Spice Oleoresins

By Venkatesh Ganapathy

Indian behaviours and attitudes can often be inscrutable. On one hand, we rush to yoga and Ayurveda centers to learn breathing techniques, different body postures and get that perfect oil massage. We read about healthy, sattvik food but finally succumb to the temptation of eating something spicy! An interesting twist in this tale is that Kerala which is synonymous with Ayurveda is also the state where the first spice oleoresins were manufactured by Synthite way back in 1972!

Spice Oleoresins

Oleoresins are the concentrated form of spices where you get the wholesome flavour and aroma of the spice. Spice oleoresins are characterised by high potency of active components which enables their usage in small dosages. Spice Oils and Oleoresins can be used to advantage wherever spices are used, except in those applications where the appearance/ filler aspect of spice is important. Usage of spice oleoresins leads to standardisation in taste and consistency in flavour. Oleoresins find application in Beverages, Meat Canning, Confectionery, Sauces and Pharmaceuticals. They are also used as a base for a number of seasonings.


Generally, extraction of spice oils and oleoresins using a non-aqueous solvent is a small scale operation. For easy standardization of oleoresins, the spice oils need to be distilled first. Then the oleoresins are extracted using solvent. The spent residual meal after extraction can be used in animal feed formulation. The oleoresin extract is mixed with the dry spice oil to the required level to produce spice oleoresins before they are finally packed.

Process control is vital to get a uniform product in every batch. Delicate processing under controlled conditions of temperature is a must to maintain the freshness and flavour of spices.

Solvents that are used for extraction of spice oleoresins are Ethylene dichloride, Acetone, Hexane or alcohol. Stripping off residual solvent at the final stage of preparation of oleoresins is crucial. The choice of solvent governs the ratio of spice constituents that are extracted. Example – highly coloured turmeric oleoresin without characteristic odour of turmeric can be obtained or a low-coloured product having highly aromatic smell of ground turmeric in a liquid state can also be produced.

Super critical fluid extraction (SCFE) is a sophisticated method for extracting spice oleoresins. It is a two-step process where Carbon di oxide is used as a solvent above its critical pressure and temperature for extraction of various natural materials. In this process, there is no residual solvent.

Correct extraction technology is a must to make the product with the right flavour profile. Identification of components in spices that give optimum flavour potency is a must.

A combination of technology and innovative manufacturing practices is essential to get the desired properties of final product. Due to food safety laws, use of solvents and residual solvent limits in the final product is becoming more and more a concern for food industry. To overcome this, technologies like SCFE are becoming popular.


The Global spice oleoresin market is $ 1 million. The global requirement of various oleoresins – paprika, chilly, turmeric, pepper, ginger, and cardamom is about 15000 tonnes.

India with its favourable climatic and soil conditions for growing spices and semi-tropical herbs is in the forefront among the spice producing countries. The Indian spice oleoresin market is about Rs.600 crores. India accounts for 70% of the world oleoresin production with competition from China, US, Lanka, South Africa and Latin America. Brazil, China and India are the market leaders. Kochi in Kerala with its spice farms is the hub of oleoresin manufacturing.

Spice oleoresins have to meet global standards when they are exported. Solvent residues in the oleoresins should not exceed 30 ppm. Demand of this product can be attributed to a sharp rise in the snacks and fast food industry for producing a standardized effect on taste.

Rushabh Adani, Chairman, Adani Pharmachem Pvt Limited had to quit manufacturing chilli oleoresins in 2001 owing to low demand in India. He says, “Chilli oleoresins contain two active components – capsaicin for pungency and paprika for colour. China used to import chilli oleoresins from India. Today they are exporting to the world. These are used in sauces. China has started growing chilli and is a leader in manufacturing chilli oleoresins. We quit as we were unable to face the onslaught of competition from China and Spain”.

Stanley Mathews, General Manager (Marketing), Synthite is upbeat about the prospects of Spice oleoresin industry in India. “The market for spice oleoresins is largely untapped and Indian homes are still not familiar with the product. Urbanisation and the trend of more women stepping out of their homes to contribute to the family income will encourage the use of products like oleoresins. Synthite has always focussed on B2B but now we have decided to look at B2C too. Look at the popularity of instant foods in the market by players like Eastern, Unilever, and ITC. These products are using spice oleoresins. We understand the need to develop expertise in logistics and supply chain to run the B2C model. An aggressive marketing campaign is vital to promote wide awareness. However, we would like to capture this market slowly and steadily” he says.

Spice Oleoresins offer the following advantages

  • Consistency in flavour
  • Not affected by bacterial contamination
  • Much longer shelf life
  • Easier storage and handling
  • Full release of flavour during cooking
  • Easy blendability to achieve the desired features

The usage of spice oleoresins is not without its limitations. There is low awareness about the product in the Indian market. Oleoresins are highly concentrated and so they need to be used in diluted form. While oleoresins can be used for Italian, Mexican and other continental dishes, surprisingly not much has been done to take spice oleoresins to the Indian kitchen. Research needs to be done to explore use of oleoresins in dishes like sambar, rasam, lassi and dal. The level of research in these areas has been sub-optimal.

Nitin Jain, Managing Director, N&S Natural Products Pvt Limited says that the exorbitant price of spice oleoresins is a major stumbling block in its usage in India. “Home users will need a small quantity of spice oleoresins. There can be a logistical challenge to distribute small quantities. E-commerce is an option, but how many people in the non-metros are net savvy?” he asks. “As of now, oleoresins are considered more of an industrial product. Indian homes can use them, but one has to create greater awareness about the same.”

Stanley disagrees with the notion that spice oleoresins are exorbitantly priced. “A small quantity of oleoresins can match the flavour, taste and pungency of a large quantity of spice powder.” (See table). Spice oleoresins can also be used in tooth pastes, he adds.

Sr No Spice Quantity of Spice Output
1 Black Pepper 30 kg 1 kg black pepper oleoresin
2 Cardamom 40 kg 1 kg cardamom oleoresin
3 Chilli 600 kg 1 kg chilli oleoresin
4 Garlic 10 kg 1 kg garlic oleoresin

Stanley also argues that in the larger scheme of things, oleoresins are cheaper. He says, ”In the preparation of Biryani, de husked cardamom is sprinkled and the point of contact with the food is only for 4 to 5 seconds and a flavour of 15 to 20% is locked. We tend to swallow the cardamom before chewing it and thus the full flavour is not released. So, we end up using only 15% of cardamom flavour. But when we use cardamom oleoresin, we can use dosage control to get a standardised taste and consistency. Roughly 50 kg cardamom would be required to extract 1 kg of cardamom oleoresin. If we assume that seeds cost Rs 700 a kg, the price of cardamom oleoresin may be Rs 7000 a kg. However, the oleoresin will be needed in minute quantities with an assurance of full release and 100% usage of cardamom flavour.”

He also mentions that it is possible to create the desired level of taste and pungency using the right dosage of chilli oleoresins. There may be 200 product codes, each code may correspond to a level of active ingredient. Better dosage control and consistency can be achieved by selecting the right code. The pungency in a green chilli may vary from chilli to chilli but chilli oleoresin will offer consistent pungency and standardised flavour. Different codes can be used to vary the taste and beat the monotony.

The Final Word

The world is moving towards natural products. Spices lend colour, taste, and flavour. They are good source of anti oxidants and have preservative as well as therapeutic power.

India is a land of spices and herbs. Spice extracts offer an enrichment of flavour, colour, and taste to meet the diverse needs of food processing industry. Out of the 109 spices listed by the ISO, India produces as many as 75 in its various agro climatic regions. Overall, spices are grown in some 2.9 million hectares in the country.

Dr.Mathew Attokaran, Technical Director, Plant Lipids asserts that India is a world superpower in oleoresins. He comments that demand from Argentina, Thailand and Indonesia is gaining momentum. The craze for “natural” things will continue to be the main driver for the oleoresins market. Despite China posing a major threat, India’s climatic conditions are superior and will be a source of competitive advantage for growing spices. Research facilities in CFTRI, Mysore, RRL, Thiruvananthapuram and Spice board of India lend great strength to oleoresins industry in India.

Hotel Industry, manufacturers of Namkeens, Readymade masalas and sauces will continue to consume spice oleoresins. Rushabh feels that spice oleoresins will find little use in the Indian kitchen. “Indian women are more attached to spice powder. Further, oleoresins need dilution before they are used. Foods like pav bhaji will be tastier with chilli powder than with chilli oleoresins”, he adds. However he feels that the South Asian food markets where there is dominancy of non vegetarian foods and sauces will lap up the oleoresins quickly.

Stanley begs to differ. He cites the example of Ginger-Garlic paste that has found space in the Indian kitchen shelves. He adds that home users need to be educated about using oleoresins in diluted form and the right dosage to get the desired flavour.

Jain is gung-ho about the potential of spice oleoresins in India. “If people can adapt to Maggi, Pasta, Instant foods, Ready-to-eat items, what stops them from buying spice oleoresins?” he questions. He also cautions that often there is a challenge in matching the flavours in raw spices with oleoresins. Consumption patterns for Indian homes may not be huge as the high price may deter people from buying oleoresins in large quantities.

As of now, the focus in on export markets and the industrial segment like hotels, bakeries, pizza shops. There is scope for expanding the market to include caterers, wedding catering agents, industrial canteens and the housewives.

Food safety will assume greater significance in the future. There is a gradual preference for pesticide-free organic products but their high price is proving to be a major stumbling block. Mumbai-based physician Dr G M Rana says that organic foods should actually be cheaper as they use natural farming methods. If they are cheaper, then there will be a spurt in demand as more people will buy them.

The challenges of pesticide residues in extraction of oleoresins need to be addressed immediately and Spices Board is working to create greater awareness to understand this risk and mitigate the same.

Indians are known to prefer freshness in their gastronomic pursuit. In the absence of research, spice oleoresins may not find wide use in Indian kitchens for traditional foods. Indian women pride on their culinary skills and they may not subscribe to the theory of standardised taste. The oleoresins can be targeted at working women so that they can save time. Instant foods available in the market are also exorbitantly priced. The “ghar ka khana” and “ma ke hath ka swad” are concepts/ slogans that are still used by hotels and food products to boost sales. Spice oleoresins are niche products, so their applications also have to be in niche areas.

Paprika and chilli oleoresins are the innovations that have become immensely popular in the last few years. Research to find new applications and new markets for spice oleoresins is lacking and this gap needs to be filled. The Indian fetish for spices has largely been unexplored. To cite an example, Masala powder (cardamom, cashew, pepper) for preparing masala milk is available. An oleoresin containing cardamom, cashew, and pepper may find acceptance in the Indian market. As I was writing this article, a thought occurred to me. What about spice oleoresins in tablet form that can be added to a food item. Are any manufacturers of spice oleoresins listening?