Guide To Sri Lankan Spices
Spices play a critical role in any cuisine in the world. Mess up the spice blend, and you mess up the whole flavour of the entire dish. Not only are spices essential for the flavour of the dish, but not many people know that they are packed with mineral. For example, one tablespoon of whole cumin seeds has more iron than 100gs of lean chicken meat.
Surprising Benefits of Spices
For thousands of years, spices were not only used for food flavouring, but also for food preservation—thanks to their antimicrobial properties. Spices were a common ingredient in many forms of ancient Eastern medicine for things like controlling blood sugar, relieving fevers, etc.
Even to this day, Sri Lankans drink coriander tea (coriander seeds boiled in water) as a remedy for colds and fevers. Spices are also extremely powerful antioxidants that is useful in fighting cancer and heart disease.
Spices are rarely used on their own in cooking, they are used in a spice blend with several different spices that complement each other in flavour. We often think of curry powder as just curry powder, not realizing it is one of the most versatile things in the world.
Spices Around The World
Every part of the world has their own take on spice blends such as curry powder, tweaked with ingredients that are native to their country. For example, Sri Lankan curry powder is unique due to cinnamon, Jamaican curry powder is unique due to scotch bonnet peppers, and Chinese fivespice uses star anise and Szechuan peppercorns, Japanese curry powder uses citrus zest like yuzu zest and so on.
Here, we explore different Sri Lankan spices and what they are used for:
Sri Lankan curry powder
There are actually different types of curry powders used in Sri Lankan cuisine, depending on what dish you are going for. Most Sri Lankan spice blends use coriander powder as the base ingredient.
Raw Sri Lankan Curry Powder
Also known as thuna paha, which translates to ‘three five’, raw curry powder is the go-to choice for vegetable curries like dal, and potato curries. They are also often used in spicy stir-fried vegetables. It is milder in flavour and blends well with the vegetables.
The primary ingredients for this curry powder are coriander seeds and turmeric, which gives it its characteristic yellow colour. It also uses cumin powder, roasted curry leaves and cinnamon which adds a unique taste. All the ingredients are ground into a fine powder.
Roasted Sri Lankan Curry Powder
Fish and meat curries require a special set of flavours that is strong enough to get rid of their pungent smells and have stronger food preservation qualities. Roasted Sri Lankan curry powder is the most commonly used for spice blend for fish and meat curries like chicken and lamb. It is rare to use it for vegetable dishes, but some people do use it for jackfruit curries.
In addition to the ingredients used for raw curry powder, roasted curry powder uses uncooked rice, pandan leaves, black pepper, dried chilli and cloves which have special antimicrobial properties. These spices are dry roasted before being ground into a fine powder. Unlike raw curry powder, the flavour is much earthier and smokier.
If you live in Europe, Australia or North America, you can find this authentic blend of roasted Sri Lankan curry powder from Araliya.
Jaffna Curry Powder
Jaffna curry powder uses the same ingredients as the raw Sri Lankan curry powder. However, it uses more dried red chilli, giving it a lot more heat than the other two. This is the go-to spice blend used for curries in the city of Jaffna, a city in the north of Sri Lanka.
It also has a smoky flavour as the ingredients are dry roasted. It is ideal for both meat and vegetable dishes. Jaffna curry powder is what makes curries from this region spicier and hotter than other parts of Sri Lanka.
This particular spice blend is harder to come by, especially if you are living in North America and Europe. Fortunately, companies like Araliya export these goods to many large cities in Europe, America and Oceania. You can purchase Araliya Jaffna curry powder here. https://www.araliyagroup.lk/product-page/araliya-jaffna-curry-powder-pkts-1
Other Spices And Flavours
No conversation about Sri Lankan spices is complete without mentioning cinnamon. After all, the popular spice was once endemic to Sri Lanka and put Sri Lanka on the map along major spice trading routes.
Known as true cinnamon or Ceylon cinnamon, Sri Lankan cinnamon is different from other forms like Cassia or Chinese cinnamon. It is richer in flavour and is more sought after than Cassia which is cheaper. It has a slightly sweeter flavour, making it better for desserts. In Sri Lankan cuisine, cinnamon is even used in stir-fries.
Though it’s technically more of a fruit than a spice, it is still important in Sri Lankan cuisine. It is a string of ‘beans’ with a gummy-like texture growing inside pods. With a unique sweet and sour flavour, it adds a fresh, tart flavour to fish curries and chutney. You can find dried tamarind from Araliya here:
Sri Lanka has adapted its own, unique set of spices to cater to local dishes that use coconut milk. This is what distinguishes it from Indian curries that don’t use coconut milk and therefore, need a different set of flavours to complement them.