An organic spice that is farmed in Sri Lanka, pepper (Piper nigrum) is well-renowned worldwide for its strong aroma and unique taste. It’s one of those spices that caters to the Sri Lankan palette which is generally accustomed to spicy food. It’s what contributes to making our ‘Rice and Curry’ so special.
Harvested from pepper vines, the tiny fruits in their almost-ripe state, are then dried to yield the spice in it’s black, spherical peppercorn form. These are consumed as is, or ground to a fine, black powder to be used for culinary purposes. The distinct qualities that pepper is known for, is attributed to Piperine, an alkaloid compound that is present in the spice. In fact, pepper is used as an excellent antibacterial agent especially when combined with organic turmeric (which contains Curcumin that is activated by the Piperine.)
Pepper has also been known as “a girl’s best friend” apart from diamonds, not only because it was considered to be as valuable as gold back in the day, but also as a sturdy companion in the form of pepper spray!
Popularly used in French and Chinese cuisines, white pepper (Piper nigrum) is quite different from the black version. Although they are both locally sourced from the same plant, the way in they are processed, differ from each other. Black pepper is dried in its almost-ripe form till the outer skin blackens and this contributes to the pungent heat that it exudes. However, white pepper is dried once fully ripened and then allowed to ferment after the outer layer has been removed. This reduces its heaty properties but contributes to forming complex undertones that impart a floral, earthy aroma to the food it is added to.
White pepper is also renowned for its healing properties, especially in preventing colon cancer and battling skin conditions like Vitiligo.
A prized spice that is rich in its antioxidant levels, Clove (Syzygium aromaticum) has been much sought-after, throughout the ages. Best used in its plump, bud form, Clove is not only known for quickly enlivening a dish, but also for its diverse array of medicinal properties.
Used in toothpastes and mouthwashes, Clove has gained a sturdy reputation for its heady, fresh aroma. However, it is also more commonly used because of its antimicrobial properties. Being rich in anti-oxidants (in fact, the richest known organic source of antioxidants), Clove is often put to good use to boost overall well-being.
Clove buds yield essential oils that are good sources of Vitamins and Omega-3 fatty acids.
This spice, derived from the tree Myristica fragrans, was originally native to Indonesia. However, the demand for the spice has drastically increased world-over in light of its diverse qualities. Used as an immediate pick-me-up in foods to boost the taste, Nutmeg boasts of an intense flavor. Also rich in essential oils and vitamins, it is best used in its whole form for enriched potency.
Nutmeg, just like Mace, is well-known for its medicinal properties and can be used as an antimicrobial agent. Also consumed for its properties that aid digestion and boost oral and skin health, Nutmeg has proved to be a spice that promotes good health in addition to its other intrinsic properties.
Mace (Myristica fragrans), the net-like substance that cocoons the nutmeg stone within its outer shell, is a common favorite amongst culinary artists for its properties that are similar to, yet milder than, nutmeg..
Although native to Indonesia, it is globally recognized as a versatile spice. Largely consumed in its ground form, organic Mace is renowned for its subtle flavor and slight sweetness. It is richer in concentrations of essential oils than Nutmeg and is therefore considered to be slightly more valuable. Moreover, it is also abundant in antioxidants and is widely used in Sri Lankan and Indian indigenous medicine for its healing properties. Also containing Vitamins A and B along with high levels of Iron, Mace is one of those spices that certainly deserve a place in every pantry!
Elettaria cardamomum, more commonly known as Cardamom, is renowned for its high value and vast array of benefits. Originating from India, Cardamom, is now cultivated in Sri Lanka and countries like Guatemala. It is widely used in Ayurveda for its medicinal value that includes antimicrobial, anti-carcinogenic and anti-depressant properties. It remains an old favorite of chefs and cooks alike for the instant and rich aroma that it imparts to the food and drinks it is added to!
Turmeric or Curcuma longa, the golden-yellow spice that works wonders on curries also exhibits exemplary medicinal properties! The active ingredient, Curcumin in turmeric has been highly studied as a potential drug for Alzheimer’s disease and Arthritis and has shown very positive responses that are being studied on further. Also rich in antioxidants, turmeric is an excellent addition to the daily diet as well as being utilized for its anti-microbial properties. Turmeric is best used with Black pepper as the “piperine” in pepper promotes good absorption of the Curcumin compound.
Zingiber officinale or Ginger is known for its satisfyingly pungent aroma that acts as a natural pick-me-up for dishes. In Sri Lankan households, ginger holds a dear place in our hearts as the main ingredient in “inguru thae” (ginger tea) which is a popular favorite among locals! In addition to flavoring food, it also is a wonder-drug for gastrointestinal relief and is commonly used for its anti-inflammatory qualities. Ginger is also being researched avidly for its potential as anti-cancer drug.
Murraya Koenigii Spreng or “Karapincha” as known in Sri Lanka, is the most commonly used flavoring agent in the island. The use of the leaves in dishes is so commonplace to the point where excluding it would come as a surprise! Curry leaves impart a distinct aroma to the curries that is yet to be matched by any other additive. Moreover, the benefits of its usage are also far and wide whereby it encompasses so many different fields of interest. It is used as in cancer treatment, to control cholesterol levels, as an anti-oxidant and as an excellent hair-growth promoter!
Moringa oleifera, or Moringa leaves are rapidly gaining a reputation for being a super-food that is rich in vitamins, essential amino acids and antioxidants. Having been used consistently in traditional cooking, Moringa is said to have in its possession several antimicrobial properties and anti-inflammatory qualities, that can be utilized to improve human health. Moringa is so rich in its beneficial components that it can be ingested as a daily supplement that boosts good health, growth and also as an iron-supplement!
Cymbopogon citratus also known as Citronella grass is a widely used flavor additive in Thai and Vietnamese cooking. Its citrus-y aroma is a popular favorite amongst chefs to enhance the cooking of sea-food and other dishes. A source that is rich in essential vitamins, lemongrass is also known for its immune-boosting capabilities and importance in aromatherapy. Lemongrass can even be utilized as an insect-repellant or as a preservative. The active ingredient, Citral, is also known to relieve muscle spasms and headaches.