Sri Lankan Cuisine and Spices of Sri Lanka

Sri Lankan Cuisine

Sri Lankan cuisine is a blend of herbs, spices, fish, vegetables, rice, and fruits. The high light of the food is many varieties of rice and coconut, a staple food throughout Sri Lanka. Seafood also plays a significant role in the cuisine. New food items were brought into Sri Lanka by foreign traders and its cuisine was influenced by the local traditions of ethnic groups. Sri Lankan cuisine is characterized by unique spice blends with heavy use of Sri Lankan cinnamon and black pepper, as well as by the use of ingredients such as Maldive fish, goraka (garcinia cambogia), pandan leaf, lemongrass, and jiggery made from the kithul palm syrup.

Spices of Sri Lanka

Since ancient times, herbs and spices have been influencing Eastern cuisine since they can enhance the flavor and aroma of a dish dramatically. Currently, herbs and spices are also valued for their medicinal properties other than their flavoring properties. Sri Lanka is no stranger to the world of herbs and spices; it is known as the 'Spice Island'. Sri Lankan spices have influenced the cuisine of the local communities with their rich flavor and aromatic properties. The island’s central mountainous area has diverse climatic zones facilitating the production of many aromatic plants. The principal spices are cinnamon and citronella in the southern coastal belt; pepper, cloves, nutmeg, and cardamom in the central hills, especially around Kandy and Matale. Small amounts of ginger, patchouli, vanilla, and sandalwood are also grown. Sri Lanka supplies the international market with some of the most sought-after spices and allied products such as cinnamon, pepper, cloves, cardamoms, nutmeg, mace, and vanilla. These are 12 major Herbs and spices found in Sri Lanka.

  • Cinnamon

Cinnamon is the most popular spice in Sri Lanka. It is well-known the world over for its qualities such as unique flavor, color, and aroma. It has been a part and parcel of Sri Lankan culture for a long period, being used as a food preservative and for its natural flavoring properties.

The bark emanates a sweet fragrance and is commonly used in bakery products, flavored teas, or meat preservation and it possesses medical properties to treat chronic diseases such as diabetes and cancer. It also contains some anti-inflammatory properties.

  • Pepper

Known as the king of spices, it is notable for its sharp aroma and mildly spicy flavor and is hence used as a substitute for chilies. It has also got medicinal properties and is used in natural remedies.

  • Curry Leaves

Also called ‘Karapincha’ locally this spice can be found in almost any Sri Lankan home garden. These leaves produce a strong fragrance when tempered making them an ideal seasoning. They have also got some medicinal properties against liver diseases and cholesterol

  • Pandan Leaves

The Pandan leaves or ‘Rampe’ belong to a variety of screw-pine plants.  The leaves emanate an exotic fragrance and they are an effective way to add aroma and flavor to a dish.

  • Lemongrass

It is a tropical island plant belonging to the grass family. They have a scent resembling that of lemons. They have hairy spikelets that project from boat-shaped spathes. It is the most widely used herb in Sri Lankan cooking. They are used as a diuretic, tonic, or stimulant and exhibit various other medicinal properties.

  • Cloves (Karambunatti):

Cloves are the aromatic flower buds of a tree in the family Myrtaceae, Cloves are used in the cuisine of AsianAfricanMediterranean, and the Near and Middle East countries, lending flavor to meats, curries, and marinades, as well as fruit. Cloves are used in traditional medicine as the essential oil, which is used as an anodyne (analgesic) mainly for dental emergencies and other disorders.

  • Cardamom

Cardamom is a small seed pod with black seeds inside that extrude its famous sweet fragrance. It finds its usage in meat curries and rice dishes, desserts, tea, etc. It is no wonder cardamom is known as ‘The Queen of Spice’ for its broad culinary and medicinal uses.

  • Chilli

An easy way to make your dish super spicy to make your eyes watery is to use chilies in your cuisine. These chilies come in different colors, sizes, and hot levels. In Sri Lanka different types of chilies are cultivated, one of them is red chili which is usually used in different forms—powdered, sliced, or dried and another type is green chilies which are hotter than red chilies.

  • Cumin

Cumin is the dried seed of the herb Cuminum cyminum, a member of the parsley family. Cumin seed is used as a spice for its distinctive flavor and aroma.

Cumin can be used as a ground or as whole seeds.  It imparts an earthy, warming, and aromatic character to food, making it a staple in certain stews and soups, as well as spiced gravies such as curry and chili.  It is also used as an ingredient in some pickles and pastries. Apart from its culinary value, it is known for its medicinal properties to aid against digestive difficulties, blood cholesterol, or diabetes.

  • Coriander

Coriander has been common in Sri Lankan cuisine for centuries. Traditionally both the Coriander seeds and leaves have been utilized as a spice and as a medicine to cure upset stomachs, nausea, bacterial infections, and more.

As a spice coriander seeds have a rather spicy citrus flavor. The seeds are first roasted and ground into a fine powder to use in dishes and are an essential ingredient in Sri Lanka Curry powder.

  • Ginger

Ginger needs no introduction and is currently one of the most widely used spices in the world. The spice is extracted from the roots of the ginger plant and is used in both culinary and medicinal applications.

Ginger is a fragrant kitchen spice. It is used to tenderize and flavour meats and enhances the taste of any dish it is used in. Ginger can also be ground into a fine powder to be used in making desserts or sliced and soaked in hot water to make ginger tea which is a popular beverage rich in health benefits.

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