JIFCO Spices Exports
Sri Lankan Spices
Sri Lanka is a land of spices, with all the food in the teardrop island laden with rich flavor profiles and aromatic properties. Currently, herbs and spices are valued beyond their primary flavoring applications and see continued demand for various medicinal purposes.
The ‘Spice Island’ came to be as a result of Sri Lanka’s climatic conditions allowing for a variety of spices to be grown on the Island’s soils. Sri Lanka, historically renowned under names such as Tabrobane, Serendib and Ceylon, was famous for its high-quality spices throughout history. Old 14th century trade route maps of the world have proved that almost all trade routes passed through Sri Lanka. The main reasons for this popularity were the spices and ivory found in the tropical island.
The abundance of these culinary treasures attracted the attention of many western nations who wished to source from Sri Lanka’s spice market, with the spice economy continuing to flourish. Sri Lanka’s spice exports have grown to amount to over 50% of all agricultural exports and continue to see upward trends as they find their way into the kitchens all over the globe.
Cinnamon refers to Cinnamomum Verum or ‘true cinnamon,’ which is a plant widespread to Sri Lanka. As Sri Lanka’s most important spice export, Ceylon Cinnamon not only sees exports in its natural form but is also processed into tablets, powder or essential oils. 90% of the true cinnamon traded around the world comes from Sri Lanka. It has been a major spice in Sri Lanka culture for years as a food preservative and later for its natural flavouring properties. Cinnamon is often used to spice up chocolates, desserts and beverages but also for alcohol flavouring and medicine. It is not only an excellent elevator but also an acknowledged health blessing as it possesses medical properties to treat chronic diseases such as diabetes and cancer. It also contains some anti-inflammatory properties.
The king of spice, Pepper has the second-largest spice presence in Sri Lanka and is the largest spice presence in the global market. Pepper generally refers to black, white and green pepper. Black pepper is the unripe fruit of the pepper plant, cooked and dried. Green pepper refers to the dried, but uncooked, unripe fruit of the pepper plant. White pepper, on the other hand, is the seeds from ripe pepper fruits. It is used for its strong aroma and for its spiciness as a chilli replacement. In addition to its use as a spice it has medical purposes and is also used for massages (pepper oil) or other natural treatments. Pepper is native to South and Southeast Asia. Many cuisines worldwide use black pepper in their food preparations.
The “Queen of Spices” is the nickname given to cardamom. It is a small spindle shaped seedpod with black seeds inside that exude its famous sweet fragrance. The covers are thin and pale green (Elettaria) or dark brown (Amomum). It is the third on the list of the world’s most expensive spices, right behind vanilla and saffron. Cardamom can be used in both savory and sweet dishes and also in spiced tea and for medicinal purposes. While it’s native to India, Sri Lanka is one of the main suppliers of both the white and green varieties. The end product used in cooking is the dried seed pods.
Cloves, are the flower buds of a form of evergreen tree. While cloves are not native to Sri Lanka or India, they do grow in the area with good results. They are primarily used as a spice, but are also used for medicine, fragrance (pomander) and clove cigars. Sri Lankans add cloves to rice as a flavoring agent, adding a couple of sticks to the cooking water. For curries, cloves are roasted in ghee. Clove oil is also a natural antibiotic. Sri Lanka commands significant attention within the cloves market as a result of displaying richer quality oils found in Sri Lankan cloves as opposed to other growers.
Turmeric once processed is a deep orangish yellow powder. It is used mainly to impart colour or in other words dye foods to a beautiful yellow color. When it comes to flavour, the spice tastes slightly bitter and peppery with undertones of earthy flavour. Turmeric has been gaining a lot of recognition lately as a medicinal plant. Used mostly in face masks and hair treatments, the powder of this root is also used in curries and turmeric milk. Though used mainly as a powder, turmeric is also used fresh in its rhizome form in certain regions of the world.
Nutmeg and Mace
Originating from the same evergreen tree, Nutmeg and Mace are siblings in the spice world. The plant was a lucrative trade spice throughout history. Nutmeg and mace are native to Indonesia, but just like cloves, nutmeg trees grow quite well in Sri Lanka. Nutmeg is the oval-shaped fruit while the mace is the reddish webbing that wraps around the pit. Nutmeg and mace are perhaps most famous for their applications in desserts such as cakes and pies but also find themselves used in making curry powder and in quite a few savoury applications and are notably an essential ingredient for Christmas beverages like eggnog, mulled cider and mulled wine.
One of the most famous spices in the world and a prized staple amongst Sri Lankan and Asian Cuisine. The spice is extracted from the thick gnarly roots of the ginger plant, originating from Asian regions. It has been a favorite ingredient for both chefs and doctors thanks to its usefulness in both culinary and medicinal applications. Whole ginger imparts a sharp flavor with a mix of peppery heat and mild sweetness that mellows when cooked and adds complexity to any dish it is used in. Ginger can also be ground into a fine powder to be used in making desserts or sliced and steeped with hot water to make ginger tea which is a popular beverage rich with health benefits. It is a known Antioxidant and has been found to greatly alleviate digestion difficulties and nausea, reduce muscle pains and inflammation while ginger extract helps with supporting cardiovascular health.
Cumin (Cuminum cyminum) comes from a small flowering herbaceous plant. Cumin is one of the most prominent spices around the world as these tiny boat-shaped seeds have historically seen use in Middle Eastern and Asian cuisines. There are two basic varieties of cumin, the black and the yellow. The yellow brown seeds are roasted and ground due to their earthy, distinctive taste and aroma to add flavour to certain curries, while black cumin is the sweeter variety used in desert dishes and various alcoholic liqueurs. Cumin is also known to possess distinct medicinal properties to aid against digestive difficulties, blood cholesterol or diabetes.
Oh, chili peppers—the ultimate spice for any Sri Lankan dish. The dried red varieties are used whole, or they are turned into chili powder, of which there are different grades: burnt and unburnt. Each one has a distinct flavor. Green chili peppers are used to add a fresh taste to the spiciness of the dish and are sometimes added at the end of the cooking process
Lemongrass is very popular in Asian cuisine and can be used fresh or dried and powdered. Lemongrass is commonly cultivated as culinary and medicinal herbs because of their scent, resembling that of lemons (Citrus limon). West Indian LemonGrass and East Indian LemonGrass or Cochin Lemon Grass are commonly grown varieties. Lemongrass harmonizes meat and savoury dishes. In addition to cooking Lemongrass also acts as a diuretic, tonic or stimulant and exhibits various other medicinal properties, and is even utilized as an insect repellant making it one of the most versatile herbs grown in Sri Lanka.