Treasures that Tickle Taste Buds and Save Lives


Comparable to gold and gems, spices were among the most valued items of trade in ancient and medieval times.1 The ancient Egyptians used spices for food-flavouring, in cosmetics, and for embalming their dead as early as in 3500 BC. Soon, the use of spices spread through the Middle East to the eastern Mediterranean and Europe; spices from China, Indonesia, India and Ceylon (Sri Lanka) were originally transported overland by donkeys or camel caravans.

For almost five millennia, Arab middlemen controlled the spice trade, before the band of European explorers, including Ferdinand Magellan, Vasco da Gama and Bartolomeu Dias chanced upon a sea route leading to the spice-rich East.2

Clashes between European nations naturally broke out. Control of the spice trade was the driving force behind the colonisation of India and other Asian lands. The Portuguese, Dutch, French, Spanish and English established monopolies over various parts of the spice trade. Empires rose and fortunes were made, but the era was also fraught with brutal conquests, piracy and greed, as well as the formation of trading companies such as the British East India Company.3

Malaysia is abundant with agricultural products that yield an assortment of spices, i.e. black and white peppers, cloves, and cinnamon. But it is its pepper industry that is most developed – Malaysia is one of the major global pepper exporters after Vietnam, Brazil, Indonesia and India.4

The country also imports spices from India, Iran, Myanmar and Indonesia, making it, to some extent, vulnerable to economic changes due to soaring logistic costs, fuel prices and shortage of supply caused by erratic weather.5

Spices and Their Medicinal Benefits

Herbs and spices are categorised botanically according to their source of plant parts: leaves of aromatic plants (bay leaves); fruits or seeds (fennel, coriander, fenugreek and black pepper); roots or bulbs (garlic, galangal, turmeric and ginger); and bark (cinnamon and cassia). Their therapeutic and curative properties play no small part in boosting one’s life expectancy – the use of spices is encouraged to cut down on the need for salt in foods.

Jeyasitthra, the co-owner of Amaaraas.

Amaaraas serves up to 30 dishes daily.

Turmeric, a staple spice used to impart a rich bright yellow-orange colour to cooked white rice, potatoes or yellow lentils, is a notable antioxidant containing the flavonoid curcumin (known for its anti-inflammatory properties). The spice helps to detoxify the liver, balance cholesterol levels, fight allergies, stimulate digestion, boost immunity and enhance the complexion.6

In modern herbalism, asafoetida is used to treat hysteria, certain nervous conditions, bronchitis, asthma and whooping cough, as well as to thin the blood and lower blood pressure. At one time, it is also used in the treatment of infantile pneumonia and flatulent colic.7

Fenugreek, found in spice blends, works a two-fold function in slowing the absorption of sugars in the stomach and stimulating insulin to lower the blood sugar of diabetics. Some women use the spice to treat painful menstruation, menopause and polycystic ovary syndrome; while men use it for hernia, erectile dysfunction and infertility problems.8

An Essential Ingredient

Spices are an indispensable part of Indian cooking, as robust taste and colour enhancers. Whole spices are generally more preferred than the pre-ground ones since they have less surface area exposed to the elements, and so lose their flavor less quickly than ground spices do.9

“Our herbs and spices are purchased in bulk once a month from the reputable retailer Mohamed Meera Sahib,” says co-owner of Amaaraas food stall, Jeyasitthra. “No doubt the prices have gone up over the years, but as a regular customer, we’re always guaranteed the best price.”

Amaaraas, located at the Super Tanker Food Court in Taman Lip Sin, is worth a visit for a hearty – and affordable – craving fix. Fashioned to resemble a typical Chinese economy rice stall, it serves up to 30 different varieties of curries, poultry and vegetable dishes daily. Favourites include ayam masak bawang (chicken cooked with onions), pan-fried masala potatoes and Amaaraas’ signature Indian fish curry.

The business is family-owned and had its humble beginnings in Relau some 20 years ago. “It was my mother-in-law who started the business. After her retirement, my husband Nannthakumar took over as head chef and the premises were converted to become our main kitchen instead,” says Jeyasitthra. Day-to-day preparations begin as early as 5.30am, and the dishes are cooked according to old family recipes. “Super Tanker is actually our second Amaaraas branch; the first one opened at Kompleks Bayan Baru in 2003.”

Celebrated since time immemorial for their natural remedies and as taste bud tantalisers, the use of spices will no doubt endure, and their advantages plentifully utilised for many more years to come.

Amaaraas at Taman Lip Sin opens daily from 11am until sell out.

Regina Hoo is a Broadcasting and Journalism graduate from the University of Wolverhampton.


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