Spices - Production and Export

By Nazri, M. M. | Economic Review, January 1993 | Go to article overview

Spices - Production and Export


Nazri, M. M., Economic Review


According to Food Technology (USA) Flavour imparting plant materials called 'spices'. Derived from the low Latin species which means fruits of the earth, the term spice has a number of a different definitions, depending upon the point of view of who is doing the defining. Generally speaking spices to be distinguished from herbs, other plant materials used for culinary purposes are derived from a variety of plant parts, e.g. the Bark (Cinnamon) the buds (cloves) the flowers (Saffron), the fruit (all spice, chillies), the roots (ginger, licorice), the seeds (caraway, Mustard), or the secretions (Balm, a gum). They are obtained from plants, that normally flourish in semi-tropical and tropical climates where the sun's heat is said to influence the strength and pungency of the spice. Spices are highly aromatic due to their high content of essential oils. In contrast, herbs are the leaves and stems of soft stemmed plants of which the main stem dies down to the ground at the end of the growing season.

Herbaceous plants usually grow in temperate climates, An additional point of interest is that some herbaceous plants such as coriander and fennel are sources of herbs (the leaves), spices (the seeds) and vegetables (the bulb of fennel). Herbs are further distinguished from spices by their lower content of essential oils, and are used to produce delicate or subtle flavours in contrast to the aromatic flavours imparted by spices.

The American Spice Trade Association (ASTA) define spices in very broad terms as dried plant products used primarily to season food. This definition encompasses all types of products found on the supermarket spice shelf such as the spices considered 'true spices' (e.g. pepper cinnamon, nutmeg), as well as herbs (e.g. basil, marjoram, aromatic seeds (e.g. sesame, poppy, cardamom) blends (e.g. pumpkin pie spice), and dehydrated vegetable seasonings (onion garlic, celery, sweet pepper).

Similarly, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration FDA has a broad definition for spices with one important exception, it excludes dehydrated vegetables such as onion garlic powder and celery powder from the spice list. According to their definition, a spice is 'any aromatic vegetable substance in the whole, broken, or ground form which is used primarily to season food rather than to contribute nutrients. Their definition also requires spices to be true to name and unmodified so that no volatile oil or other flavouring principle has been removed (FDA 1987). FDA regulations state that spices may be labelled as 'spices'; however color-contributing spices - paprika turmeric and saffron - must be declared as spice and coloring or by their common or usual names (FDA 1987). Essential oils, oleoresins, and other natural plant extractives containing flavour constituents may be declared as natural flavour. Dehydrated vegetables must be declared by their usual or common names.

Spices and herbs are the basis of several spice blends such as chili powder, curry powder, poultry seasoning, Chinese five spice, and pumpkin pie spice. These blends which are considered seasonings by consumers are different from the industrial product called seasonings, industrial seasonings contain one or more spices or spice extractive in addition to a number of other dissimilar ingredients such as acidulent, salts, sugars, monosodium glutamate, and ribonuleotides. Prepared by a specialized process called compounding, seasonings are used to enhance the flavour of food and improve its acceptance to consumers. They are added during the processing or manufacture of food and so are distinguished from condiments (e.g. mustard, catsup) which are also spice or spice extractive containing compounds but are added to the food after it is served. Industrial seasonings are widely used in meat products (e.g. bologna, frankfurters, sausage) soups (e.g. French onion soup seasoning and mix) dry gravy mixes, sauces, and salad dressings.

Processing of Spices

Processing is one of the important steps in the post harvest technology of spices. …

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