[ Select Spices of India: By Land and By Sea ] ~ from Monterey Bay Herb Company
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Brightly colored and wildly fragrant, exotic spices have helped the world go from flat to flavorful in more ways than one. The high demand and pursuit of Indian spices have not only fostered international trade but also the integration of eastern and western cultures over the centuries, not to mention help fashion a new global map.
To the enterprising sailing merchants of the ancient past, these spices were literally worth their weight in gold. While you may not be able to satisfy your mortgage or car loan with a pound of spice today, their value to anyone with taste buds hasn't diminished with time.

[ Select Spices of India: By Land and By Sea ] ~ from Monterey Bay Spice

a. the monsoon winds of fortune

For most of us, putting some spice in our food takes no more effort than reaching for the kitchen spice rack. But "back in the day," and for at least 5,000 years, Arabs dominated the spice trade simply because they controlled the lands that lay between the standard routes of travel to top spice-producing regions, namely India.

This monopoly was challenged, however, at around A.D. 40 when a Greek merchant named Hippalus proposed a faster way of reaching India than the customary method of following the coastline—by crossing the Indian Ocean. He suggested that by using the prevailing winds driven by the semi-annual monsoons, the usual two-year trek could be reduced to only 12 months. The southwesterly monsoon winds made sailing feasible across the Indian Ocean from Egypt from April through October, and the subsequent northeasterly monsoon facilitated the return trip between October and the following April.

In honor of this discovery, the southwest monsoon winds became known as "the Hippalus" and the early voyages of the pioneering navigator were dramatized in a 1960s historical novel titled The Golden Wind written by American author Lyon Sprague de Camp.

[ Select Spices of India: The Spices of Life, Science ] ~ from Monterey Bay Spice

b. plant know-how

As the spice trade continued to flourish, knowledge of the use of herbs and spices in medicine also spread from the east throughout the Mediterranean. This is evidenced by numerous references to the Indian medical system, or Ayurveda, made by the Greek physician and botanist Pedanius Dioscorides, who compiled a 5-volume herbal in the 1st century A.D. called De Materia Medica.

This body of work not only dominated the medical literature of the author's time, but it persisted in circulation until the middle ages and is still regarded as the forerunner of all modern pharmacopeias. More than 500 plants are described in the text, a number of them indigenous to India.

[ Select Spices of India: Ayurveda - The Science of Life ] ~ from Monterey Bay Spice

c. mind body balance

Ayurveda, which translates to "science of life", was a component of the Vedas, the ancient texts upon which the tenets of Hindu spirituality and culture are based. Like other traditional systems of healing, Ayurveda strives to achieve and maintain wellness by balancing mind and body through diet, conscious movement and meditation.

The Vedas, which some historians date to 10,000 BC, depict an elite group of healers who cured disease, performed surgeries, amputations and cauterizations, constructed artificial limbs and produced anesthesia and other medicines from local plants. Because some of these texts have not survived time and the elements, the knowledge they contained was passed down by oral tradition.

Other texts have been preserved via reconstruction. The Rigveda, composed between 1700 BC and 1100 BC, lists more than 1,000 medicinal plants, while the Charaka Samhita, which is dedicated to internal medicine and dates to the 2nd century BCE, describes at least 500 herbal medicines. Incidentally, the modern oath that nursing students in the western world take today upon graduation is modeled after the description of duties given in Volume I, Section XV of this ancient tome.

[ Select Spices of India: Select Indian Spices] ~ from Monterey Bay Spice

d. a sprinkling of spices

Be sure to explore these popular spices and spice mixes...

[ Indian Spices - Cinnamon ] ~ from Monterey Bay Herb Company

[ Indian Spices - Mustard Seed ] ~ from Monterey Bay Herb Company

[ Indian Spices - Garam Masala ] ~ from Monterey Bay Herb Company

[ Indian Spices - Cumin ] ~ from Monterey Bay Herb Company

Check out Other Spices Gif

[ Select Spices of India: Turmeric ] ~ from Monterey Bay Spice

e. turmeric

Turmeric Traditions  According to Hindu tradition, turmeric is associated with invoking fertility. Brides are adorned around the neck with a special thread coated with a paste made from turmeric as marriage vows are made. A traditional wedding is often preceded by a celebration called Gaye holud in which family and friends paint elaborate designs on the bodies of the couple using turmeric paste. This ritual, so named because it literally means "yellow on the body," illuminates the skin of the bride and groom with a beautiful golden stain for two to three days before the nuptials take place. Turmeric is also used to lend color to the robes of Buddhist monks and doubles as Natural Yellow No. 3 in the commercial production of mustard, butter, orange juice and processed cheese.

A Bit of Turmeric Botany  As a member of the Zingiberaceae family, turmeric is related to ginger. It is also known as Indian saffron because it is similar in character but a more economical alternative to the real thing. India is the largest producer of turmeric, which takes nine months to cultivate before the rhizome can be lifted for harvest. The roots are then boiled, peeled and dried in the sun for a week before they are separated by grade, with "fingers" representing the best in quality and lesser candidates labeled as "rounds" or "splits." The spice is most often purchased and used as a ground powder, although it can be obtained fresh from specialty markets.

Culinary Uses of Turmeric  Whether chopped, sliced, grated or ground, turmeric provides bright color and imparts a robust, peppery flavor and aroma with a hint of aged wood. It provides the characteristic golden color of curries and dhal, a type of stew made from hulled, split lentils or peas. Turmeric is also featured in Indian chutney, piccalilli and kedgeree (pickles), as well as in rice, vegetable and seafood dishes.

This is an excerpt from our full spice profile containing more [ turmeric information ].

[ Select Spices of India: Cardamom ] ~ from Monterey Bay Spice

f. cardamom

Cardamom Uses  Cardamom is another relative to ginger that is used for both medicine and food. In Ayurveda, the spice is used to enhance digestion and in cooking to complement sweet and savory dishes. Its flavor is warm, pungent and slightly lemony with low notes of sweetness. Cardamom is found in curries, sweetmeats, baked goods and puddings. It is also an ingredient in the popular Indian spice blend known as garam masala and the tea blend called masala chai.

A Rude Awakening  The spice is also a constituent in kahwa, a festive coffee blend that has become recognized as a symbol of hospitality in Indian households. Should you find yourself fortunate enough to be offered this treat, be aware that it is considered rude to refuse anything less than three cups.

A Bit of Cardamom Botany  Green cardamom, the variety used for culinary purposes, is obtained from the pods of Elettaria cardamomum, a perennial, aromatic bush that takes three years bear fruit, although it continues to do so willingly for up to a decade or more. Currently, India produces about 80% of the world's supply of this spice, importing roughly half of it. The harvested pods are dried in the sun or in hot rooms to prevent them from splitting open and spilling the tiny seeds nesting inside. It is best to purchase and use whole cardamom pods. The seeds are available for purchase, but they tend to lose their distinctive flavor and aroma fairly quickly sans the flavor-wrap protection of the pod.

This is an excerpt from our full spice profile containing more [ cardamom information ].

[ Select Spices of India: Lemongrass ] ~ from Monterey Bay Spice

g. lemongrass

Culinary Uses of Lemongrass  This subtropical grass produces long stems that resemble scallions. However, the citrus-like aroma that gives rise to the plant's name isn't readily detectable until the stems are cut.

Lemongrass is used fresh or dried to flavor curries, stir-fries, pickles, soups, stews and salads. The plant is also prepared as tea, either alone or in combination with other herbs. In fact, in the Malabar coastal area of southern India, lemongrass tea is locally known as Chukku Kaapi, which means, "dried ginger coffee."

Lemongrass is commonly used to season coconut milk in which chicken or fish is poached. Dried and ground lemongrass is a seasoning commonly referred to in some parts of India as Sereh powder.

Lemongrass and its Citronella Cousin  The ancient Greeks, Romans and Egyptians used lemongrass to make medicines and cosmetics. The herb also has applications in aromatherapy and perfumery. Cymbopogon citratus is the species most often used in cooking, although lemongrass shares similar insect-repelling properties with many of its botanical cousins, including C. nardus, more commonly known as citronella. Both species are used in the production of candles and soaps formulated to keep mosquitoes at bay.

This is an excerpt from our full spice profile containing more [ lemongrass information ].

[ Select Spices of India: Coriander ] ~ from Monterey Bay Spice

h. coridander

Coriander Uses  This spice gets its name from koris, the Greek word for bed bug. Reputedly, this is because the pest gives off an aroma similar to the leaves of the mother plant from which the spice is harvested—cilantro. Coriander is the dried, brown seeds of the cilantro plant, but doesn't taste anything like the herb. In fact, the seeds taste like burnt orange when toasted but are mildly sweet when ground as a spice.

Culinary Uses of Coriander  Coriander is a staple in Indian cuisine. It is added whole or ground to chutneys, pickling spice mixtures and is frequently used to season chicken and pork. Often, coriander seeds are combined with cumin seeds and fried "dry" before being powdered as in this green tomato chutney recipe...

[ Select Spices of India: Resources & Recipes ] ~ from Monterey Bay Spice

i. resources & recipes

Small Collection of Indian Recipes  
green tomato chutney recipe
spiced lemons recipe
kulfi recipe

Indian Spice Infographic  
A quick reference guide to Indian Spices, includes information on turmeric, cardamom, coriander, star anise, cinnamon, nutmeg, saffron, cloves, mustard seed, and cumin.
a bit about some Indian Spices

Pin Graphic Gif

Indian Spice Individual Profiles  
Quick reference guides to individual spices often used in Indian cooking.
cardamom - quick reference
cinnamon - quick reference
cloves - quick reference
coriander - quick reference
cumin quick - reference
mustard seed - quick reference
saffron quick - reference
star anise - quick reference
turmeric - quick reference