Indian Spice-World’s Largest Spice Producer

Indian spice

India is ‘The Land of Spices’, and the glorious history of Indian spice is known all through the world. India is the world’s largest producer and consumer of spices and still plays a vital role in the world spice trade market.

The demand for spices was one of the key factors in expanding world trade. Fortunes were made, battles fought, and countries conquered for the sake of these plants.

The desire to control spice sources took the British to India, the Portuguese to Brazil, the Spanish to Central and South America and the Philippines, the French to Africa, and the Dutch to Indonesia. Even today, we depend on spices and herbs for many of our newest medicines, chemicals and flavours, and they are also used in cosmetics and perfumery.

The journey of Indian Spices

India has been known from prehistoric times as the land of spices. This lead to the landing of the Portuguese navigator, Vasco da Gamma at Calicut in 1498 and earlier, Christopher Columbus landing in West Indies in 1492, that lead to the discovery of the Americas by the Europeans. Until about thel970’s, India had a virtual dominance in the international trade of spices.

Each state of India has been bestowed with some spice and are being cultivated by millions of small and marginal farmers. The USA, EU, China, Singapore’s Lanka Japan, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain and Israel are the main markets for Indian spices. North America (USA and Canada) and Western Europe are the most critical regions having the import demand for many of the spices. Indian spices flavour foods in over 130 countries and their intrinsic values make them distinctly superior in terms of taste, colour and fragrance.


Indian Spice Exportation

The Indian spice export basket consists of around 50 spices in the whole form and more than 80 products. However, a few spices constitute a significant segment of the country’s total export earnings. The significant spices exported are pepper, chilli, mint, cumin, turmeric, coriander, cardamom, ginger. The principal exports are spice oils and oleoresins, curry powders and mixers and speciality extracts and blends.

Given that India is the largest consumer of spices in the world, domestic market plays a vital role in its spices exports. Some consider spices export as a residual activity, i.e., as a means to dispose of excess domestic production over domestic consumption.

The export shares of various spice items as a proportion of production are: pepper (50 %), chilli (16 %), Cumin (13 %), fenugreek (10 %), fennel (7 %), cardamom

(6.5 %), turmeric (5 %), ginger (1 %), coriander (1%).
With the rapid growth in population and rising standards of living, Indian domestic demand for spices is also increasing, and the future of spices exports

depend critically on enhancing productivity levels of spices.

Indian Spice board

The Spice Board, under the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, Government of India is promoting the exports of Indian spices. The Board has been playing an essential role as a developmental, regulatory and promotional agency for Indian spices. Its broad-based activities include formulation and implementation of quality improvement systems, research and development programmes, imparting of education and training to farmers, processors, packers and exporters on post-harvest handling, brand promotion etc

In India, food safety and hygiene have never been a priority for exporters. Spice exports demand a change in the attitude of traders and transformation in the trading system itself. Ideally, spice intermediaries and exporters should have access to capital technology and market information. Corporate and large traders have to establish backward linkages with the primary producers. It is urgently required to formulate a long term view of quality-related issues, including investment in rural infrastructure and education of farmers.

The health technologies like fluxidised extraction; using hydrofluorocarbon supercritical extraction technologies, pasteurization, gas fumigation using ethylene oxide, gamma radiation, coextrusion heat treatment, heat treatment un-modified product etc. are only marginally employed at present. The introduction of safer products should be done without sacrificing the objectives of efficiency and competitiveness.

Zafran ka safar (the journey of saffron)

Ms. Gena Fazel

Rich purple blossoms glisten on a dewy morning, laid against a clear blue sky. These celestial blooms possess the world’s highest-valued spice – saffron. Our land is graced by its influence as it flies high and bright on our national flag depicting the values of courage and sacrifice. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, the second President of India, beautifully encapsulated its significance by noting that ‘Bhagwa’ or the saffron color denotes renunciation or disinterestedness. Our leaders must be indifferent to material gains and dedicate themselves to their work, ‘indicating it’s religious connotations wherein ascetics take up saffron robes and leave behind worldly pleasures. Kesari adorns Mughalai dishes, with their creamy gravy and luscious meat, whose ambrosial taste is enhanced by the addition of the red threads. Biryani, pork korma, Murg Kashmiri, and shrikhand have their tastes elevated while the diner savors the blend of health, flavor, and aroma. Saffron is essentially the fiery red stigma of the flower, which imparts a tinge of yellow when it comes in contact with liquids. The aroma and color of Zafran cannot be replicated or imitated; a feature that makes it unique.

From being used as a fabric dye to christening the basest of dishes with flavor, saffron is an enigma that speaks for itself. It’s health benefits are ambrosial – packed with the goodness of antioxidants and carotenoids such as lycopene, it is also a rich source of minerals such as calcium, iron, and magnesium and vitamins A and C. The female part of the flower – the crocus sativus may produce an abundance of several flowers which will further be processed by drying/curing processes before it enters the market. Quality is of key concern, as demand has shot up in this consumerist culture. It is evaluated on the Spectrophotometry report which analyses various chemicals that influence the aroma, flavor, and color of the saffron stigma. In tech-speak, these are crocin, picrocrocin, and safanal. There is an odd manner in which the quality of saffron is gauged – the stronger the color, the better it is.

According to a UNIDO report, ‘Saffron stigmas are graded on color, bitterness, and aroma, and the ISO 3632-1 classification divides the filaments into four categories depending on the percentage of floral waste and percentage of extraneous matter and on the assay results for color, bitterness, and aroma. There is a major cause of concern for adulteration of saffron stigmas; more often than not the packages are intermingled with reddish-orange or yellowish styles which give off a putrid smell and are sticky to the touch. Large bands of this plant cut across the field of Spain, France, Italy, Turkey, Iran, and the cold landscape of Jammu and Kashmir. Each country has its local classification and grading standards varying from ‘Sargol’ in Iran to ‘Mancha’ in Spain or the Italian ‘Aquila’ and Kashmir’s ‘Mongra’. The FAO has recognized the farming system in Pampore which threads the banks of the Vatista that is a treasure house of traditional farming methods that the labor-intensive saffron cultivating society has preserved over eons. Known for its ‘lazazat’, the saffron lands aren’t the main source of income for the laborers – livestock, silkworm, fodder, fuel, fruit, and mulberry trees line the farm boundaries thereby maintaining traditional agro-biodiversity and enhancing integrated ecosystems’ multi-functioning.

Saffron has been popularized in contemporary times due to the spread of the Kashmiri population to major cities like Delhi where the agglomeration has propagated the fondness for the kahwa beverage. Lightly flavored with saffron threads, the green tea’s fresh warm odor emitted due to the inclusion of various ingredients like cinnamon and cardamom, the pleasant taste holds a history of lands separated by conflict. The exquisite beverage is perfect to take in a fresh breath of life on a cold winter evening. Time to stock up the samovars!