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Spices of Kerala

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. The ancient port of Musiris was the centre of the spice trade years ago. Vasco Da Gama's arrival was just the culmination of the western world's rush to find the sea route to the West Indies and its spices trade. Within 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. Some spices that have made Kerala a spice state are as follows:


The pepper is rightly known as the 'King Of Spices' and is one of the best known spices in the world. Kerala is the major producer and exporter of this most exotic spice. Pepper is one of the earliest and one of the most widely used spice in the world today. Kerala's pepper reached Europe through Arab traders who held a monopoly over its trade. Europe in the middle ages saw the enormous potential of pepper as a food preservative and eagerly sought to control its trade. The pepper is the finest in quality and is grown along the lowlands and high ranges of Kerala. It requires 20 to 30 degree Celsius temperature and is propagated by stem cutting. The Malabar Garbled,

Black Pepper, Kerala

Panniyur-1, Karimunda, Kuthiravally, Arakkulam Munda, Balankotta, Kalluvally and Tellichery Extra Bold are some of the famous varieties of pepper. Pepper is a perennial climber requiring the support of live or dead trees. It has a limited usage in medicine as a carminative and as a stimulant of gastric secretions. The pepper plant grows best in a warm and humid climate. Berries mature and are ready for harvest in about 180 to 200 days. Black pepper is produced by sun drying the mature pepper berries for 3-5 day after they are separated from spikes by threshing and white pepper by retting mature berries in clean water for 5-7 days, removing the outer skin and drying the seed after through washing. A combination of natural advantages and organic techniques produces bigger, better-shaped, more aromatic and flavored pepper, better than anywhere else in the world.


Cardamom is one of the most highly prized spices. The best known cardamom variety is from India. It is obtained from a ginger-like plant, Elettaria cardamomum. Cardamom belongs to the ginger family and is the most expensive spice in the world after saffron and vanilla. It is known in India as Queen of Spices. It's history is as old as human civilization. Cardamom use spread to Europe more than a thousand years ago. The Vikings introduced it to Scandinavia, and Europe has been hooked ever since. Cardamom is the dried fruit of a herbaceous perennial and mainly grown in Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, on the slopes of the Western Ghats, at an altitude of 1500 m above sea level. Warm humid climate, loamy soil rich in organic matter,

Cardamom, Kerala

distributed rainfall and special cultivation and processing methods all combine to make Indian Cardamom truly unique in aroma, flavour, size and colour. Alleppey Green Extra Bold (AGEB), Alleppey Green Bold (AGB) and Alleppey Green Superior (AGS) are some of the famous varieties of Cardamon. A cardamom plant is grown by its seedlings. It normally starts bearing capsules from the third year of planting. The harvesting is done from October to February. The harvested capsules are rubbed on wire mesh and polished before they are graded and stored in polythene-gunny bags to retain the green color and to avoid exposure to moisture. The true cardamom has large leaves and white flowers with blue stripes and yellow borders. It grows to about 3 m (about 10 ft) in height. The fruit is a small capsule with 8 to 16 brown seeds and these seeds are used as a spice. Cardamom has a warm and eucalyptus-like flavor with a hint of lemon. The aromatic extract contains many essential oil chemicals, some of which have a smell like that of camphor. The people of Arabia and Africa welcome their guests with cardamom-flavored coffee, and Ethiopians have elaborate cardamom-coffee ceremonies. It is used as an adjunctive spice in curries, coffees and other Asian or Middle Eastern foods, in baked products in Scandinavian and Baltic countries. The seeds are widely used in cooking and in chewing products in India and Pakistan, and in Persian cuisine. It is also used as a perfume and breath freshener. Cardamom is a common folk remedy for indigestion in many cultures. Other traditional uses for the spice include cures for bronchitis, sinusitis, fever, sore throat, and liver ailments.


Natural vanillin is obtained from the cured pods (fruits) of the vanilla plant Vanilla planifolia. Vanilla is a perennial climbing orchid with sessile leaves and succulent green stems, producing aerial roots (velamen roots) at the nodes. Vanilla is a native of Mexico and was introduced in India in 1835. In India, parts of Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, north eastern region and Andaman and Nicobar islands are suitable for vanilla cultivation. Karnataka has the largest area under vanilla in the country. There are three important cultivated species of vanilla namely, Vanilla planifolia, V.Pompona, and V.Tahitensis. Vanilla is adapted to a wide range of soil types rich in humus and have good drainage. It thrives well in humid tropical climate with an annual rainfall of 1500-3000 mm at 1500 m above sea level. A warm humid climate, with temperature ranging from 21 to 32 Degree Celsius is ideal for the plant. Vanilla grows best in unclear jungle areas where it

Vanilla, Kerala

gets filtered sunlight. The rainfall should be well distributed for a period of  9 months and  there should be a dry period of 3 months for flowering. The bean takes 10 to 12 months to reach full maturity. The plant requires support upto a height of about 135 cm. Vanilla is usually propagated by stem cutting. Cuttings of 60-120 cm long can be selected as planting material for direct planting in the field. Cuttings less than 60 cm should not be used directly for planting. Such cuttings have to be rooted and raised in the nursery before planting. The stem cuttings after collection should be washed thoroughly and dipped in Bordeaux mixture 1% or copper oxychloride 0.2% for killing pathogenic fungi, if any. Then the cuttings are stored in cool shaded place for 2-3 days for partial loss of moisture, a process which enhances rooting. The cuttings can also be stored up to 10 days if required. Plants raised from mature lengthy cuttings flower early. Tissue cultured plantlets can also be utilized for planting. However, sufficiently grown up plantlets should be used. The rostellum of the flower is pushed back with a pointed bamboo splinter and the overhanging anther is pressed against the stigma with the thumb, thus smearing pollen over it. The ideal time for pollination is 0600 to 1300 hrs.


Clove is a small, reddish-brown flower bud of the tropical evergreen tree Syzygium aromaticum (Eugenia caryophyllata) of the Myrtaceae family. The cloves were very important in the earliest spice trade. Clove was first introduced to India around 1800 AD by the East India company in its 'spice garden' in Courtallam, Tamil Nadu. Induced by the success of its introduction, cultivation of clove was extended during the period after 1850 AD to Nilgiris, southern region of the erstwhile Travancore state and the slopes of Western Ghats. The important clove growing districts in India are Nilgiris, Tiruneiveli, Kanyakumari, Nagercoil and Ramanathapuram districts of Tamil Nadu, Kozhikode, Kottayam, Kollam and Thiruvananthapuram districts of Kerala and South Kanara district of Karnataka. Cloves vary in length from about 1/2 to 3/4 inch (13 to 19 mm

Clove, Kerala

). They contain 14 to 20 percent essential oil. The principal component of which is the aromatic oil Eugenol. Cloves are strongly pungent owing to Eugenol, which is extracted by distillation to yield oil of cloves. This oil is used to prepare microscopic slides for viewing and also as a local anaesthesia for toothaches. Eugenol is used in germicides, perfumes, and mouthwashes, in the synthesis of vanillin, and as a sweetener or intensifier. Clove is propagated through seed obtained from ripened fruit, known, popularly as 'mother of clove'. Fruits are taken from trees with more then 15 years of age and regular yielding nature. The ripened seeds has to drop down naturally. Such fruits are picked and sown directly in the nursery. Otherwise, fruits are soaked in water overnight and the seeds are obtained after removal of the pericarp are sown. Only fully developed and uniform sized seeds which show signs of germination by the presence of pink radicle are ideal for sowing. Heaping the fruits for one or two days or keeping them in airtight bags leads to the death of seeds. The Clove trees begin to bear flowers 7-8 years after planting. Unopened flower buds are carefully picked when they turn from green to pink. The buds are then allowed to dry for 4-5 days till they become crisp and dark brown in color. It's aroma is very strong and is very hot and pungent in taste. Cloves is used to flavor many foods, particularly meats and bakery products. Cloves are an essential ingredient of Kerala cuisine.


Cinnamon is the dried inner stem bark of Cinnamomum Verum tree. This bushy evergreen tree is about 10-15 m tall, belonging to the family Lauraceae. It is widely grown in Kerala and other tropical regions of the world including Sri Lanka. The bark is widely used as a spice. The leaves are ovate-oblong in shape, 7-18 cm long. They are leathery and shining green on upper surface when mature. The flowers have a greenish color and a rather disagreeable odour. The fruit is a dark purple seeded berry containing a single seed. The spice is light brown in color and has a delicately fragrant aroma and warm, sweet flavor. It is lighter in color and milder in flavor than the other

Cinnamon, Kerala

species. Cinnamon was once more valuable than gold and has been associated with ancient rituals of sacrifice or pleasure. Cinnamon is a hardy plant and cultivated under varying conditions ranging from semi dried to wet zone conditions. It prefers shelter and moderate rainfall. The ideal temperature for growing Cinnamon is between 20-30 degree Celsius and rainfall between 1250 to 2500 mm. They are cultivated as low bushes to ease the harvesting process. Eight to ten lateral branches grow on each bush and after three years they are harvested. Cinnamon plants are ready for harvest in about 3 years after planting. Harvesting is done twice a year in May and November. The bark of the cut down shoot is split on the day of harvest itself and dried in the sun for 2-5 days. Cinnamon bark is a popular spice with a delicate fragrance and a warm taste. The brown colored bark is easily chewable. It is used in the form of small pieces or powder. It gives a dish a very rich flavor. Cinnamon is an essential ingredient of the Kerala cuisine. It is used to flavor a variety of foods, from confections to curries. The stick cinnamon is added whole to rice dishes, mulled wines, punches, and syrups for poaching fruit. The chips are also used in tea infusions or spiced cider blends. Ground cinnamon is used in baked goods like cakes, pastries and biscuits. Cinnamon leaf oil is used in processed meats, condiments and also in bakery items. It is also used in the preparation of desserts, chocolate, spicy candies and liquors. In the Middle East, it is often used in savory dishes of chicken and lamb. In America, cinnamon and sugar are often used to flavor cereals and fruits, especially apples. It is also used in pickling. Cinnamon leaf and bark oil are obtained by distilling the leaf and bark separately. The cinnamon bark oil has anti-fungal properties and cinnamon leaf oil is widely used in perfumes and cosmetics. It is also used in flavoring confectionary, liquors and pharmaceuticals. Cinnamon is a stimulant, astringent and carminative, used as an antidote for colds, Diarrhoea, nausea, vomiting and other problems of the digestive system. It is also used by the diabetic patients in digestion of sugar.


Nutmeg is the seed of Myristica fragrans, an evergreen tree. Interestingly, the tree produces both Nutmeg and mace, and grows up to 60 feet tall. Although the tree takes seven years to bear fruit, it may produce until the 90th year. Both spices come from the tree’s fruit, which splits into a scarlet outer membrane, mace, and an inner brown seed,

Nutmeg, Kerala

Nutmeg. The Nutmeg tree bears fruit throughout the year, but peak harvest season is from December to May. The nuts split open when the fruits are fully ripe. After dehusking, the red feathery aril (mace) is removed, flattened out and dried in the sun for 10-15 days. The nuts are dried separately for 4-8 weeks till the kernels rattle within the shells. Nutmeg is more pungent and sweeter than mace. But slightly bitter flavor of Nutmeg adds character to vegetables. Nutmeg is used in whipped cream, custard, pudding, fruit pies and eggnog. Nutmeg is a mild baking spice and is used in sausages, meats, soups, and preserves. Ground Nutmeg is an ideal baking spice and is especially complimentary in sweet breads, cakes, muffins, cookies. Mace is often preferred in light-colored dishes for the bright orange, saffron-like color it imparts. The essential oil is obtained by the steam distillation of ground nutmeg and is used heavily in the perfumery and pharmaceutical industries. The oil is colorless or light yellow and smells and tastes of nutmeg. It is used as a natural flavor in baked goods, syrups, beverages, sweets etc. The essential oil is also used in tooth paste and as major ingredient in some cough syrups. Nutmeg and nutmeg oil are used for illnesses related to the nervous and digestive systems. The oil is used in rheumatic pain, dull toothache, nausea, gastroenteritis, chronic diarrhea, and indigestion. Nutmeg powder is used as an ingredient, in small quantities, in the Indian spice mixture garam masala, which is a mixture of dry spices. It is also used as a flavoring agent in Indian sweets.


Ginger root is used extensively as a spice in many cuisines of the world. The active constituent of fresh ginger is gingerol. When ginger is dried, the gingerol molecules are converted into the much more pungent shogaols. Cooking ginger transforms gingerol into zingerone, which is less pungent and has a spicy-sweet aroma. The ginger is often pickled in vinegar or just cooked as an ingredient in many dishes. The juice from old ginger roots is extremely potent and is often used as a spice to cover up other strong odours and flavors such as in seafood and mutton.  Ginger is also used as a flavor in candy, cookies, cookies, biscuits and cake, and is the main flavor in ginger

Ginger, Kerala

ale, a sweet, carbonated, non-alcoholic beverage. It is used in nausea caused by motion sickness, morning sickness or other illness. Ginger root also contains many antioxidants. Powdered dried ginger root is made into pills for medicinal use. Ginger ale and ginger beer have been recommended as "stomach settlers" for generations in countries where the beverages are made. Ginger water was commonly used to avoid heat cramps.


Turmeric is botanically known as Curcuma longa, derived from the old Arabic name for the kurkum plant. This spice is a member of the ginger family. Like ginger, it is the root of the turmeric plant that is used as a spice, usually in a dried form. The root is generally peeled to expose its bright yellow flesh, then boiled, dried, and ground into a powder. Turmeric is also known as Indian saffron. Turmeric is extremely pungent, and actually gets stronger when cooked. Turmeric gives ball-park yellow mustard bright color. A little goes a long way, so use it sparingly when experimenting. Avoid touching your clothing when working with turmeric as it is a powerful yellow dye. It is an

Turmeric, Kerala

amazing healing plant that has not only been valued for its therapeutic properties in Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine for thousands of years but also used in the prevention and treatment of a wide range of modern day problems. It is an excellent natural antibiotic, and one of the best detoxifying herbs due to its beneficial effect on the liver, cardiovascular, skeletal and digestive systems. Turmeric has powerful antioxidant properties and is used in the treatment of various cancers, respiratory infections such as cold, sore throat, cough and fever, skin problems such as acne and psoriasis, and kidney and bladder problems. It can successfully inhibit infection whether bacterial, viral or fungal. It is an important ingredient in curry mixes, chutney, and mustard pickles. It also goes well with chicken, duck, turkey, vegetables, rice, and salad dressing. Turmeric is used as a prime ingredient in Worcestershire sauce, and is used to color other foods like butter, cheese, and fruit drinks. It is a favorite in Middle East and Asian foods and spice blends such as curry.


Tamarind is also known as Indian date. Tamarind is the sweet and sour fruit of a tall shade tree native to Asia and northern Africa and widely grown in India. The tamarind trees flourishes in the tropical regions. The tree grows up to 20 meters in height, and stays evergreen in regions without a dry season. Tamarind timber consists of hard, dark red heartwood and softer, yellowish sapwood. The leaves consist of 10 to 40 leaflets. The flowers are produced in racemes. The tree produces brown pod-like fruits, which contain pulp and many hard-coated seeds.

Tamarind, Kerala

The large (about 5-inch-long) pods contain small seeds and a sour-sweet pulp that, when dried, becomes  extremely sour. The harvesting season of tamarind is mainly during March and April. Tamarind brings an acidic zing to food. The dried tamarind is obtained after removing the rind from the mature, ripe and dried fruit of Tamarindus Indica. It is then compressed into cakes. This spice also comes in the forms of pulp and juice concentrates which mainly go into the preparation of cool drinks, sea foods and a range of sophisticated cuisine. The pulp of a young fruit is very sour, and hence suitable for main dishes, whereas a ripened fruit is sweeter and can be used in desserts, drinks, or as a snack. Its taste goes well with meat and vegetable dishes, it merges well with the heat of chilies and gives South Indian dishes their hot and sour character and their dark color. The Juice of dry Tamarind are adequate to add a touch of sourness in the curry. It is extensively used in south Indian cuisine and is normally used as a replacement for tomatoes. Tamarind is also very effective as a natural preservative and marinade. Tamarind is a multi-purpose herb. Almost all parts of it can be used; beans, seeds, pulp, leaves, flowers, juice and bark. It is used as a digestive, laxative, tonic, and astringent. It is favored for wound treatment, sore throat, urinary problems, gonorrhea, ulcers, liver disease. Tamarind is acidic and excites the bile and other juices in the body. Tamarind is also a blood purifier. Folk medicine uses Tamarind leaves for sprains and swelling. Due to its denseness and durability, tamarind heartwood can be used in making furniture and wood flooring. The wood is a beautiful red timber. Tamarind is also recommended as a polish for brass and copper.


Curry Leaves
The leaves of curry leaf tree is a spice. The curry tree is five meter in height, 15-40 cm in diameter. It is cultivated mainly in homesteads but to a certain extent on a plantation scale. The curry leaf tree is a fast-growing shrub with deep roots and scented leaves and is an important ingredient in curries in South India, Sri Lanka and North India. Together with various South Indian dishes, curry leaves have also reached outside the India. Fresh curry leaves are oval in shape and about 1 inch in length. The curry leaves have a pungent and bitter smell much like the leaves of a citrus tree. The curry leaf is mainly a

Curry Leaves, Kerala

culinary plant and cultivated for its aromatic leaves and as an ornamental plant throughout South India. The plant is grown in almost every home garden in South India. All it needs is some water during a dry spell and some sunshine during cold months. It can withstand a small amount of frost and needs moderate light and warmth to grow. A small pot with these aromatic leaves can be kept in a partially indoor area, to remove insects, as well as ensure a fresh aroma to the area. Planting is mostly done just before the arrival of the monsoon in May. It is propagated by seeds, which germinate freely under partial shade. The leaves can be harvested about 15 months after planting, and a fully grown tree can yield about 100 kg leaves each year. Curry leaves should not be removed from the branches as leaves are highly aromatic and are used as a herb or spice. They are mainly used fresh, but are also used dried or powdered. For some recipes, the leaves are oven-dried or toasted immediately before use. They are extensively used in Southern India as a natural flavoring agent in various vegetarian dishes. Curry Leaves are typically fried until brown, then cooked with the dish. Because of their soft texture, they are never removed before serving, but can be eaten without any hazard. The curry leaves can also be used on skin and as an effective hair colorant. The leaves, bark and root of the plant are also used in various medicinal applications. It is an essential ingredient in almost all traditional medicine systems of India, including Ayurveda. It is used to cure ailments like piles, constipation, nausea, diarrhoea, leucoderma, blood disorders, skin irritations and poisonous bites. The wood of the curry leaf tree is greyish-white, hard, close-grained and durable. It is used to make agricultural tools. Curry leaves are steam distilled to produce an oil which is used in the production of soap. Its oils are used as repellants and to cure skin disorders.


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