Common spices of Kerala

We have details with photos of the most famous spices of Kerala which are grown and commonly used in Kerala cooking. These spices grown in Kerala have been world famous from ancient times, especially the black pepper and Cardamom of Kerala.

Where to buy best spices in Kerala?

One of the priorities of all tourists to Kerala is to buy the best quality Kerala spices. All tourists visit Cochin (or Kochi as it is renamed now) and for the best quality fresh Kerala spices Cochin is the best place to buy it. Mattancherry in Cochin is famous for Kerala Spices. Another good place to shop for spices in Kerala is on Broadway Street, Ernakulam, Cochin.

Difference between black pepper and green pepper of Kerala

Green Pepper as it grows on the pepper plantGreen Pepper when dried gives Black Pepper
Green Pepper and Black Pepper

The images above show that the black peppercorns, while on the pepper plant, is green peppercorns. When dried this green peppercorns becomes the black peppercorns that most of us know. Black pepper has a taste that has captivated the world, but not many know the taste of Kerala’s curries made with fresh green pepper corns. If and when you are in Kerala, make sure to taste some dishes made with Green Pepper corns. It is an experience of a lifetime.

Kerala is the home of the pepper plant, in ancient times, it only grew in Kerala. Pepper was a very rare spice, so rare and sought after, that it was much costlier than gold in those old days. We know for sure that during the time of the Roman Empire, around the time of the birth of Jesus, there was a flourishing trade and ships from the Roman Empire used to visit Kerala regularly. Strong evidence exists that Pepper was being exported from Kerala even from about 3000BC. It is said that when they examined the Mummy of the Pharaoh Ramses of Egypt, they found pepper corns in his nose. It must indeed have been a very rare treasure, to find a place in his nose for his afterlife first breath!

Today pepper plants have migrated from Kerala and is being grown in many different parts of the world. But the variety of black pepper from Kerala, known as the Malabar Pepper, always commands a premium, because it is the best black pepper in the world with the best aroma and taste.

Cardamom from Kerala

Cardamom plant showing green cardamom at base of plantdried Cardamom
Cardamom plant and Dried Cardamom seeds

Fresh Cardamom from Kerala has a much better taste than what you may have experienced from packaged cardamoms that may have been sitting on shop shelves for a long time. Cardamom is one of the main ingredients of what many know as ‘Garam Masala’. There are many varieties of Cardamom in the world, but the variety of Cardamom has a special flavour of it own that none of the other varieties of Cardamom can even come close to.

Cardamom plant is something unique, the pods of cardamom almost grow at ground level as seen in the photo of the cardamom plant above. The way the cardamom seeds are dried makes a difference in the colour of the cardamom. A pale whitish yellow colour indicates that the cardamom has been sun dried for days whereas a greenish colour cardamom pods indicate that it has been processed indoor with heated air. The green cardamom is the better variety.

Cardamom is used widely in Kerala cooking. It is also used to flavour spiced teas, deserts and sweets. Once cardamom is ground or powdered, it should be used immediately, otherwise the aroma of the cardamom slowly disappears.

One strange thing about Cardamom is that it has been a favourite spice in the Scandinavian countries for many centuries. Scandinavian countries are the biggest importers of cardamom from India / Kerala. Could it be possible that Ragnar Lothbrok and his band of Vikings, from the Viking TV Series, made a trip to Kerala :)

Clove spice in Kerala

Clove buds on plantDried Clove buds
Green Clove buds on plant and Dried Cloves

Clove plants were introduced in India by the British East India Company sometime in the 1800s. The first plantations where in South Kerala and Tamilnad. Cloves have been lavishly adopted into Kerala cooking. Cloves have an incredibly powerful aroma and most Kerala dishes use only a few numbers of cloves in the recipe.

Cloves are actually the flower buds of the clove tree as can been seen in the photo above. The clove buds are harvested just as the buds begin to turn into a pinkish colour and just before the bud becomes a flower. You can see in the photo above one of the clove buds turning into a pinkish colour and some buds which have already turned into a clove flower. The pink clove buds are dried to get the typical dark brown colour of cloves as we know it.

Kerala Curry Leaves

Curry leaf plant grown in a flower pot at homeCurry leaves in Kerala Chicken Fry
Curry Leaf plant and Curry leaves in Kerala Chicken Fry dish

Curry leaves are an indispensable ingredient in Kerala cooking. Most Kerala Curries have a common theme: Heat some oil in a pan, put in mustard seeds, when the mustard seeds start popping add sliced onions, curry leaves and split green chillies. Then goes in the powdered spices and the meat, fish or other ingredients. The curry leaf adds a unique flavour that is so special in Kerala Dishes. Almost every dish made in Kerala has Curry leaves in it. Curry leaves are such an important part of Kerala Cuisine, that in most homes in Kerala you will find that they have a couple of curry leaf plant, either planted on the ground or grown in pots when living in apartments. The Curry leaf plant can grow into a small tree, about 20 feet tall.

The picture shows a curry leaf plant growing in a pot and typical Kerala fried chicken legs with the fried curry leaves on it. Even though the fried Curry leaf can be eaten, most people just discard it. This practice has led to a popular saying Kerala, describing an ungrateful guy, as someone who discards his friend just like a curry leaf, when his usefulness is over.

Cochin Ginger from Kerala

Ginger plant showing Ginger rootsGinger is dried to give Chukku which is exported
Ginger plant and Dried Ginger

The best variety of Ginger comes from Kerala and is known as 'Cochin Ginger'. This kerala Ginger got the name 'Cochin Ginger' not because the ginger was grown in Cochin, but because the main market for Ginger grown in Kerala is in Cochin and since the Cochin Port is the main export sea port from India for Ginger.

Kerala farmers have been growing Ginger in Kerala for generations and their Ginger has been selling at a premium in world markets for more than a century. It is dried ginger that is exported from Kerala. This dried Ginger is then powdered and sold in small bottles in the country importing it. I was surprised to see Cochin Ginger powder on sale in the American website

Ginger grown in Kerala is of a special variety and is considered the Ginger with the best ginger in the world because of the unique lemony flavor of the ginger and because the Kerala ginger is not fibrous and tough like normal Ginger. Curries and dishes made with fresh Kerala Ginger has a special taste.

Kudampuli from Kerala

Kudampuli or Kodampuli or Gambooge fruit - scientific name: Garcinia CambogiaDried Kudampuli is a must in some kerala fish curries
Kudampuli raw fruit and Dried Kudampuli

Kudampuli in Kerala is an indispensable ingredient in many types of fish curries in Kerala. Kudampuli gives a unique sour taste to the kerala fish dishes which the people of Kerala just love.

Kudampuli is the dried rinds of the fruit Garcinia Cambogia, which is known by other names like brindleberry and Malabar Tamarind. This fruit was made famous by Dr. Oz, a popular US TV health show star, when he claimed that the fruit Garcinia Cambogia helped reduce weight.

You can see above photos of the kudampuli fruit (Garcinia Cambogia) as well as the jet black dried and smoked rinds of the fruit. These black rids of the fruit is what is used in Kerala cooking

Nutmegs in Kerala

Nutmeg with mace in fruitNutmeg inside its shell
Nutmeg raw fruit with mace and Nutmeg seed

Nutmeg is the seed of a fruit tree. The nutmeg fruit actually has two different kinds of spice inside it: Mace and Nutmeg. Mace is the reddish lace like covering which surrounds the nutmeg seed. Nutmeg is inside a hard shell of the seed. In the photos above you can see the Nutmeg fruit cut in half to reveal the reddish Mace which encircles the nutmeg seed like an octopus. The other photo shows the Nutmeg seed.

Nutmeg is a fairly recent spice to be grown in Kerala. The British East India Company is said to have brought both Clove and Nutmeg sapplings from the Spice Islands near Indonesia to India and planted them in Tamilnad and Kerala in the 1800s. Now Nutmeg production in Kerala is quite sizable.

The taste imparted to food with the use of both Mace and Nutmeg are somewhat the same, though mace is supposedly to give a more delicate flavour. Nutmeg is used in Kerala in meat masalas and also to flavour desserts and sweet dishes.

Turmeric spice called Manjal in Kerala

Turmeric plant showing turmeric rootsTurmeric is usually dried and powdered
Turmeric plant (left) - Turmeric powder (right)

Turmeric spice is made from the rhizome or the root of the Turmeric plant. In the photos above you can see the harvested Turmeric Plants. The roots of the turmeric plant are cut and slightly boiled in water and then dried and powdered to give the turmeric powder that is used as an ingredient in the recipes of almost all Indian dishes including the recipes of Kerala cooking. Turmeric has a strong yellow colour and makes curries or dishes made with it turn a dark yellowish colour. Turmeric paste made with milk is also used in Kerala as a beauty aid to make the skin fair and blemish free.

Turmeric has been proven to have a lot of medicinal value including antifungal and antibacterial properties. There is also some evidence from medical research being carried out that turmeric can be beneficial for diseases like Alzheimer's and Diabetes.

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