Kerala Is The Indian Spice Capital Of The World. But Can You Grow Indian Spices In The UK? I Answer This UK Spice Growing Question Here. But First, Consider Kerala & The Spice Route and …

What Is Spice?

The first thing to do when discussing the types of Indian spice is to define a spice. It sounds easy but many people get confused by the definition. The first definition I saw online said ” an aromatic or pungent vegetable substance used to flavour food, e.g. cloves, pepper, or cumin.) It’s right of course .. but also arguably wrong in many people’s eyes. Here’s an example of where it might be wrong, Parsley is strongly flavoured and some would say aromatic .. it has an aroma. But it wouldn’t be top of the list of most people’s spice list. Ditto celery. And whilst the celery plant might not be regarded by everyone as a spice what about celery seed? To me it’s a spice, though I know many would disagree.

Indian Spices - Cardamon Seed. B.navez, CC BY-SA 3.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons

Perhaps we ought to agree the definition of spice is difficult. And just focus on the ones I have named in this article.

So what about Kerala?

Kerala: The Spice Capital of the World

  • Kerala is known for its rich history in international trade, dating back to the third millennium BC, making it a significant hub on the spice route connecting India with Southeast Asia and beyond.
  • The quest for spices led explorers like Vasco da Gama to Kerala, aiming to bypass Arab middlemen and directly access the prized Indian spices known for their unique taste and quality.
  • The warm climate and fertile soil of Kerala contribute to the cultivation of a diverse range of spices, each carrying distinct flavors and aromas.
  • Notable spices from Kerala include turmeric, with its alleged immune-boosting properties, and black pepper, renowned for its unique flavour and alleged health benefits.

“I love Indian Spices . For me the Indian spices taste, and the flavours, is nothing short of perfect. Indian is my favourite cuisine.”

Stefan Drew

Kerala’s Spice Legacy and Trade Routes

  • Kerala’s abundance of spices like pepper, turmeric, and cardamom attracted ancient civilizations, including the Roman Empire, which valued these treasures as worth their weight in gold.
  • Despite misconceptions, red chili powder, a staple in Indian cuisine, was actually introduced to India by the Portuguese.
  • Cardamom stands out as an unbeatable spice in taste, flavor, and aroma, earning it the title of the “queen of spices” in Kerala.
  • Kerala remains a pivotal player in the global spice trade, contributing significantly to India’s position as the largest spice exporter worldwide.

“India is the largest exporter of spices and spice items in the world… Kerala tourism and UNESCO plan to revive this 2,000-year-old ancient spice route.”

Growing Spices In Europe

The climate in Kerala, India is tropical and wet, while the UK has a temperate climate with cooler temperatures and more seasonal variations. This difference means not all spices grown in Kerala can be cultivated successfully in the UK.

Here’s a breakdown of some spices from Kerala and their suitability for the UK climate:

Indian Spices That Can be grown in the UK

  • Black Pepper: While it might not reach the same level of pungency as Kerala pepper, black peppercorns can be grown in sheltered, sunny spots in the UK, especially in greenhouses or using cloches.
  • Leafy Herbs: Herbs like curry leaves (though not technically a spice) and coriander can be grown in pots or sheltered gardens during the warmer months in the UK. Fenugreek can also be grown here. Though it does better under glass or in a polytunnel.
  • Chillis: These are of South American origin and were introduced into India by the Portuguese. Today, huge amounts of fresh and dried chillis, red chilli powder etc Arte grown in India.
  • Ginger: While ginger root can be grown indoors in the UK, it wouldn’t be able to produce the large, mature rhizomes typically harvested in Kerala.
  • Cardamom: This requires warm, humid conditions and I thought this wouldn’t survive the colder UK winters. But I’ve recently been assured it can be grown here. I’ll write more about this when I have more information.

Indian Spices Not suitable for the UK:

  • Cloves: Clove trees need tropical temperatures and wouldn’t thrive in the UK climate.
  • Nutmeg: Nutmeg trees require consistent warmth and wouldn’t tolerate the cooler UK temperatures.
  • Cumin: Cumin thrives in hot, dry climates with long, warm summers. The UK’s cooler temperatures and shorter growing season make it a challenging environment for cumin to flourish. While not necessarily a full-sun plant, cumin does benefit from good sunlight exposure. The UK’s generally lower light levels compared to even Mediterranean regions will affect seed production.
    • Tumeric: Turmeric isn’t likely to survive below 10C so cant be grown outdoors. But it can be grown indoors, in pots, if given enough warmth and light.

Spice Alternatives for the UK

While some Kerala spices aren’t suited for the UK climate, there are plenty of flavourful and aromatic alternatives that grow well in British gardens.

  • Dill: Offers a slightly liquorice-like flavour and can be used in place of fennel seeds in some recipes.
  • Thyme: A classic herb with a warm, peppery flavour that complements many dishes.
  • Rosemary: Offers a pungent, piney aroma and pairs well with roasted vegetables and meats.
  • Mint: Available in various varieties, mint adds a refreshing touch to salads, beverages, and desserts.

Remember, success with any spice or herb in the UK depends on factors like location, microclimate, and providing adequate protection during colder periods.

For more on Indian Veg follow the link.

Image Attribution: B.navez, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Tag: Indian Spices

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