Definition, Importance and Scope of Spices


Spices constitute an important group of agricultural commodities, which, since antiquity, have been considered indispensable in the culinary arts for flavouring foods. Some are used in pharmaceuticals, perfumery, cosmetics, and several other industries, and others possess colourant, preservative, antioxidant, antiseptic, and antibiotic properties. Besides, they also play quite a significant role in the national economy of India and also in those of various other spice-producing, exporting, and importing countries of the world.

Definition of Spices and Condiments

  • According to the latest available International Organization for Standardization (ISO) report, Budapest, Hungary, there are about 109 spices grown in different parts of the world.
  • India grows about 63 of these. But the commercial cultivation is limited to about a dozen spices. Both ISO and ISI (now BIS) experts have concluded, after considerable deliberations, that there is no clear-cut division between ‘spices’ and ‘condiments’ and they are now clubbed together. The term ‘Spices and Condiments’ applies to such natural plant or vegetable products or mixtures thereof, used in whole or ground form, mainly for imparting flavour, aroma, and pungency to food and also for seasoning foods and beverages like soups, etc.
  • Spices are natural plant products used to improve the flavour, aroma, taste, and colour of food products; they are also used in beverages, liquors, and pharmaceutical, cosmetic, and perfumery products. From time immemorial, India has been known as the ‘Land of Spices’. No other country in the world has such a diverse variety of spice crops as India. Indian spices are renowned for their excellent aroma, flavour, and pungency, not easily matched by any other country.

World Trade in Spices

The status of the world spice trade in 1998 was 026,076 tonnes which is valued at over US $ (000) 2,33,8541. The comparative importance of individual spices in world trade in decreasing order is illustrated in Table.

World Rank



Black and white pepper


Capsicums (Chillies and Nprika)’


Seed Spices


Cinnamon and Cassia






Nutmeg and Mace




Curry powder




Pimento (Allspice)





Table: Comparative importance of individual spices in world trade

Importance of individual spice requirements

  • The importance of individual spice requirements differs from one importing country to another. However, in most world markets, pepper is almost invariably the principal or the most important world spice imported in terms of both its volume and value. The only exceptions are Finland, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait (importers of small cardamom), and the Democratic Republic of Yemen (importers of ginger and chillies). Next in order of importance is the capsicum group, consisting of paprika (the leading item), chillies, and cayenne pepper.
  • Nutmeg, mace, cinnamon, and cassia also feature prominently in the import of spices into the industrialized markets of Western Europe and North America. Pimento (Allspice) is the major item in the socialist countries of Eastern Europe and the USSR.
  • The other volume items of significance are ginger, turmeric, and spice seeds e.g. coriander, juniper, anise, caraway, and cumin. In terms of volume, world imports of spice seeds amount between 55,000 and 60,000 tonnes, annually, but in general, they are low-value items. On the other hand, vanilla, saffron, and cardamom are high—unit value spices but their trading volume is low. Another high-value item is clove, but this is a special case, as over 75-80% of world clove exports are imported into Indonesia for their `Kretek’ cigarette industry.

Area and production

Some of the important spices of India are pepper, cardamom, chilli, ginger, turmeric, coriander, cumin, fennel, fenugreek, celery, saffron, tamarind, and garlic. Spices produced and exported in small quantities are aniseed, bishop’s weed (ajowan), dill seed, poppy seed, tejpat, curry leaves, cinnamon, kokam and a few other culinary herbs. Certain spices, though cultivated in the country, are imported for want of sufficient production. Such spices are clove, nutmeg, mace, star anise, allspice, and some herbal spices like rosemary, thyme, marjoram, oregano, chive, parsley, sage, savory, tarragon and basil. Commercial cultivation has still not commenced in vanilla and paprika, but there is immense potential for their production and export. The area and production of important spices in India are given in Table 3.

Kerala retains the lead in black pepper production in the country, contributing 96% of the area and 97% of production. The black pepper area in India increased from 0.8 lakh hectares in 1950-51 to 1.92 lakh hectares in 1990-00. Similarly, production increased from 20,500 tonnes to 58,290 tonnes from 1950-51 onwards, mainly due to the lucrative prices prevailing for black pepper in the domestic and international markets. The annual growth rates observed for area, production, and productivity of black pepper for the last decade were 1.3, 3.3, and 1.5%, respectively. However, it is paradoxical to note that in spite of a highly favourable climate, improved varieties, and high-tech production technologies, the productivity of black pepper in the country is very low (303 kg/ha) compared to the other pepper-producing countries (3 to 4 t/ha).

 Table:- Area and production of spices in 2017-18

Area in ‘000 Ha

Production in ‘000 MT











Chillies (Dried)



Cinnamon/ Tejpata







































Mint (Mentha)






Source: NHB database 2018-19

During the past years, there has been a steady increase in area and production of spices in India. The annual growth rate of area and production of spices in India is estimated to be 5.6% and 0.0% respectively in 2017-18 over 2016-17. The total area under spices cultivation is about 25431000 hectares with a -production of 311714000 M tonnes. Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, and North Eastern States are important states for spices production.

Among the spices cultivated in India, black pepper is known as the ‘King of Spices’. It is the most important dollar—earning crop of the country which plays a decisive role in our national and state economics. Kerala is in the foremost position contributing 96% of the area. The production has also increased from 55590 tonnes to 79100 tonnes. India’s hitherto unquestioned strata as the largest producer and exporter of black pepper in the world is/is now under threat from Vietnam.

Cardamom, renowned as the ‘Queen of Spices’ is known as an important commodity of the international market. India has enjoyed a near monopoly in the area under cultivation, production, and export of cardamom up to the early eighties. But Guatemala has stepped up its production from the mid-eighties and India was relegated to second position in production.

The area under cultivation has come down from 1.05 lakh hectares in 1987-88 to 0.72 lakh hectares in 1999- 2000. But in 2001-02 the area has further increased to 1.02 lakh hectares.

The production of cardamom in India was 17300 tonnes during 2001-02. But the global import demand for cardamon is worked out as 25000 tonnes during 2005 AD. India is a major producer and exporter of chilli.

Chilli was cultivated in an area of 8.81 lakh hectares in 2001-2009 with a production of 11.13 lakh tonnes. It contributes 27.36 % and 29.56 % respectively to the total area and production from all spices.

Ginger also contributes much towards the export earnings. India has the largest area (84600 hectares) under ginger cultivation with a production of 2.064 lakh tonnes during 2001-02. It is grown mainly in Kerala, Sikkim, Assam, West Bengal, Tripura and Arunachal Pradesh. The area under ginger cultivation was 21590 hectares during 1970-71.

India is the major producer of turmeric. The area of turmeric has increased from 1.30 hectares during 1996-97 to 1.67 lakh hectares during 1996-97, and 1.67 lakh hectares during 2001-02. The production of turmeric has recorded an increase from 3.07 lakh tonnes to 5.52 lakh tonnes. Major turmeric-growing states of India are Assam, Maharashtra, Orissa, Meghalaya, Andhra Pradesh, Gujrat and Madhya Pradesh.

Among the seed spices grown in India. coriander, cumin, fenugreek, and fennel are important. Seed spices are also an important commodity in the international market. India produces about 80% of the world’s supply of coriander. Only Rajasthan alone accounts for 70% of production.

The area of coriander cultivation was 4.33 lakh hectares and production was 3.18 lakh tonnes during the year 2001-02. In cumin, India also holds an enviable position. 90% of total production is coming from Rajasthan and Gujrat.

The area under cumin cultivation in India was 5.26 lakh hectares during 2001-02. The total production of this seed spice was 2.06 lakh tonnes. Major cumin-producing states are Rajasthan, Gujrat, Punjab, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, and Tamil Nadu.

Fennel is also an important seed spice of India which plays an important role in the foreign market for export. Nearly 90% of total fennel production comes from Gujarat. Other producing states are Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Karnatka and Bihar.

The area and production of fennel during 2001-02 were 39900 hectares and 38500 tonnes respectively In fenugreek, Rajasthan (75%) and Gujarat (25%) take a major position in the area under cultivation. Other fenugreek-producing states are Madhya Pradesh and Haryana.

The area under Fenugreek cultivation in 2001-02 was 1.16 lakh hectars. Production of this spice was recorded 1.36 lakh tonnes in 2001-02. Garlic is also an important spice grown in India. It is grown in sizable areas, especially in Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, Maharashtra, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh.

The area of garlic has increased from 79400 hectares to 88100 hectares in 2001-02. The production of these spices has stepped up from 2.86 lakh tonnes to 3.67 lakh tonnes in 2001-02.

Saffron is the costliest spice in the world. Its cultivation is confined to the Kashmir Valley. India’s share of the global supply of 50 tonnes is a little over 10%.

 Area and Production of Spices in India during 2001-02

Name of the Crop

Area under Cultivation (in 000′ ha)

Production (in 000′ tonnes)













Black Pepper


















Source: National Horticulture Board, Gurgaon

Export of Indian Spices

  • ADD 2009 – 10 DATA Black pepper continues to be the major item of spices (25%) exported followed by seed spices (10%), turmeric (6%), and garlic (1.7%).
  • Black pepper is the largest among the commodities so far exported from India. India exported around 28% of black pepper produced during 2000-2001. Demand for black pepper and its product in the world market is increasing at the rate of 3.2% per annum. The major countries where Indian pepper is exported are the United States, Russia, Italy, Canada, and the United Kingdom. On average 50% of the total production of Indian black pepper is exported to the United States.
  • India had been the largest producer and exporter of small cardamom in the international market till the early eighties for earning valuable foreign exchange for the nation. But recently Guatemala has emerged as the top producer and exporter of cardamom sharing 90% of the world’s exports. India’s share in the world market has come down from 60% during 1986-86 to about 3% in 1996-97.
  • Indian small cardamom is exported to countries like Pakistan, Japan, and the U.A.E. India exported about 1100 tonnes of small cardamom which is worth Rs. 5655 crores, during 2000-2001. In the total spices exported earnings, chilli contributed to about 13%. Indian chilli is exported to over 90 countries. Major importer countries of Indian chilli are the United States, Mexico, the United Kingdom, Singapore, South Africa, and Sri Lanka. During 1996-97, India produced about 9.45 lakh tonnes of chilli (dry) over an area of 9.56 lakh hectares of land throughout the country.
  • India has the largest area (63,000 hectares) under ginger cultivation with production of only 1.97 lakh tonnes. It is mainly grown in Kerala, Assam, Tripura, and Arunachal Pradesh. The productivity of ginger is the lowest (2.94 tonnes/hectare) in India while it is 7.47 tonnes/hectare in the Philippines and 6.2 tonnes/hectare in Sri Lanka. The reasons for low productivity are the thin spread of high-yielding varieties and the incidence of rhizome rot and bacterial wilt.
  • The global trade looks to India for its supply. “Cochin ginger” of India is still a valued item of export. India exports ginger to countries like Pakistan, the U.A.E., the United States, Morocco, and Saudi Arabia.
  • Turmeric of India has tremendous demand in the market of foreign countries. India was the largest producer (4.35 lakh tonnes) and exporter (24900 tonnes) of turmeric during 1996-97. The yellow colouring chemical ‘Curcumin’ is gaining wider use in the food industry, pharmaceuticals, preservatives, and in health and body care. The Alleppey Finger Turmeric (AFT) with a curcumin content of more than 5.5% is in great demand abroad. India exports turmeric to foreign countries like the U.A.E. Iran, Japan, Bangladesh, and South Africa. India exported about 6580 tonnes of turmeric worth Rs. 2296 crores during 2000-2001.
  • India is the largest seed spice-producing country in the world, and its entry as a major exporter in the world is quite indisputable because of its intrinsic qualities and stability in supply. Seed spices like coriander, cumin, fennel, fenugreek aniseed, etc. together contributed 22.6% of the total export earnings during 2000-2001. Seed spices exporting countries are Malaysia, Singapore, South Africa, Indonesia, the United Kingdom, Hong Kong, Nepal, the U.A.E., Japan, and Germany. India exported about 11700 tonnes of coriander, 13800 tonnes of cumin, 4000 tonnes of fennel, and 9050 tonnes of fenugreek during 2000-2001.
  • The market for value-added spices has been growing steadily. India is a global player in the spice oils and oleoresins industry. With the repeated use of spice oils and oleoresins in soft drinks, hamburgers, hot dogs, pizzas, and ethnic foods, the demand for Indian spice oils and oleoresins is bound to increase. India started to export value-added spices from a negligible quantity worth Rs. 1.41 lakhs in the year of 1971-72, during 1995-96, India exported 1912 tonnes of spice oils and oleoresin worths Rs. 38648 lakh during 2001-02

 Spice oil

Spice oil is obtained by steam distillation of various parts of the spices. The essential oil thus obtained are endowed with the major part of the flavour and fragrance properties of the spices.

Following are the various types of spice oils:

Pepper oil: Oil is obtained by steam distillation of dried and crushed berries of black pepper. This oil is used for flavouring food especially when anyone wants the pepper-like aroma without pungency. The oil content varies from 2-4%.

Ginger oil: Ginger oil is obtained from the ground-dried ginger rhizomes by distillation. The usual yield of oil is 1.5-2.5%. But a higher yield of about 4% has also been observed. Ginger oil contains sesquiterpene, high-carbon compounds like gingiberine, and some oxygenated carbons. Ginger is valued for its pungency, heat, and flavour. The major pungent principle is due to the presence of gingerole.

Cardamom oil: Cardamom oil is present in the seed and whole fruit i.e. the capsule. The ground powder of it is used to impart the aroma in the foods. To obtain the oil, the seeds are steam-distilled. It yields oil of 6-8% in capsule and 8-12% in seed. The major constituents of cardamom oil are cineole and terpenyl acetate.

Nutmeg oil: It has 2-15% oil. The bulk of which is composed of terpene hydrocarbons. The oxygenated derivatives consists of geraniole, linalool, terpinole, safrole and elemicin.


  • Oleoresin is a concentrated product that is obtained by extraction of the dry spices.
  • The extraction is done by using an organic solvent or solvent ‘mixture like ethylene eik chloride, acetone, alcohol, and hexane.
  • Oleoresin represents the complete flavour of concentrated fresh spice.
  • It contains volatile as well as non-volatile constituents of the spice.
  • The residual solvent in the oleoresin should be below 30 ppm.
  • Oleoresin can not be used directly because it is too concentrated and is difficult to dispense.
  • But oleoresin can be used directly in fatty products like processed meat, fish cheese, baked food, and vegetables. Oleoresin has greater heat stability than essential oils.

Curry powder

  • It is the powdered blend of a number of spices. It has a good export potential.
  • The number of spices varies from 5 to 20 depending on its end use.
  • Different spices like turmeric, coriander, cumin, fennel, fenugreek, black pepper, chilli, etc. are used to prepare quality curry powder.
  • The composition of curry powder changes according to different needs.
  • The colour, form, and taste of it varies in accordance with the custom of various nations and regions.
  • Spices are ground and then mixed in a definite proportion to prepare curry powder.
  • It generally contains 85% of spices, 10% farina, and 5% salt.
  • It is used to impart a distinct flavour to a variety of preparations like chicken, fish, meat, vegetable noodles, and tea.

Constraints faced in production

  1. Lack of adequate infrastructure for large-scale production and distribution of quality planting materials of the released varieties.
  2. Low productivity due to the cultivation of varieties of poor genetic potential with regard to yield and quality parameters.
  3. Non-manuring, under-manuring, or imbalanced manuring is generally followed.
  4. Non-adoption of recommended cultural practices, as well as soil and water conservation measures.
  5. Non-adoption of integrated pest and disease management practices.
  6. Inadequate extension network for effective transfer of technology.
  7. Frequent fluctuations in prices of the commodities and the absence of a support price.

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