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Five insights into the world of spice Listen with ReadSpeaker

Spicing up not just our food flavor but also our health

Plants, particularly spices and herbs have been used in the preparation of food for generations. Applied through different forms including fresh spices, dried whole, ground spices, spice oils, extracts and oleoresins, they are used to enhance food flavor, add aroma, improve taste, extend shelf life and beautify food presentation.

According to the US Food and Drug Administration, spice is an “aromatic vegetable substance in the whole, broken or ground form and from which no portion of any volatile oil or other flavoring principle has been removed”. Spices largely originate from plants rich in essential oils and oleoresin. These come from the bark (cinnamon), root (ginger, onion, garlic), buds (cloves), seeds (yellow mustard, sesame), berry (black pepper) and the fruit (allspice, paprika) of tropical plants and trees. So what are the current uses, trends and challenges in the world of spice?

There are more than 100 varieties of spices produced throughout the world. Asia is the leader in the production of spices, particularly cinnamon, pepper, nutmeg, cloves and ginger. Europe grows mainly basil, bay leaves, celery leaves, chives, coriander, dill tips, thyme and watercress, while the USA produces pepper, nutmeg, ginger, allspice and sesame seed.


The rising awareness of medicinal benefits associated with the consumption of spices has pushed up the demand for spices globally. Fortune Business Insight predicts that the global sales of spices and seasoning will exceed USD 22 billion by 2026.


Asia Pacific is the fastest-growing region for spices with China, India and Vietnam as among the largest exporters of organic spices. Market demand has risen due to higher disposable income among consumers and the growth of the fast-food industry in Asia over the next five years with China, Vietnam and the Philippines leading the way.

While spices and herbs have been used in food, they now play a vital role in our lifestyle and are harvested by the nutraceutical, cosmetic and pharmaceutical industries. Because of their innate medicinal, hypocholesterolemic and antioxidant properties, these products are increasingly used to treat ailments and diseases.


They contain bioactive molecules that play a crucial role in healthcare and fitness with bioactive compounds like tannins, alkaloids, phenolics, flavonoids, polyphenols and vitamins that help in healing diseases and health conditions.


Studies have shown that spices can help in managing stress, depression, hormonal imbalance and metabolic disorders. A bioactive molecule like polyphenols from ginger and turmeric both display anti-inflammatory, anti-cancerous and radical scavenging properties. Antioxidants from turmeric, curcumin, clove, eugenol and red pepper can play a role in treating chronic disorders such as cancer, diabetes as well as other respiratory and cardiovascular problems.

Spices possess antimicrobial activity and inhibit the growth of pathogens in meat and other foods and are used as a natural method for food preservation. Spices can also exert antimicrobial activity in two ways: by preventing the growth of spoilage microorganisms and by inhibiting the growth of those pathogenic.


Mainly due to the presence of phenolic compounds, they exhibit antioxidant properties by scavenging free radicals, chelating transition metals, quenching singlet oxygen and enhancing the activities of antioxidant enzymes.

As with other food-related ingredients, consumers are demanding more organic spices and seasoning products that are natural, pesticides-free, clean and free from chemical preservation.


Clean-label ingredients refer to food items that consist only of natural ingredients without the use of artificial flavors or synthetic chemicals. This growing trend largely restricts the use of glutamate, condiments and yeast extracts in spices.


Clean-label products are gradually becoming mandatory across global markets and food manufacturers must create new formulations and new products to cater to this rising demand for healthier food products. This increased call for clean-label usage is becoming more popular among consumers in the Generation X and millennials categories.

However, the food industry is facing the challenge of finding enough natural ingredients that can maintain proper food quality and integrity without compromising the shelf life, taste and texture of food products. Similarly, the sourcing of spices and seasoning is also a challenge as microbial contamination of spices from foreign materials, poor cultivation methods and inefficient production processes are hindering product quality.

Farmers and food manufacturers need to pay more attention to improving their production process including adopting better handling and applying more efficient manufacturing practices to produce higher quality products.

Market drivers: • Growing demand for convenience food
• Clean-label trend across the global food market
• Increased use of spices and seasonings as a natural preservative in meat and poultry products
Market opportunities: • Increasing demand for health and wellness products
Market restraints: • Adulteration of spices
Market challenges: • Spices and seasonings are prone to microbial contaminations
Sanika Lokhande

About the author

Sanika Lokhande is based in Mumbai and is responsible for food and beverage ingredient sourcing for DKSH India.

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