Spice Production in Asia - An Overview

Narong Chomchalow


Spices are non-leafy parts of plants used as a flavoring or seasoning. They are used to add flavor to foods and beverages, and as herbal medicines. Asia is known as the ‘Land of Spices’ as it is the place of origin, production, consumption and export of most spices. Out of the world’s 70 plant species grown as spices, 13 are considered major spices produced in Asia. They are briefly described below:

Black pepper (Piper nigrum) is the whole dried fruit of a perennial climber. India and Indonesia together produce about half of the world’s total production of 180,000 t. Cardamom is a group of herbaceous plants of the ginger family whose fruits are used as spices. Small cardamom (Elettaria cardamomum) grown in India and Sri Lanka is by far the best quality of all. Others include large cardamom (Amomum subulatum), Bengal cardamom (A. aromaticum), Siam cardamom (A. krervanh), and bastard cardamom (A. xanthioides). India and Sri Lanka are the major producers of cardamoms. Cinnamon and cassia are related plants of the genus Cinnamomum whose bark is used as a spice. Important species include the true cinnamon (C. verum), cassia (C. cassia), Indonesian cassia (C. burmannii), Vietnamese cassia (C. loureirii), and Indian cassia (C. tamala). India and Sri Lanka are the major producers. Chili pepper is obtained from dried fruit of Capsicum annuum and C. frutescens. C. annuum or sweet pepper, which is less pungent, is used to make paprika pepper for flavoring and coloring western foods, while C. frutescens or bird pepper is more pungent and can be made into cayenne pepper to flavor more spicy oriental hot foods. Cloves come from unopened flower buds of Syzygium aromaticum. In Asia Indonesia, India, Malaysia, and Sri Lanka produce clove, but greater quantities are produced in other continents, viz. Madagascar, Tanzania and the West Indies. Coriander is the dried seed of Coriandrum sativum, a herbaceous plant. India is the largest producer followed by Pakistan and Thailand. Cumin (Cuminum cyminum) is an annual herb whose fruits are pungent and highly aromatic. India and China are the main producers. Garlic (Allium sativum) is an annual herb whose underground bulb is used as a spice. Major producing countries are India, Korea, and Thailand. Ginger (Zingiber officinale) is a perennial herb whose underground rhizomes, young and old, are used as a spice. India and Thailand are the major producers. Nutmeg and mace are two spices derived from an evergreen tree (Myristica fragrans). Indonesia produces three-quarters of the total world output, while Grenada is second. Turmeric is the underground rhizome of Curcuma longa. It is used as a spice, natural colorant and herbal medicine. India is the major producer and exporter of turmeric. Vanilla comes from a pod of an orchid plant (Vanilla planifolium) whose fragrance reveals itself after a series of successive treatments and fermentation in the sun. Indonesia is the biggest producer in Asia, but much smaller than Madagascar, the world’s largest producer.

The paper also discusses the constraints faced by Asian spice growers which are: (a) biotic – including diseases, pests and lack of genetic variability, (b) abiotic – drought, flood, fire, storm, soil toxicity, (c) socio-economic – marketing, quality control, competition with other crops and synthetics, and lack of labor/capital, and (d) technological - lack of technologies and technology transfer.


Flavoring; seasoning; Spice Isle; Spice Route; Spice City; black pepper; cardamom; cinnamon; cassia; chili pepper; clove; coriander; garlic; ginger; nutmeg; mace; turmeric; vanilla

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