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Spices - production and export.

According to Food Technology (USA) Flavour imparting plant materials called 'spices'. Derived from the low Latin species which means fruits of the earth, the term spice has a number of a different definitions, depending upon the point of view of who is doing the defining. Generally speaking spices to be distinguished from herbs, other plant materials used for culinary purposes are derived from a variety of plant parts, e.g. the Bark (Cinnamon) the buds (cloves) the flowers (Saffron), the fruit (all spice, chillies), the roots (ginger, licorice), the seeds (caraway, Mustard), or the secretions (Balm, a gum). They are obtained from plants, that normally flourish in semi-tropical and tropical climates where the sun's heat is said to influence the strength and pungency of the spice. Spices are highly aromatic due to their high content of essential oils. In contrast, herbs are the leaves and stems of soft stemmed plants of which the main stem dies down to the ground at the end of the growing season.

Herbaceous plants usually grow in temperate climates, An additional point of interest is that some herbaceous plants such as coriander and fennel are sources of herbs (the leaves), spices (the seeds) and vegetables (the bulb of fennel). Herbs are further distinguished from spices by their lower content of essential oils, and are used to produce delicate or subtle flavours in contrast to the aromatic flavours imparted by spices.

The American Spice Trade Association (ASTA) define spices in very broad terms as dried plant products used primarily to season food. This definition encompasses all types of products found on the supermarket spice shelf such as the spices considered 'true spices' (e.g. pepper cinnamon, nutmeg), as well as herbs (e.g. basil, marjoram, aromatic seeds (e.g. sesame, poppy, cardamom) blends (e.g. pumpkin pie spice), and dehydrated vegetable seasonings (onion garlic, celery, sweet pepper).

Similarly, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration FDA has a broad definition for spices with one important exception, it excludes dehydrated vegetables such as onion garlic powder and celery powder from the spice list. According to their definition, a spice is 'any aromatic vegetable substance in the whole, broken, or ground form which is used primarily to season food rather than to contribute nutrients. Their definition also requires spices to be true to name and unmodified so that no volatile oil or other flavouring principle has been removed (FDA 1987). FDA regulations state that spices may be labelled as 'spices'; however color-contributing spices - paprika turmeric and saffron - must be declared as spice and coloring or by their common or usual names (FDA 1987). Essential oils, oleoresins, and other natural plant extractives containing flavour constituents may be declared as natural flavour. Dehydrated vegetables must be declared by their usual or common names.

Spices and herbs are the basis of several spice blends such as chili powder, curry powder, poultry seasoning, Chinese five spice, and pumpkin pie spice. These blends which are considered seasonings by consumers are different from the industrial product called seasonings, industrial seasonings contain one or more spices or spice extractive in addition to a number of other dissimilar ingredients such as acidulent, salts, sugars, monosodium glutamate, and ribonuleotides. Prepared by a specialized process called compounding, seasonings are used to enhance the flavour of food and improve its acceptance to consumers. They are added during the processing or manufacture of food and so are distinguished from condiments (e.g. mustard, catsup) which are also spice or spice extractive containing compounds but are added to the food after it is served. Industrial seasonings are widely used in meat products (e.g. bologna, frankfurters, sausage) soups (e.g. French onion soup seasoning and mix) dry gravy mixes, sauces, and salad dressings.

Processing of Spices

Processing is one of the important steps in the post harvest technology of spices. Spices consist of rhizomes, barks, leaves, fruits, seeds and other parts of plant comprising different species and genera. In processing, after harvest they are handled by different unit operations till they are ready for the consumer. Spices are valued for their flavour which consists of both aromatic volatile and definite nonvolatile constituents which are equally important to impart the desired flavour. Thus, the processing steps should ensure proper conservation of the above qualities and keeping the loss to the minimum.

The spices should be harvested at right maturity and handled without much physical damage till they are ready for packaging. In many cases, they are transported to various centres as quickly as possible after drying. The facilities available at the growers' level are not so optimum to apply modern concepts of science and technology in many cases. Hence, the processing steps are to be modified and made suitable for the local conditions.

The Following Steps to be taken:

(1) Washing (2) Peeling and Slicing (3) Curing (4) Drying (5) Mechanical Drying (6) Chemical Treatment (7) Pre-Cleaning and Grading (8) Packaging (9) Pre-Storage Processing.

Spices Units in Pakistan

Presently there are a number of small, medium and large spice processing and packing units in the country. The brands of larger units are: (1) National Foods (2) Brooke Bond (3) Ahmed (4) Mehran (5) Pakeeza (6) Dawn (7) Phool.

Export & Import of Spices

Pakistan is exporting a considerable quantity of spices the figures are given in table.

Adulteration of Spices

Spices, both whole and in powdered form are adulterated with various materials like foreign spices, exhausted spices, cereals, sand, saw dust, and artificial colours. About 30-40% of sample of spices received, in mustard, foreign resins in asafoetida, and in powdered form, cardamom husk in cardamom turmeric in mustard, lead chromate and coal tar dyes in turmeric are also reported.

Routine analysis of most of the spices includes preliminary examination for the presence of waste materials such as stalk, foreign organic matter, insect infestation, rodent exerta, total ash, ash insoluble in dilute hydrochloric acid, volatile oil, fixed ether extract, alcoholic extract, starch, crude fibre and microscopy.

In addition to various standards prescribed it is also necessary that the particular spice should be identified. Microscopy is generally used for identification. Other methods include detection of active ingredients in some spices like allyl isothiocyanate in mustard, piperine content in pepper, etc. Tannin content in cloves was shown to be fairly constant as to be of valuable guide to determine its quality.

During the course of study on the distribution of phenolic compounds in spices using paper chromatography, it was observed that alcoholic extracts of spices contained a number of phenolic compound which give characteristic colours with various chromogenic agents. Also it was observed that the chromatographic pattern of phenolic compounds varied from spice to spice and this difference is an indication of identity of spices. Each spice examined contained at least one phenolic compounds with a specific Rf value and characteristic colour with chromogenic reagent, which is not present in other spices. This information is useful in identification of spices and also in detecting adulteration in some cases like papaya seeds in pepper, argemone in mustard seeds, cardamom husk in cardamom powder and turmeric in mustard powder.

Importance of Research in Spice Industry

It is attempted here to take stock of the present status of spice industry and indicate areas that require concerted attention of our scientists in the near future.

Breeding and cultivation

The modern techniques of plant breeding, mutation and cultivation which have proved successful with cereal and other crops are yet to be applied earnestly to spice plants. However, there is urgent need to intensify these activities and the Agricultural Universities must come forward to share the responsibilities.

Perhaps this work may be comparatively easier with respect to annuals such as celery, chillies, coriander, cumin, fenugreek, garlic, ginger, onion and turmeric. The main objective has, naturally, to be improvement in content of active principle in the final product as well as of total yield per plant in terms of the fruit, seed, rhizome or bark. In this respect instances are known of improved varieties of chillies with increased pungency and red colour, and of cultivation methods leading to larger and more uniform-shaped ginger rhizomes in soilless cultures enabling the harvest of clean rhizomes. This type of work would not only involve application of established techniques of breeding and cultivation but evolution of novel methods of seed micro-surgery without loss of viability, and of micro-estimation of active principle in a micro-slice of the seed, as employed in the classical Canadian work for involving erucic acid-free rape seed varieties.

Process Technology

The conventional methods of sun-drying or smoky fires, trimming, curing (of cinnamon bark) or bleaching of ginger and cardamom are re-examined, modified if necessary and attempts made to mechanize the operations. This is essential to maximize the flavour and pungency, and also to minimize contamination by foreign matter, stalk, husk, and micro-organisms. It may also be necessary to design suitable equipment for these mechanical operations.

Grinding has received very little attention even though it is known that temperatures above 35o-36oC cause deterioration of the delicate flavours of many spices. Such deteriorative changes continue and use aggravated during storage. This calls for development of communication techniques with minimum flavour deterioration and optimization of storage and packaging conditions.

Spice concentrates, oleoresins and essential oils have begun to show increased demands as exportable items and also as flavouring agents in pharmaceutical preparations, beverages and commercial or household food formulations. Methods have to be standardized for extraction and recovery of these concentrates, removal of traces of solvents, stabilization and for packaging. Purification is likely to pose new problems of deterioration necessitating development of methods for stabilization and packaging.

In countries where spice concentrate are largely employed in food processing, speciality blends are in demand. Developmental work on tailor-made oleoresin blends is therefore called for after a survey of local and export markets. In fact, such approach that is very common in the perfumery industry offers a vast scope in innovation.

Quality Control

Spices and spice concentrates have to conform to certain specifications especially in the export market. The specifications are continually becoming more and more stringent. Contamination with micro-organisms and pesticide residues are going to be viewed with increasing seriousness. It is, therefore, necessary that the producers should be ready with the methodology for quality evaluation, grading and decontamination.

In order to lay down standards, where necessary and to up-grade the specifications, considerable data have to be collected. This is of particular significance if cultivation acreage is extended and more varieties are introduced. Research has also to be carried out in methodology for estimation of active principles and for detection of adulteration. With the advent of oleoresin blends, such methods are going to prove more important in determining the proportion of individual components.

Survey for New Food Additives

The major spices and flavouring substances have been established items of food application, commerce and cultivation for centuries. This success in the past acted as disincentive for the search of new agents. However, there has come a new urge in the Western world for newer flavouring agents. With the growing anxiety about the toxicity of synthetic food adjunct, emphasis is shifting on finding out newer flavorants, colorants and texturising agents of natural origin. There is a vast scope to exploit this new wave. Pakistan abounds in a vast floral wealth that still remains untapped and unexplored. Several herbs and plant materials have been in use for such varied applications in different parts of the country, as yet, have not received due attention. Collaborative research programmes have to be initiated to survey such plant materials for essential oils, oleoresins, pigments, gums, mucilages or polysaccharides. In fact, portions of spice plants themselves need to best studied for such applications. Residues after extraction of the active principals have, in some cases like chillies, already been proposed for alternate uses.

It is the responsibility of the producer and seller to invent new gimmicks for boosting the demand. In the field of spices and flavouring extracts such a need is already apparent as the export figures have reached a near steady state. Are there any new avenues possible? It may be worth exploring the possibility of formulation new beverages - alcoholic and non-alcoholic, snacks, stuffings for poultry and meat products, pie-fillings, sauces, chutneys and a variety of such products. Perhaps investigations on the pharmacological properties of active principles may suggest new applications as well.

In order to promote such newer food uses it may be advisable to ascertain the possibility of introducing modifications in spice concentrate to improve the flavour characteristics, suppress the discordant notes and also to impart dispersibility. Basic investigations on the chemistry and chemical alterations may help in achieving these objectives.

Research activities in the field of spices can only be fruitful if a close liason is established between growers, processors, exporters and export promotion authorities on the one hand and scientific research organisations and universities on the other. A continuous feed back of information from the exporting and marketing organizations to the scientists is essential. Such a well-knit inter-relationship can be fostered well if a separate authority is entrusted with the work of coordinating all the activities. I strongly urge to make such a recommendation to the government.

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Author:Nazri, M.M.
Publication:Economic Review
Date:Jan 1, 1993
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