The use of spices existed since as early as 7,000 years ago. Traders from India, influenced by the Portuguese and other sailors, brought with them a variety of spices to South East Asia including Malaysia Spices come in many forms, including as leaves, seeds, berries, roots and nuts and are used mainly as a flavoring agent. Today no meal would be considered complete without the addition of at least pepper.
In Malaysian cuisine, spices are almost essential ingredients that provide additional aroma and flavor to each dish. Many of these spices, including turmeric, which is often used in Malay and Indian cuisine, also possesses medicinal properties and have been used as such for generations.
Malay cooking today utilizes a wide variety of spices and ingredients, the most popular of which include the ‘rempah empat beradik’, loosely translated as the ‘four spices siblings’ essential to Malay cooking. These are the star anise, cinnamon, cardamom and clove. The actual combinations and quantities of ingredients used are varied according to their meat, fish, or seafood or other dishes. Other common spices used in Malay cooking include fresh and dried chilies, ginger, onions, shallots and garlic.
Spices are used more sparingly for Chinese cooking. Five-spice powder, a mixture of five spices namely star anise, cloves, Sichuan pepper, cinnamon, and fennel seed, and encompassing all five flavors of sweet, sour, bitter, pungent and salty is popular in Chinese cooking mainly for seasoning meat and also for frying vegetables.
Spices play a major role in Indian cooking. Indian cuisine is best known for its wide and liberal use of spices and this could include up to a dozen for a single dish. Spices such as cumin and coriander seeds are used in many spice mixtures, curries, vegetable dishes and pickles. Cinnamon adds a sweet and mellow flavor while cloves provide a strong, pungent and sweet aroma and is used in many meat dishes, marinades, pickles and ‘garam masalas’. Dishes often vary depending on the quantity or combination of spices used resulting in similarly named dishes seldom tasting the same.
Other Malaysian communities have also developed a taste for and use a variety of spices in their daily cooking. However, most of these spices are used in dishes today enjoyed by all Malaysians regardless of their cultural backgrounds.
The 60sen stamp feature Cinnamon; cinnamomum zeylanicum. The bark of the tree which is stripped off and dried and is used n variety of ways including in smaller pieces in curries or ground up in pastries, cakes and desserts.
The 90sen stamp feature Star Anise; illicium verum. A small fruit originating from China and has a taste similar to that of liquorice.
The RM1 stamp feature Cardamom; elettaria cardomomum. These seeds are used in the cooking of a variety or aromatic rice dishes such as ‘berianis’ as well as in curries and more. Cardamom is often added to hot milk tea to create ‘masala tea’, a fragrant concoction best enjoyed after meals
The miniature sheet features an assortment of spices including fennel seed, star anise, candlenut, fresh turmeric root, dried chilly, coriander and cinnamon laid out on a ‘batu giling’ or traditional grindstone.