. I did some research on the internet to get the facts right. Thank you for enjoying it.

      @ Reema – Guess what! I am actually doing a bit on some common spices, and espcially those with medicinal value. Let’s see how it takes its course.

      @ Deena_the_Diva – Thanks! Glad you liked it.

  2. Reema January 5, 2012 at 5:00 pm - Reply

    Hi…the spices article is gud. Didn’t know India produces so much of it. Why don’t you do a detailed article on some of the most commonly used spices in our everyday lives or something like that..

  3. Deena_the_Diva January 4, 2012 at 10:27 am - Reply

    Insightful. Good to know our spices from such a close angle.

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