Kalpasi, also known as the black stone flower or sea lichen, or in the Middle East shebat al ajooz or ishna, is a species of lichen used as a spice in certain parts of India. It’s Latin name is parmotrema perlatum and it can be found throughout the temperate areas of both the northern and southern hemispheres.
In the Tamil areas of South India you will often find kalpasi among the ingredients in the kit packets for masala curries. It is abundantly available in the Chettinad region, one of the driest in South India and along with kapok buds give Chettinad cuisine its unique flavour. In the Indian state of Maharashtra, it forms part of the famous goda masala, a special blend of spice that is unique to the area.
Hyderabadi cuisine also includes some kalpasi. A typical bhojwar masala spice will be made up from coriander seeds (120g), bay leaves (30g), sesame seeds (100g), cumin seed (30g), coconut (100g), peanuts (35g), and kalpasi (50g). These are then dry-roasted, cooled, and ground.
Kalpasi grows on trees, rocks and stones and when used in curries releases a strong woody aroma and flavour. Despite some mystery surrounding its harvesting, it can readily be found in stores in the west, especially Asian supermarkets and cookshops.