Turmeric (binomial name: Circuma longa), once processed from the rhizomes, is a deep orangish yellow powder. It is used mainly to impart colour or in other words dye foods. When it comes to flavour, the spice tastes slightly bitter and peppery with undertones of earthy flavour. Though used mainly as a powder, turmeric is also used fresh in its rhizome form in certain regions of the world. Turmeric is grown in Southeast Asian countries due to their tropical climes but is native to southwest India.
Cloves, which are the flower buds of a form of evergreen tree, originate from the Maluku Islands, Indonesia. They are primarily used as a spice, but are also used for medicine, fragrance (pomander) and clove cigars. Cloves are harvested and traded mainly in Sri Lanka, India, Indonesia, Madagascar, Pakistan, Tanzania and Zanzibar. When it comes to culinary purposes cloves are used in Asian, African, Mexican and Middle Eastern cuisine. They are most often used to add depth to meats, curries and marinades.
Cinnamon refers to Cinnamomum Verum or ‘true cinnamon,’which is a plant endemic to Sri Lanka. Most other cinnamon (from other countries) is from related species of plants and is called ‘cassia’. It is a spice obtained by making shavings (also known as quills) of the inner bark of the cinnamon plant. Cinnamon trade has a very long history and records show cinnamon in the spice trade of Egypt as early as 2000BC. Cinnamon is often used to spice up chocolates, deserts and beverages but also for alcohol flavouring and medicine. 90% of the true cinnamon traded around the world comes from Sri Lanka.
Pepper (Gam Miris)
Pepper generally refers to black, white and green pepper. Black pepper is the unripe fruit of the pepper plant, piper nigrum, 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. Pepper is the spice that is most commonly traded in the world.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). Pepper is native to South and Southeast Asia.
Cardamom, also known as Cardamon, is a small spindle shaped seedpod with black seeds inside. 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 is used as a cooking spice as well as flavouring (mainly for tea and coffee). It is also used in medicine. Cardamom is native to India, Pakistan, Indonesia, Bhutan, Nepal and Bangaladesh. A few other countries, like Sri Lanka, have also taken up cultivation.
Lemongrass and Citronella (Sera)
Lemongrass is a culinary herb which as a subtle citrus flavour. It is very popular in Asian cuisine and can be used fresh or dried and powdered. Lemongrass is used as a medical herb, pesticide and preservative as well. When it comes to citronella grass, it is from the same family of plants and is a very close relative to lemongrass. It is used in soaps, candles and insect repellant sprays. East Indian lemongrass is from Sri Lanka, India, Burma, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. West Indian lemongrass is native to South Asia and the Southeast Asian islands.
Nutmeg and Mace (Sadikka and Wasawasi)
Nutmeg is the seed of a type of evergreen tree (Myristica fragrans), while mace is the reddish netlike covering surrounding the seed. Nutmeg and mace are used as a flavouring for many sweet dishes from the cuisines of various countries, and as a spice in many savoury dishes. Nutmeg is also an essential ingredient in many Christmas favourites such as mulled cider, mulled wine and eggnog. Nutmeg is also used for perfume and medicine. The common nutmeg is native to the Banda islands of Indonesia. The plant was a lucrative trade spice throughout history. Therefore after the Napoleonic war it was transplanted by the British to Sri Lanka, Penang, Bencoolen and Singapore. However records show that the plant existed in Sri Lanka even before this.