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Spices: The Magic of Every Kitchen

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Spices: The Magic of Every Kitchen

The cuisine depicts the story of a culture. Every dish has its own color and history to draw its uniqueness among all. The essence of a dish is hidden within its spices. Diversity in spices is found in every culture. To make the dishes tastier, spices have been used in many countries. Some of them are used for aroma and some for flavor. 

Every day, we experienced the taste and aroma of spices. The story of spices in every kitchen is different. It tells us the presence of grandmother and mother in shaping our way of life and our food habit. There is an unwritten book of recipes like a tradition at our home and through those recipes; we are trying to carry the taste of the mother’s hand. In this long and ongoing story, spices have essential roles. 

When we think about Indian street food, we come up with the idea of “chatpata and masaledar food” with a strong aroma. No single roadside stalls are vacant. They are always crowded by people like bee hump. The different types of spices are used in roadside stalls or restaurants to make the food more delicious, which attracts the people towards them. 

India is the land of spices. There are abundant spices in every corner of India. The infinite variations of spices define the cuisine of each state of India. Some spices are used for complementing the other spices. It is the greatest gift of Mother Nature. All the spices are found as natural raw materials. 

The Birth of Spices:

In ancient times, when people were not introduced to the usefulness of spices, they had preserved their food by wrapping through the leaves of spices. Later, when they ate the wrapped meat, they discovered that the flavors were delicious. 

These newfound flavourful delicious foods gave birth of spices eventually. In the later part, they used spices not only for extra taste but to protect the food from bacteria. After that, they started to cultivate the spices. With human development, a development in food came into being. Day by day, we are experiencing so many flavorus foods with amazing taste. Globally, it has a long fascinating journey. On that journey, India is the most important entrant and contributor. The spices of India had a glorious past, magnificent present, and prosperous future.

Spices in India:

The secret of Indian spices makes India a hub of spice all over the world. But the story of spices in India is something equally engrossing! The story has drawn an invisible line between South and North India for their different style of usages. The difference of spices In India is found starting from oil to some spices among the dishes. For instance, south India prefers coconut oil whereas North India prefers mustard oil. Cumin in North Indian dishes is substituted by mustard in South India. 

There are common spices used in entire India but few specific spices with their proportions make some changes in taste. South India is the best place to taste the true color of spices and to feel its essence. The different styles of culinary make the dishes unique among all. South India is known for its rich culture of spices, especially Kerala. Kerala has launched India’s first online store for buying spices, ‘keralaspicesonline.com’. 

Hence, the above story depicts that the spice is the heritage of India. The journey of spices tends to discover and adopt the new taste, on our plates, and makes the item more delicious.

The History of Spices:

Let’s be acquainted with the startling story of this journey. Spices have a history of at least 60,000 years. Initially, People were not aware of the usages of spices as a taste creator. They had mainly used them for their medicinal values. Moreover, spices have a connection with humans from the early of human history, when it is associated with tradition, magic, preservation, and medicine.  

Not only India but the whole world has a fascinating history of discovering spices. Ancient China, ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, Arab, Rome, and Greece including India shared the journey of spice discovery. All were astonished by the magic of spices in their daily life. The time between the late 1200s to after 1500s has been referred to as ‘the age of spice discovery’. 

In ancient China, 1596 the first comprehensive printed book of spices, along with their medical use, was printed in China. “Pen-ts’ao Kang mu or “systematic pharmacopeia” was its title and the author was Li Shih-Chen. From the Moluccas, they brought Nutmeg and Cloves. The Moluccas is an archipelago of the Indonesian Islands, known as the ‘Spice Islands’. At present time, China is famous for its five powder spices. It contains Cinnamon, Cloves, Fennel, Star anise, and Peppercorns.

Ancient Egypt was famous for its “Spice Road”, through which they had transported various spices from many regions. They had easy access to an abundance of spices. The ancient civilization of Egypt was very much developing in many fields. They used Garlic and Onion into the Great Pyramid of Cheops to support their health. The coriander was known as Aphrodisiac.

Mesopotamia had fertile land for cultivating the spices and alike all the contemporary civilization they also had usages of spices for its medicinal values. 

The history of spice in India was stressed back to the Vedic periods. The earliest written record of spices has been found in Vedas. The actual use of spices in India had started in the medieval ages. There was no clear division between Herbs and Spices. Both are naturally obtained products and have enormous value in people’s life. Herbs are generally leaves and seeds of plants and Spices are derived from fruits, flowers, and barks of a plant. 

During this time Black Pepper was regarded as Black Gold for its high demand. Black pepper is the indigenous product of Kerala in India.

The earliest reason for Globalisation was the lure and quest for spices. Indian spices were a key component for external trade with Mesopotamia, China, Egypt, and Arab. It’s around 7000 years ago. 

Spice Trade:

In the part of trading, people traveled many distances to collect the best quality of spices with a high risk. They not only brought them to their homeland but also traded them to other regions. An interesting trading system of spice was built during those periods. The spices were much more valuable than gold for their demand. Before the arrival of the British in India, the trading of spices was controlled by Arabs. Camels and Donkeys were the main transportation of the trade at the land route in the caravan. India had written a long tale in the history of trading and commerce through its spices. Spices were also transported from China, Indonesia, and Srilanka. 

In the age of the discovery of spice, the Europeans had started exploring the convenient route for trading in sea voyages. The lure for spices and the desire for searching the best quality of spices had pushed many Europeans to begin their discovery for the sea route. Ferdinand Magellan, Vasco da Gama, and Bartholomeu Dias were some of them. In 1498, Vasco da Gama discovered the route to India via the Cape of Good Hope and reached Kozhikode on the southwest coast. That discovery had extirpated to the monopoly of Arabs over the spice trading system. 

Since in the early time, India was considered “the golden bird”. Its rich natural wealth and aromatic spices had been exploited by many invaders in the name of trading. Europeans, Portuguese, Dutch, Arabians, and so on came to India only for this reason. The story of exploitation is not more than a nightmare for all Indians. The invaders had collected the fine raw materials and traded them into their countries. There was no more interesting history than that of the arrival of the British in India and expanding their East India Company for ruling over the poor and undeveloped country. 

Meanwhile, history has been broadcasting the pivotal role of India in the world history of trading. Eventually, yet, India has occupied the same position in the world market of spice. India is the world’s largest producer, exporter, and consumer of spices; it produces 75 out of 109 spices listed by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), half of the world trade. To administer the trading of spices and maintain the relation with neighboring trading countries, India established the Spices Board of India. 

India’s favorable climate, geography, and soil are very suitable for cultivating the spices and herbs. Kerala, U.P, Punjab, West Bengal, A.P, T.N, Rajasthan, Karnataka, Assam, etc are the major producing states of spices in India. 

Use of Spices:

We experienced a common story in our households, that is, during the cough-cold or in the winter season, we are insisted by the mother to drink the milk with tamarind or to eat rice with garlic and black cumin paste or to drink a cup of ginger tea. Not only that we are also insisted to eat the raw tamarind to boost our immunity. Bay leaf is used to make Kada or tea while we are suffering from throat swelling, or to have the methi seeds during constipation. Along with these, Nutmeg and mace are known to relieve diarrhea, stomach spasms, and pain. Like these spices, all the spices have some qualities to enhance our health and also very much useful for herbal medication.

Black and white pepper, cumin, turmeric, ginger, black and green cardamom, ajwain, clove, aniseed, cinnamon and cassia, nutmeg and mace, mustard, saffron, etc are some of the Spices used in our kitchen. Among these, Black pepper is the king of spices and Cardamom is the queen of aromatic spices.

The use of spices in our cooking is a holistic approach. It’s not only added extra taste or aroma into the dishes but also worthwhile for medication. It is the soul of our food and also carries scientific values. The spices are the secrecy of joyful food.

The term “Indian Cuisine” projected the foods with a bold aroma, wonderful taste, and the source of our good health and wellbeing. Indian cuisine represents the glory of India in front of the world. Thus, it exemplifies India’s rich heritage and culture in the global family. 

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Soheli Chanda is a student of Masters in Development at Azim Premji University, Bangalore. She has just completed her graduation on Social Work from the land of Rabindranath Tagore, Visva-Bharati. Travelling is like an energy drink for her. She is viewing her life through the glass of optimism. She is a writer by passion. From her love for writing, she started to create content on this platform. She mainly focuses on history, culture, lifestyle, foods, and travel stories. She believes writing can be a strong weapon to bring a change in society.

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