Spices of India

If you’ve had the chance to venture into an authentic South Indian home kitchen, you would’ve noticed that a spice cabinet or rack is nowhere in sight! This is of course, highly unlikely, as spices are synonymous with Indian food. However, you did not see any spices because you were not looking in the right places. Most authentic South Indian kitchens house their little flavouring gems in a special treasure chest called an ‘Anjaraipetti’ (literally translated to mean a five partitioned container). However, there are also anjaraipetttis that can accommodate more than five partitions, usually going on to hold about 7 to 9 different spices.Traditional anjaraipettis were made of wood or metal and they contained commonly used spices such as Pepper, Mustard , Fengureek, Cumin and Black Gram Dhal. Spices such as these have been a part of Indian culture for more than a millennium and it is interwoven in Indians’ daily lives via their food and medicine. However, did you know that spices are also a major source of revenue for India’s economy?

The spice trade was once the world’s biggest industry that initially involved countries like India and China, which mainly traded across the Silk Road. Eventually, the market grew, playing an important role in the development of empires like Persia, Egypt, Arab and Rome. The spice trade saw significant changes later in the 15th century, as European forces came into play, setting out to seek the countries in which spices were grown. Several explorers set forth from the Portuguese, Spanish, English and Dutch empires. These expeditions helped make spices more readily available in the West. They also brought about intense competition for control over the spice trade, leading to the colonization of India and other Asian lands. Hence, spices were once a vital driving force behind the world economy and it is still raking in profits today, for leading spice-producing nations like India.

India exported more than 817 000 tonnes of spices between 2013 and 2014- an increase from the 575 000 tonnes that were exported between 2011-2012. It has also been projected that the country’s spice export could touch $3 billion dollars, by the end of 2017! This is expected to be on an uphill trend, as the there is a high global potential for growth for spices due to the increased scope of their usage. Many foreign companies are looking into using spices for non-culinary purposes, by extracting their essence to harness their medicinal benefits and infuse them into products such as cosmetics. The Indian spice trade has also been propelled by changes in the diets and lifestyles of global consumers, as there’s an increased demand for healthy food and natural flavours.

So, what makes spices so special? Spices act as key flavouring agents in various dishes hence, most spices have rather strong tastes; so do not get heavy handed! They are also highly valued for their medicinal properties and have been main ingredients in several home remedies and Ayurvedic concoctions.

The table below summarises the culinary usage and health benefits of 10 highly exported spices from India:


The sole purpose of this post is to provide information on the abovementioned spices. This information is not intended for use in the diagnosis, treatment, cure or prevention of any disease. If you have any serious acute or chronic health problems, please consult a trained health professional who can assess your needs effectively.


  1. Spices Board India. (2014). Item-Wise Export of Spices From India. Kerala: Spices Board India.

  2. The Silk Road Spice Merchant. (2011). History of the Spice Trade. Retrieved 02 27, 2015, from The Silk Road Spices: http://www.silkroadspices.ca/history-of-spice-trade

  3. The Spice Trader. (n.d.). How Spices Shaped History. Retrieved 02 27, 2015, from The Spice Trader: http://www.thespicetrader.co.nz/history-of-spice/

  4. Sanmugam, D. (2014). Little Guide Book Asaian Herbs, Spices and More. SIngapore, Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Cuisine.

  5. ET Bureau. (2014, 03 28). Indian Spices Export is on course to touch $3 billion by 2016-17. Retrieved 02 23, 2015, from The Economic Times: http://articles.economictimes.indiatimes.com/2014-03-28/news/48662925_1_spices-board-dr-a-jayathilak-spices-exports

  6. Simon, G. (n.d.). India and Spices. Retrieved 02 06, 2015, from academia.edu: http://www.academia.edu/7086669/INDIA_AND_SPICES

Image Sources:

  1. Maša Sinreih.(Owner). Cumini1. Retrieved from: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Cumini1.JPG

  2. Mokkie. (Owner). (2014). Chilli Plant. Retrieved from: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Chilli_Plant.jpg

  3. Ulrich Prokop (Owner). (2007). Turmeric (Curcuma Longa). Retrieved from: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Turmeric_(Curcuma_longa).jpg

  4. Fenugreek (Wikimedia Commons Photograph).(2013). Retrieved from: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Fenugreek_-_%E0%B4%89%E0%B4%B2%E0%B5%81%E0%B4%B5.JPG

  5. Sugeesh (Owner). (2013). Mustard Seeds. Retrieved from: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Mustard_Seeds-1.jpg

  6. Bierfaβ (Owner). Coriander. Retrieved from: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Coriander.jpg

  7. Wiki user: Bunchofgrapes (Owner).( 2005). Dried Peppercorns. Retrieved from: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Dried_Peppercorns.jpg

  8. Howcheng. (Owner).(2006). Fennel seed. Retrieved from: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Fennel_seed.jpg

  9. Stephantom (Owner ).(2005) Elettaria cardamomum capsules. Retrieved from: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Elettaria_cardamomum_capsules.jpg

Did this article pique your interest about spices? Then why not contact Brainworks Education to find out more interesting information about these flavouring agents? We conduct several spice-themed workshops and excursions that are packed with fun, hands-on activities and fascinating facts about these powerful ingredients. Mail us at hello@brainworks.sg to find out more!

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