Spices found in Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka has always been known for the fabulous number of spices that are grown there and it is one of the reasons that the Portuguese, Dutch and British tried to gain control of it, as spices were worth a king’s ransom.
Today the following spices are found growing in Sri Lanka:
This is the proper stuff known as Cinnamon Zeylanicum (not the Chinese cinnamon known as Cassia). It is the best form of the spice with a thin, smooth, golden bark and is highly prized for its fragrant aroma and sweet taste (used in sweet and savoury dishes!). The bark is peeled from long thin branches of the cinnamon tree before being packed tightly into cigar-shaped quills and dried to a deep golden brown. We can arrange for you to visit a Cinnamon Farm on a boat ride (as an optional excursion) on Koggala Lake on our 15 Day Sri Lanka Itinerary for Groups.
Who knew that pepper was actually grown on a vine that grows to a height of about 13ft (4m) –supported on a pole, and has to be picked by hand. When mature, the peppercorn is actually dark red. The different colours of peppercorns are from different stages of ripeness – black pepper (cooked and dried unripe fruit), green pepper (dried unripe fruit) and white pepper (ripe fruit seeds). It is the second largest spice commodity in the world trade, next to chilli.
The dried fruit of the Cardamom is often known as “Queen of spices”. It is actually the fruit of a tall perennial plant. It consists of a small spindle shaped seed pod containing tiny black seeds. It has a very strong and aromatic taste which is spicy, herbal and citrusy in character and goes very well with many other spices. It is the world’s third most expensive spice!
It is grown extensively throughout the island except in the mountains and is often to be found growing under Coconuts. The rhizomes are ground to a fine powder and used in cooking for its distinct yellow colour and is mostly used in savoury dishes, but is used in some sweet dishes. The spice tastes slightly bitter and peppery with undertones of an earthy flavour.
Another crop that is often grown under Coconuts as an intercrop. The stems look rather like bamboo with narrow green leaves and yellow flower and are about 1m tall but it is the young fresh rhizomes that are used to slice into sweet or savoury dishes. Drying means it can be turned into a fine powder which actually has quite a different taste to the fresh rhizome.
Tamarind is a tropical tree grown throughout many area of Sri Lanka except the wet zone. You may well see these distinct trees with their feathery leaves beside many roads where they have been planted to give shade. The fleshy part around the seed is ripened and these dried pods are used as a spice. The tamarind is best described as sweet and sour in taste, and is often to be found in chutneys.
Cloves are actually the flower buds of an evergreen tree that grows up to 8–12 m tall. It originally came from the Maluku Islands in Indonesia. They are most often used to add depth to curries and marinades.
Nutmeg and Mace
Nutmeg is the seed of an evergreen tree, while Mace is the reddish netlike covering surrounding the seed. The tree originally came from the Banda islands in the Moluccas of Indonesia, and was brought to Sri Lanka by travellers using the Silk Road. Both are used to flavour curries and other food products, confectionaries and bakery products.
All these can be tasted in the fabulous curries you will be served during your Sri Lanka tour but they will also be found in Ayurvedic medicines which are used extensively by the locals as effective medicines for all sorts of ailments!