Importance of Spices:

Spices are those plants, the products of which are made use as food adjuncts to add aroma and flavor. Condiments are also spices, products of which are used as food adjuncts to add taste only. Both spices and condiments contain essential oils which provide the flavor and taste. They are of little nutritive value. They are used whole, ground, paste, or liquid form, mainly for flavoring and seasoning of food. Most spices increase the shelf life of food, especially the dry varieties. Some are added to improve texture and some to introduce a palatable colour or odour.

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The crop should be cleaned before processing. The first stage is to remove dust and dirt using a winnowing basket. This can be made locally from bamboo, palm or other leaves. Someone used to this work can remove the dust, dirt and stones quickly and efficiently. Small machines are available for cleaning but they are rarely cost effective.

After winnowing the crop needs to be washed in water, all that is needed is two or three 15 litre buckets. For larger quantities a 1m³ sink/basin with a plug hole needs to be constructed. This can be made out of concrete. However, the water must be changed regularly to prevent recontamination of spices by dirty water. Only potable water should be used.

This is by far the most important stage in the process to ensure good quality spices. Inadequately dried produce will lead to mould growth. The sale value of mouldy spices can be less than 50% of the normal value. In addition the growth of food poisoning bacteria on some spices is a real danger if proper washing and drying is not carried out.

Spices can be graded by size, density, colour, shape and flavour. Machines are available for larger scale production units.

Grinding may also add value but must be done carefully as there are difficulties. A whole, intact product can be easily assessed for quality whereas a ground product is more difficult. There is a market resistance to ground spices due to fear of adulteration or the use of low quality spices. This can only be overcome by producing a consistently high quality product and gaining the confidence of customers.

For small-scale production (up to 100kg/day) manual grinders are adequate. Small Chinese or Indian models designed for domestic spice grinding are suitable. A treadle or bicycle could be attached to make the work easier.

For larger scale production a small, powered grinding mill is needed and models are available that can grind 25kg/hour. A grinding mill needs to be placed in a separate and well ventilated room because of the dust. Great care is needed to ensure uniform sized pieces/powders after grinding and also to prevent heating of spices during grinding.

The packaging requirements depend on:

1) the type of spice,

2) whether it is ground or intact and

3) the humidity of storage.

Most intact spices will store adequately in sacks/boxes if the humidity of the air is not too high. Ground spices can also be stored without special packaging if humidity is low but over long periods there is a loss of flavour and risk of contamination and spillage.

It is therefore better to store spices in a barrier film such as polypropylene  to provide an attractive package, retain spice quality and prevent contamination and losses. If polypropylene is not available, cellulose film is adequate if it is heat sealable. Polythene is a poor substitute and should only be used for short term storage as it allows the flavour/aroma of the spices to escape.