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Enchanting Kerala


ISSUE: 204


Spices of Kerala

Historically, Kerala had contacts with the outside world, starting with the Babylonians as far back as 3000 B.C.E. Later, the Malabar Coast of Kerala witnessed the arrival of Arabs, Chinese, followed by European powers like the Portuguese, the French and the British. Most of them came for trade. And spices of Kerala invariably became the most traded commodity.

Kerala is home to a variety of spices; and is also noted for producing some of the best quality when it comers to spices like cardamom and pepper. Irrespective of cultural, religious and other differences, spices occupy a special place in providing a unique flavour to the culinary specialties of Keralites.

Spices still dominate the commodities trade in Kerala. Three-fourths of spice exports from India are sourced from Kerala.

Black Pepper
Black Pepper, usually is a part of most kitchen gardens of Kerala. Kerala produces the finest in pepper from India. Kerala, one can find pepper generally grown as a mixed crop. In the hill district of Wayanad in Kerala, black pepper is grown in coffee plantations and cultivated on a large scale. In Kerala, black pepper thrives due to a combination of natural advantages, yielding aromatic and flavor-full berries. Two of the varieties of Indian black pepper that are of great demand in the international market are the Malabar Garbled and the Tellichery Extra Bold.

Historical records cite that the spice trade Kerala had with Babylon and Egypt were centuries old. Some 2000 years back, among the spices that crossed the seas; Cinnamon from Kerala was used in embalming the dead bodies of the Pharaohs and in the manufacture of perfumes and holy oils. Cinnamon from Kerala first found its way to the Middle-East through the Arabs.

If pepper and cinnamon attracted seafarers in hordes at one stage in the history of Kerala, the cardamom of Malabar too caught their attention and through them the rest of the world. Cardamom from Kerala is still a much sought after commodity in the West.

Rightly called as the 'Queen of Spices' cardamom is one of the most exotic and highly prized spices. It flourishes well on the cool, shaded slopes of the Western Ghats in Kerala. Warm humid climate, loamy soil rich in organic matter, reasonable amount of rainfall all contribute to the production of high quality cardamom in Kerala.

Apart from its medicinal qualities, cardamom has a pleasing flavour and aroma that makes it a chief condiment for tea, cool drinks, confectionaries and sweetmeats, vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes. India is the world's largest producer of cardamom and Kerala contributes the lion's share.

A common spice of Kerala, clove is the dried floral buds of Eugenia caryophyllata. Locally it is known as grambu or karayambu. Clove is one of the key ingredients of garam masala (spices in varying proportions, roasted and powdered and used for cooking). Traditionally garam masala is prepared and preserved at home. But, nowadays, it is available in ready-to-use powder form.

In addition to being a flavouring agent clove has medicinal value too. Clove oil is used as a balm for tooth ache and its oil is effective in the treatment of acidity and indigestion. In Kerala, cloves are available in sealed packs, which can be preserved for years together.
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