A Journey into the Indian Spice Markets
India is one of the most culturally rich nations in the world. It’s home to several different cultures and numerous languages. When you think of India, several things come to mind: vibrant colours, spicy food, incredible hospitality, and much more. From the majestic Taj Mahal to the extravagant Taj Hotels, the aromatic dining cuisine to the mouth-watering street food, India serves all kinds of tourists.
Among its many delightful attractions, you’ll find the local spice markets – rich with many colours and flavours. For centuries, these markets have invited visitors and businesses alike from around the world.
The Rich History of Indian Spices
A region rich in spices, India has grown and traded her resources for over 7,000 years. Along with perfumes and textiles, spices were a key part of India’s trade with China, Mesopotamia and Egypt.
During the 15th century, Arab traders supplied these spices to the West, while keeping their source a secret. However, once European settlers discovered the true origins of Indian spices, they embarked on long expeditions and quests to acquire the valuable ingredients. It’s easy to see why the spice trade brought in many traders and invaders; spices were so difficult to acquire, they were once valued higher than gold.
Today, Indian spices are more commonly available and easier to acquire, but their charm and appeal remain the same. India is the largest producer of spices in the world, and several of her markets are known internationally for their quality and diverse variety of spices. No two markets will be the same, as different spices call different regions home.
A Trip Inside the Spice Markets of India
Visiting an Indian spice market today is an experience unlike any other. Rows of vendors line the sides of the market, each carrying exceptional ingredients. Some of these shops have been family owned for years and passed down from one generation to the next. Loud voices fill the market, with each person louder than the last, creating harmonious background sounds. Negotiation is a skill mastered at the market. In fact, it’s a well-known fact that you will pay a little more for those treasured goods as a tourist than a local would. And yet, the candid advice of fellow local buyers will often make up that slight cost bump.
Inside the market, you’ll find many common Indian spices that might seem foreign to us visitors. These include green cardamom, and star anise. You will also find herbs and spices such as ginger, carom seeds, nutmeg, turmeric, red chillies and cinnamon that are staples in Indian households for their flavour and their value.
Markets in different parts of the country are known to carry unique varieties of spices. The famous Crawford Market in Mumbai carries some of the rarest spices in the city. These include turmeric, real cinnamon or kalpaasi, which is a dried lichen used in certain masalas. In Northern Kerala, you’ll find the vibrant spice port of Telicherry. Its markets carry several masalas and spices such as Indian bay leaves, aniseed, black pepper corns and royal cumin.
Which Spice to Choose?
With so many different spices, it can be tricky to decide which spice is worth purchasing. While each spice belongs to its own delicious recipes, there are a few spices that are commonly used in Indian cuisine. Some of those spices are relatively unknown in Western cuisine, and listed here:
- Turmeric: This essential spice is present in many Indian recipes, and blended into several masalas. While you can never have “too much,” it can be a bit bitter if burnt while cooking.
- Black Salt or ‘Kala Namak’: This rock salt is commonly used to season snacks and appetizers. This namak has a tangy flavour, but a strong aroma.
- Asafoetida: While this ingredient is the least known of the three, it’s a common addition to most spice filled meals.
Keeping Spices Fresh
If you’re buying fresh spices from an Indian market, it’s important to know how to preserve their freshness. Here are a few tips to keep in mind:
- Less is more: Fresh spice should not be stored for more than a year. Buy smaller quantities and use to the fullest.
- Stock annually: If possible, replace your spices at least once a year. While a trip to India every year may not be possible, you might be able to find local vendors and suppliers close to home.
- Whole, not ground: Buying spices whole rather than ground will help preserve their freshness and they will last longer.
- Crush before use: Certain spices are best added crushed into your cooking. They offer better aroma and a stronger flavour.
Here at Spoonful Botanicals, we’d love to share more information with you about the ethically sourced spices and botanicals that go into our food supplements. Feel free to call us or contact us online.
 Source: India Brand Equity Foundation