Spices Grown in Sri Lanka – by Dr. R. S. Kularatne

Sri Lankans use many spices in preparation of their major meals specially known as rice and curry. Chilies are the highest consumed spice as like as in many other Asian countries. Although chilies are grown in Sri Lanka, it is not common to produce dried red chilies which are used as a spice. Rather, chilies are used as green chilies in order to flavor their curries. Yet, Sri Lanka is very famous for valuable spice production and has many historical events related to spices. Following are major spices grown in Sri Lanka.


Botanical name: Cinnamomum Zeylanicum Blume, Synonym- C. verum J. Presl

Sinhala Name:            Kurundu

Tamil Name: Karuwa

Sri Lanka is the largest producer and exporter of true cinnamon in the world and Cinnamon believed to be originated in the central part of Sri Lanka. This has been evident by seen wild species of cinnamon in that region. However, Cinnamon has subsequently been introduced to coastal areas and now most of the cinnamon cultivations are concentrated to coastal areas of Galle and Matara Districts. Bark of the cinnamon tree is the major component used as a spice and leaves is used for oil distillation. Cinnamon quills, cinnamon powder, bark oil, leaf oil are the major products produces out of cinnamon plant. Cinnamon bark is used in Sri Lankan cooking as a spice.

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Botanical name: Piper nigrum L.

Sinhala Name:            Gammiris

Tamil Name: Milahu 

Pepper is commonly known as “King of the spice” is the second largest spice commodity in the world trade, next to chilli. It also is the second important spice crop grown in Sri Lanka, first being the cinnamon. Pepper cultivations are distributed in wet and intermediate zones in Sri Lanka from sea level up to about 1000m above sea level. It believes that pepper originated in India and spread to other parts of the world. Many wild species pepper are seen in natural jungles of Sri Lanka. Therefore, we suspect that pepper may have also been originated in Sri Lanka. Black pepper is the main product of pepper while white pepper, pepper oleoresin, pepper oil, pepper souse and preserved pepper berries are some of the other products made out of pepper.


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Botanical name: Elettraria cardamomum(L.) Maton nigrum

Sinhala Name:            Enasal

Tamil Name: Ealam  

The dried fruit of Cardamom is comely Known as “Queen of spices”. The origin of cardamom is India and Sri Lanka is one of the cultivating countries. This is a crop grown in high elevations under high forest canopy with a well distributed rainfall over 2500mm. There are three types of cardamom suitable to cultivate in different elevations. Malabar type has prostrate fruiting branches (panicles) and cultivated in lower elevations between 500-1000m from sea level. Mysore type has erect panicles while Vazukka type produces semi-erect panicles. Both these types are grown in elevations over 1000m. Dried fruit is the main product of cardamom and cardamom oil is extracted from seeds. 

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Botanical name: Syzygiumaromaticum (L.) Merr. & L.M. Perry

Sinhala Name:            Karabu

Tamil Name: Karaambu        

Clove is Native to the Malucca Islands in Indonesia and has been introduced to other parts of the world.  Although it has been cultivated in many countries, Zanzibar is the largest producer of clove in the world as at present. Clove has cultivated in areas of having average annual rainfall of 1750-2500mm. Dried fully matured unopened flower buds is the product of clove and clove oil is extracted from these dried flower buds.

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Botanical name: Myristica fragrans Houtt.

Sinhala Name:            Sadikka

Tamil Name: Sadikkai          

Same as clove, nutmeg also indigenous to Malucca Islands in Indonesia and subsequently been introduced to other parts of the world. The nutmeg tree is important that produce two spices nutmeg (nutmeg seed) and mace.  Indonesia is the largest producer and exporter of nutmeg and mace even today. Nutmeg is grown is same areas where clove is growing in Sri Lanka. Nutmeg oil is extracted from seeds while nutmeg husk can be used to produce Jam, jelly, marmalade, preserved in sugar or salted and dried as a condiment.  


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Botanical name: Vanilla flanifolia. (Synonym- Vanilla fragrans)

Sinhala Name:            Vanila

Tamil Name: Venila

Vanilla is believed to be originated in Central America and introduced to many Asian and African countries. It belongs to the Orchidacea family and the flower is designed to protect from natural pollination. Therefor it required to pollinate vanilla flowers by hand to develop it to pods. Indonesia is the leading country that produce vanilla and supply to the world market. In Sri Lanka vanilla cultivation is concentrated only to the central part of the island. Special processing techniques are required to produce fragrant vanilla pods. These processed vanilla pods are used to produce vanilla essence.


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Botanical name: Garcinia gummi-gutta (L.) Roxb.

Sinhala Name:            Goraka

Tamil Name: Goraka 

There are no systematic cultivations of gambooge in Sri Lanka: but, is present in wet and intermediate zones of the Island. Dried husk of the gambooge fruit is the product used as a spice. it is used in Sri Lankan cooking of fish, meat and certain vegetables. The pulp around ganbooge seed is eaten as a fruit.


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Botanical name: Curcuma longa (L.)

Sinhala Name:            Kaha

Tamil Name: Manjal

Turmeric is cultivated in every parts of the Island except in very high elevations. However, it is commercially cultivated under coconut as an inter-crop. Processed and dried rhizomes are powdered and used as the spice. Turmeric powder is added to almost every cooking in Sri Lanka mainly as a coloring agent. Turmeric also used as an herbal medicine and religious activities in Sri Lanka. Turmeric oil and cur cumin are the other products made out of turmeric.

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Botanical name: Zingiber officinale Roscoe.

Sinhala Name:            Kaha

Tamil Name: Inji

Although ginger is cultivated in many parts of the wet and intermediate zones of the Island, it is widely cultivated in coconut plantations as an inter-crop. Fresh ginger is used in certain preparation of foods while dried and ground ginger is used in preparations of drinking tea. The main use of ginger in Sri Lanka is as a herbal medicine. Ginger is also used in beverage and confectionery industries. Ginger oil, preserved ginger in sugar syrup or in brine, salted and dried ginger slices and sugar coated dried ginger slices are some of the other products made out of ginger.


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Botanical name: Tamarindus indica (L.)

Sinhala Name:            Siyambala

Tamil Name: Puli

Tamarind is a tropical tree and it grows in dry and intermediate zones of Sri Lanka. There are no systematic cultivations; but, available in many open areas. Tamarind plants have recently been planted in either side of some roads in order to provide shade and for beautification of road sides. Fleshy part around the seed in ripened and dried pods are used as a spice. Tamarind is very popular among Tamil community of Sri Lanka to flavour their foods while Sinhalese people also used in some food preparations. Tamarind cordial, chutney, and sweets are some of the other uses of tamarind.