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U.S. imports of specified spices and herbs in 1992 totaled $369 million. New York was the principal port of entry for these items, accounting for slightly over half of the total. Indonesia, Mexico, Madagascar, and India were the major sources of these imports.


U.S. imports of specified condiments, seasonings, and flavorings in 1992 increased nearly two percent over a year earlier to $369 million, largely reflecting increased shipments of capsicum peppers, cumin seed, and turmeric. However, lower prices for black pepper resulted in a $10.5 million drop in value for that item to $41.7 million, despite a four percent increase in volume. Pepper (black and white) is the most important spice in world trade and ranks third in importance in terms of value ($50.1 million) in total U.S. imports of specified condiments, seasonings, and flavoring materials. Although down slightly from 1991 levels, vanilla bean imports continued to be the most important item, with shipments totaling $65.7 million. Other important items in U.S. condiment import trade are capsicum peppers (including paprika), $60.4 million; sesame seed, $42.7 million; cassia and cinnamon, $26.6 million; and mustard seed and products, $25.2 million. On a unit value basis, saffron, vanilla beans, and cardamom are the most expensive spices.

The United States depends on imports for two-thirds of its seasoning requirements. Increased demand for ethnic foods has contributed to rising usage of spices. Additionally, the trend towards less salt in foods has stimulated more condiment use to compensate for flavor loss. Food manufacturers and institutions now account for nearly two-thirds of U.S. spice usage, up from 40 percent a decade earlier, reflecting increased consumption of prepared foods and more families eating meals away from home.

U.S. imports of spice oleoresins in 1992 were valued at $30.1 million, slightly below the record 1991 level, because of smaller shipments of black pepper oleo-resin. Total imports of specified condiments, seasonings, and flavorings, including spice oleoresins, in 1992 were $399 million, compared with $395 million a year earlier and $385 million in 1990.

U.S. exports of spices and seasonings (excluding re-exports) in 1992 amounted to nearly $88 million, up from $85 million in 1991 and $78 million during 1990. Dehydrated onions continued to be the most important export item, with shipments totaling $36.1 million, followed by capsicum peppers, $8.9 million; dehydrated garlic, $7.3 million; black and white pepper, $5.8 million; and mustard products, $4.8 million.

Canada, Japan, and Germany are the principal markets for U.S. exports of spices, seasonings, and condiments. Exports consist of U.S. processed and packaged imported items and include domestically produced items such as dehydrated onions and garlic, capsicum peppers, ginger, sesame, and mustard.


Spice oleoresins are obtained from dried spices by extraction with a volatile non-aqueous solvent, which is subsequently removed from the oleoresin by evaporation at moderate temperatures and under partial vacuum. The oleoresin contains the aroma and flavor of the spice (including any nonvolatile principles, unlike spice essential oils) in concentrated form, usually viscous liquids or semisolid materials.

Because of their high concentration, oleoresins cannot be incorporated into food products unless they are diluted. The dilution is usually achieved by dissolving the oleoresin in alcohol, propylene glycol, or another appropriate solvent to make an essence; or by dispersing the oleoresin on a dry carrier, such as salt, dextrose, or starch; or emulsifying the oleoresin with gum acacia, or one of the modified starches, followed by spray drying to produce an encapsulated spice. Demand for spice oleoresins is increasing, as oleoresins offer certain advantages over natural ground spices, such as consistency of quality, freedom from microorganisms, uniform dispersion in the product, and easy handling and storage.

Oleoresins are not only produced in industrialized countries, but well established and modern plants exist in many developing nations, such as India, Singapore, Ethiopia, Indonesia, and Sri Lanka. India's exports of black pepper oleoresin in 1991 was a record 355 tons, compared with 194 tons a year earlier and 270 tons in 1989.

U.S. imports of spice oleoresins, principally paprika and black pepper, in recent years have averaged slightly over $30 million annually. Information regarding the level of U.S. production of oleoresins is not available.


Black and White Pepper: World pepper prices remained depressed throughout 1992, reflecting abundant supplies and flat demand. New plantings made during the high price levels of the mid-1980s are in their maximum bearing range, and it will take several more years before the effects of reduced cultural practices by growers will fully impact the supply situation. Reduced sales to the former Soviet Union also have contributed to the depressed market for pepper. India was the principal supplier to the Soviet and Eastern European markets through bilateral trade agreements. India's pepper exports in 1991 fell sharply to only 18,735 tons from 34,429 tons a year earlier.

Global pepper exports by principal producing countries in 1991 totaled about 165,000 tons, 12 percent greater than a year earlier, as importers took the opportunity to build stocks during a period of low market prices. Shipments from Vietnam were up sharply to 16,252 tons, compared with only 1,288 tons in 1990. Exports by Brazil also increased sharply, totaling 47,689 tons. against 28,014 tons in 1990. Another large harvest is anticipated for Brazil this year, which will tend to temper any rise in market prices. Indonesian pepper exports in 1991 rose slightly from year-earlier levels to 49,667 tons, while Malaysian shipments fell 8 percent to 25,458 tons. Pepper re-exports by Singapore in 1991 were up 20 percent to 40,707 tons.

New York spot prices for Indonesian Lampong black pepper in 1992 averaged only 56 cents per pound, the lowest since 1972, when prices averaged 46 cents per pound. Prices during the first quarter of 1993 continued weak, averaging slightly under 56 cents. Indonesian Muntok white pepper prices during 1992 averaged nearly 71 cents per pound, about unchanged from a year earlier, but below the 1990 average of 90 cents. Muntok prices during the first quarter of 1993 have strengthened, reflecting reports of a poor Indonesian crop and improved European demand for white pepper.

Black and white pepper come from the same plant; however, the method of processing and maturity of the berries separates the two spices. If white pepper is desired, the more mature berries are soaked in water for several days to facilitate the removal of the outer coating. The ripened berries are then dried, cleaned and bagged. Europe is the principal market for white pepper, as European consumers prefer pepper seasoning without the appearance of the black color in their food.

The United States is the world's largest pepper importer, accounting for over one quarter of the total. Other major importers are the European Community and Russia. Producing countries also consume significant amounts of pepper, with Indian domestic consumption accounting for over a fourth of its production. Singapore remains the principal entrepot for pepper trade, handling significant quantities of Indonesian and Malaysian pepper shipments.

Indonesia was the principal supplier of black pepper to the U.S. market in 1992, accounting for slightly over half of the total. Indonesia is the world's largest producer of white pepper, and accounted for nearly all of U.S. imports of thai spice last year.

Ginger: Hawaii's 1992 ginger crop was down 37 percent from a year earlier to only 3,402 tons, reflecting dry weather and significant losses from insects and bacterial wilt disease. Farm prices also were lower, averaging only 55 cents per pound, the lowest in over 5 years. Total farm value fell to $4.1 million, compared with $7.6 million from the record 1991 harvest. A larger crop is expected this year, if weather conditions remain favorable. Virtually all of the crop is produced on the island of Hawaii, with most of the harvest going to the U.S. mainland and to overseas foreign markets.

Prospects of a small Indian crop resulted in a firming of cochin prices during the last quarter of 1992. Strong internal demand, coupled with increased sales to Middle East markets, also contributed to rising prices. New York spot prices for cochin ginger fell to a 1992 low of 54 cents per pound in July, but recovered to 80 cents by the end of the year. However, cochin prices have been declining during the first quarter of 1993, as demand has eased and crop yields have been better than expected. Jamaican #3 ginger averaged $4.24 per pound in 1992, compared with $3.80 a year earlier, while Nigerian ginger prices trended downward, averaging 51 cents per pound for the year.

Nutmegs and Mace: World production continues to exceed demand and prices remain at depressed levels. New York spot prices for Grenadian whole nutmegs averaged $1.99 per pound in 1992, compared with $2.98 a year earlier and $3.23 during 1990. Indonesian nutmegs averaged 67 cents per pound in 1992, down from 74 cents in 1991 and $1.39 during 1990. New York spot prices for Indonesian #2 Siauw mace siftings average $1.31 per pound in 1992, compared with $1.43 a year earlier and $2.61 in 1990. Prices have been in a downtrend since the collapse of the cartel marketing agreement between Indonesia and Grenada in May 1990. The agreement had been in effect since April 1987 and was established to set minimum export prices and quotas for nutmegs and mace. Indonesia and Grenada account for virtually all production and exports of these spices, with Indonesia's share making up three quarters of the total.

Grenada's 1991/92 nutmeg production fell slightly from a year earlier, but exports increased nearly 4 percent, reflecting larger sales to Germany, Canada, Belgium, Spain, and Poland. The Netherlands remained the largest recipient, taking 613 tons, followed by Germany with 475 tons. Exports to the United States were up slightly to 40 tons. U.S. importers continue to buy mostly from Indonesia, as Grenadian nutmegs have a high oil content, which makes grinding difficult. Grenada's mace production fell 31 percent from year-earlier levels and exports also were sharply lower. Germany buys most of Grenada's mace, taking 147 tons, or nearly 72 percent of the 1991/92 shipments. Most of the balance was exported to the United Kingdom and Canada.

Grenada's nutmeg stocks at the end of the July-June 1991/92 marketing year totaled 4,492 tons, 54 percent greater than a year earlier, when stocks levels were reported at 2,914 tons. Mace stocks were 461 tons, compared with 510 tons at the close of the 1990/91 season.

Mustard Seed: Mustard seed is grown commercially in the United States in Montana, North and South Dakota, Washington, Oregon, and California. North Dakota, Montana, and South Dakota are the principal producers. U.S. production in 1992 was 6,579 tons, down 13 percent from a year earlier, reflecting a drop in harvest area from 7,325 hectares in 1991 to 5,989 hectares. Total crop value of U.S. mustard seed production was $1.55 million, compared with $1.75 million in 1991.

The United States relies on imports for most of its mustard seed requirements, with Canada accounting for most shipments. Imports in recent years have been averaging slightly over 55,000 tons annually. The Canadian Government reports that 1991/92 mustard seed production totaled 121,100 tons, compared with 249,500 tons a year earlier and 154,800 tons in 1989/90. Production for 1992/93 was estimated at slightly over 133,000 tons. Grower prices for 1992/93 have averaged Can$215 per ton, compared with Can$212 and Can$291 during the past two seasons, respectively. Grower prices during 1989/90 averaged a seasonal high of Can$315 per ton (Can$1.00 = US 79 cents). New York spot prices for both Canadian #1 yellow and Oriental/Brown mustard seed averaged 26 cents per pound in 1992, down slightly from year-earlier levels.

Sesame Seed: Ample Central American crops and adequate stocks have had a depressing effect on market prices, despite reports of a short Mexican harvest. New York spot prices for Central American hulled seed averaged only 59 cents per pound during the first quarter of 1993, down from an average of 67 cents in 1992 and well under the 1990 average of 84 cents. Offerings from Indian, Chinese, and African sources also have contributed to a weaker market. Mexico continues as the principal source of U.S. imports, accounting for over half of the total. Shipments from Nicaragua have risen rapidly during the past two years, now ranking it as the fourth largest supplier to the U.S. market after Mexico, Guatemala, and El Salvador.

Cloves: Large Indonesian production and stocks, together with weak global demand, continue to depress clove prices. The Indonesian Government authorized the establishment of a monopoly over the marketing of cloves in January 1991, which has further disrupted market forces in bringing supply and demand into balance. Indonesia is the largest clove producer and consumer, where between 80,000 to 90,000 tons annually are used in the manufacture of "Kretek" cigarettes. Indonesia used to import large quantities of cloves from Tanzania and Madagascar; but through efforts to become self-sufficient in cloves, domestic production has risen sharply and imports have been virtually nil in recent years. Further contributing to the oversupply situation has been the emergence of new producers, such as Brazil, and flat demand in most consuming nations.

The U.S. is not a major clove consumer. Imports in 1992 amounted to only 1,156 tons, valued at $1.5 million, compared with year-earlier imports of 1,140 tons valued at $1.4 million. New York spot prices for Madagascar/Zanzibar cloves for 1992 averaged only 68 cents per pound, down from $1.04 in 1991 and $1.39 in 1990. Prices during the first quarter of 1993 have weakened further to an average of only 54 cents.

Cardamom: Increased demand for mid- and lower-quality cardamom from the Middle East consuming countries has caused a sharp price increase in March 1993, with New York sort prices for decorticated seed jumping by 90 cents per pound to close out the month at $3.35 cents per pound. Prices for mixed greens also increased, reaching $1.95 per pound by the end of March, compared with market prices of $1.65 a month earlier. However, prices for the top quality bleached "AA" seed eased by a $1 to $14 per pound for the same period. Saudi Arabia and Kuwait are the principal consumers of cardamom, where it is used in coffee preparations. India and Guatemala are the major producers, although Indonesia and Thailand have become significant exporters in recent years. Guatemala is by far the largest exporter, as most of India's crop goes for domestic consumption. The United States is a minor importer of cardamom. U.S. imports in 1992 totaled only 169 tons, with most of the shipments coming from Guatemala.

Turmeric: A large Indian crop, coupled with the rupee devaluation, has pushed turmeric prices to sharply lower levels. Indian Alleppey (5.00 curcumin) New York spot prices in March averaged only 62 cents per pound, down sharply from a year earlier prices of $1.40 per pound. Turmeric is widely used as a food coloring agent, particularly in mustard products. Most U.S. imports are from India, which accounted for over three-quarters of the 1992 shipments of 2,606 tons.

Vanilla Beans: U.S. vanilla bean imports in 1992 fell nearly 4 percent from a year earlier, as importers and users utilized stocks from the large 1991 shipments to meet demand. Indonesia continued as the largest supplier to the U.S. market, reflecting the significantly lower price for "Java" vanilla beans, compared to that from most other sources. March 1993 New York spot prices for Indonesian vanilla beans averaged $9.50 per pound, compared with "Bourbon" vanilla and Mexican beans selling for $36 and $36.50 per pound, respectively.

The trend toward natural flavoring in food products continues to keep demand for vanilla beans steady, despite strong competition from synthetic flavorings, such as vanillin. Vanilla is the most popular flavor in the United States, and accounts for nearly one-third of all ice cream sales. Ice cream is the largest use for natural vanilla, accounting for nearly half of the market. Most vanilla flavoring used in baking, confectionery, and in many frozen desserts, contains some vanillin, ethyl vanillin, vanitrope, or a combination of these products. Vanillin accounts for over 90 percent of the U.S. market for vanilla flavorings. The market for synthetics will likely remain strong because of their relatively low and stable prices, as well as their reliability of supply and quality.

Capsicum And Paprika Peppers: U.S. imports were up sharply in 1992, reflecting increased shipments of unground capsicum peppers from India and Pakistan and large shipments of ground capsicums from Mexico. However, smaller shipments of paprika from Spain resulted in a 21 percent drop in imports of that item. Spain, Morocco, Israel, and Hungary were the principal sources of U.S. paprika imports, while Mexico, India, Pakistan were the main suppliers of other type capsicum peppers. New Mexico and California produce significant amounts of capsicum and paprika peppers for the domestic market. Production data for California was discontinued in 1990.

Article copyright American Botanical Council.


By Rex T. Dull