'Thuna Paha' and the 42 Spices of Sri Lanka (Ceylon)

Sri Lanka is no stranger to the world of spices. As the name ‘Spice Island’ implies, Sri Lanka or Ceylon offers a variety of spices to the international community. Spices are primarily used to add flavour, aroma and colouring to the food. Sri Lankan cuisine consists of 42 spices. Certain spices such as Ceylon Cinnamon, Ceylon Black Pepper and Neolitsea cassia (a variety of Cinnamon which is locally referred to as ‘Dawul Kurundu’) are endemic to Sri Lanka. Some spices such as Coconut and water, are not necessarily classified as a spice among the international community. As with its endemic spices, the Sri Lankan cuisine is a style of its own. In Sri Lanka, spices are referred to as ‘Kulu Badu’. The term ‘Kulu’ translates to ‘undisciplined’ in English. ‘Badu’ is synonymous with ‘items’. Therefore, it can be reasoned that the wording was used across the board to include various edible items that are used in balancing flavour, aroma, color and consistency of food. In this regard, These 42 spices include almost all the ingredients which have been used in the Sri Lankan cuisine for generations to spice up dishes;

  1. Coriander
  2. Cumin
  3. Fennel
  4. Turmeric
  5. Mustard 
  6. Black Pepper
  7. Fenugreek
  8. Clove
  9. Cinnamon
  10. Cardamom
  11. Nutmeg
  12. Ginger
  13. Mace 
  14. Pandan Leaves
  15. Curry Leaves
  16. Lemongrass
  17. Red Onions
  18. Tomatoes
  19. Garlic
  20. Lime 
  21. Garcinia
  22. Tamarind
  23. Bilimbi 
  24. Chunam / quicklime
  25. Chilie Pepper
  26. Maldive Fish
  27. Dried Chilie Pepper
  28. Vinegar
  29. Toddy Sludge
  30. Coconut
  31. Coconut Milk 
  32. Coconut Oil
  33. Salt
  34. Water
  35. Rice Grains
  36. Eggs
  37. Moringa Leaves
  38. Moringa Bark 
  39. Raw Papaya
  40. Sugar
  41. Neolitsea cassia
  42. Jaggery 

Certain spices are exclusive to specific recipes and dishes. The traditional spice mix of Sri Lanka, referred to as the ‘Thuna Paha’ or ‘Curry Powder’ is a therapeutic mix of Seven Spices which is used with many common dishes. Even though this spice mix has been given various spurious definitions in modern day culinary practices as a ‘recipe that is unique to each household’, the authentic spice mix from which the term ‘Thuna Paha’ was derived is still intact. ‘Paha' meaning ‘five’, refers to five balls of spices which were kept in historical cuisines. One ball was a mix of three (Thuna) spices including ground Coriander (50%), Cumin (25%) and Fennel (5%). Other 4 balls were made with ground Turmeric, Mustard, Black Pepper and Chilli Pepper. Similarly, the ‘roasted curry powder’ is a subsequent derivative of the original unroasted curry powder recipe and does not contain the same therapeutic goodness due to it being roasted and being mixed on a different ratio to the original. This is by no means an all inclusive guide on the spices of Sri Lanka but an introduction to its versatile cuisine which pleased the senses while supplementing health and wellbeing, due to the presence of natural anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial compounds.

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  • Sam Niruben on


    “Spices are primarily used to add flavour, aroma and colouring to the food.”

    this is utter nonsense if i may say so, you are merely propergatting the european ill-educated ideas and if this is your understanding of spices you need educating.

    spices are primarily used in cooking to speed up and aid the digestive process, not for colour or flavour.

    thank you x

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