History of spices in the world

Spice tradethe cultivation, preparation, transport, and merchandising of spices and herbs, an enterprise of ancient origins and great cultural and economic significance. Seasonings such as cinnamoncassiacardamomgingerand turmeric were important items of commerce in the earliest evolution of trade. Cinnamon and cassia found their way to the Middle East at least 4, years ago. From time immemorial, southern Arabia Arabia Felix of antiquity had been a trading centre for frankincensemyrrhand other fragrant resins and gums.

Herb and Spice History

Arab traders artfully withheld the true sources of the spices they sold. To satisfy the curious, to protect their market, and to discourage competitors, they spread fantastic tales to the effect that cassia grew in shallow lakes guarded by winged animals and that cinnamon grew in deep glens infested with poisonous snakes.

Whatever part the overland trade routes across Asia played, it was mainly by sea that the spice trade grew. Arab traders were sailing directly to spice-producing lands before the Christian era. Sri Lanka Ceylon was another important trading point. In the city of AlexandriaEgyptrevenues from port dues were already enormous when Ptolemy XI bequeathed the city to the Romans in 80 bc.

The Romans themselves soon initiated voyages from Egypt to India, and under their rule Alexandria became the greatest commercial centre of the world. It was also the leading emporium for the aromatic and pungent spices of India, all of which found their way to the markets of Greece and the Roman Empire. Roman trade with India was extensive for more than three centuries and then began to decline, reviving somewhat in the 5th century ad but declining again in the 6th.

It had weakened, but not broken, the Arabian hold on the spice trade, which endured through the Middle Ages. In the 10th century both Venice and Genoa began to prosper through trade in the Levant. Over the centuries a bitter rivalry developed between the two that culminated in the naval war of Chioggia —81in which Venice defeated Genoa and secured a monopoly of trade in the Middle East for the next century.

Venice made exorbitant profits by trading spices with buyer-distributors from northern and western Europe. Although the origins of spices were known throughout Europe by the Middle Ages, no ruler proved capable of breaking the Venetian hold on the trade routes. Near the end of the 15th century, however, explorers began to build ships and venture abroad in search of new ways to reach the spice-producing regions. So began the famed voyages of discovery.

In Christopher Columbus sailed under the flag of Spainand in John Cabot sailed on behalf of England, but both failed to find the storied spice lands though Columbus returned from his journey with many new fruits and vegetables, including chile peppers. Portugal went on to dominate the naval trading routes through much of the 16th century.

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The search for alternative trade routes persisted.A spice is a seedfruitrootbarkor other plant substance primarily used for flavoringcoloring or preserving food. Spices are distinguished from herbswhich are the leaves, flowers, or stems of plants used for flavoring or as a garnish. Many spices have antimicrobial properties, [1] which may explain why spices are more prominent in cuisines originating in warmer climates, where food spoilage is more likely, and why the use of spices is more common with meat, which is particularly susceptible to spoiling.

The spice trade developed throughout the Indian subcontinent [3] and Middle East by at earliest BCE with cinnamon and black pepperand in East Asia with herbs and pepper.

The Egyptians used herbs for mummification and their demand for exotic spices and herbs helped stimulate world trade. The word spice comes from the Old French word espicewhich became epiceand which came from the Latin root specthe noun referring to "appearance, sort, kind": species has the same root. Early uses were connected with magic, medicine, religion, tradition, and preservation.

Cloves were used in Mesopotamia by BCE. The earliest written records of spices come from ancient Egyptian, Chinese, and Indian cultures.

Arab merchants facilitated the routes through the Middle East and India.

history of spices in the world

This resulted in the Egyptian port city of Alexandria being the main trading center for spices. The most important discovery prior to the European spice trade were the monsoon winds 40 CE. Sailing from Eastern spice cultivators to Western European consumers gradually replaced the land-locked spice routes once facilitated by the Middle East Arab caravans. In the story of GenesisJoseph was sold into slavery by his brothers to spice merchants.

In the biblical poem Song of Solomonthe male speaker compares his beloved to many forms of spices. Spices were among the most demanded and expensive products available in Europe in the Middle Ages[5] the most common being black peppercinnamon and the cheaper alternative cassiacuminnutmegginger and cloves. Given medieval medicine 's main theory of humorismspices and herbs were indispensable to balance "humors" in food, [6] a daily basis for good health at a time of recurrent pandemics.

In addition to being desired by those using medieval medicinethe European elite also craved spices in the Middle Ages. An example of the European aristocracy's demand for spice comes from the King of Aragonwho invested substantial resources into bringing back spices to Spain in the 12th century.

He was specifically looking for spices to put in wineand was not alone among European monarchs at the time to have such a desire for spice.JavaScript seems to be disabled in your browser.

You must have JavaScript enabled in your browser to utilize the functionality of this website. Updated: October 22, Before learning about the history of herbs and spices, it is necessary to define these terms. Herbs are the fresh and dried leaves generally of temperate plants and are usually green in color. In Pennsylvania, we live in a temperate climate characterized by summers and winters of similar length.

Spices are the flowers, fruit, seeds, bark, and roots typically of tropical plants and range from brown to black to red in color. In general, spices have a more pungent flavor than herbs. It is possible for one plant to provide an herb and a spice. For example, for the plant Coriandrum sativum, the leaves are used as the herb cilantro while the seed is used as the spice coriander. The Ebers Papyrus is an Egyptian scroll listing plants used as medicines, which dates back to about B.

Some spices listed are anise, mustard, saffron, cinnamon, and cassia. Cinnamon and cassia are native to southeastern Asia and China, not Egypt. The scroll serves as evidence that the spice trade was in existence at least 3, years ago. Starting around B. When Alexander the Great conquered Egypt in 80 B. Early Romans expanded the use of spices in foods, medicines, and indulgent items such as lotions and perfumes. During these times, large amounts of gold and silver were traded for spices.

After the first century, Rome established a direct trade with India via the Red Sea, and effectively broke the Arab monopoly on the spice trade. Romans then introduced spices throughout Europe, where they became very popular. When the Goths, a tribe living on the Danube River in Europe, overtook Rome inthey demanded and received gold, silver, silks, other valuables, and 3, pounds of pepper as ransom to spare Roman lives.

Trade between Europe and eastern Asia nearly disappeared for years after the fall of Rome inbut was later revived in part due to the publishing of Marco Polo's memoirs in the late 13th century.

In his memoirs, Polo described his travels to the Orient and the spices grown there. Europeans then began searching for water routes to the Orient. Beginning around the 14th century, ocean exploration advanced, and sea routes from Europe to eastern Asia were discovered. InChristopher Columbus discovered the New World while searching for a shorter water route to find black pepper and cinnamon. From toSpain discovered a water route to the Spice Islands the Moluccas, near Indonesia where cloves, nutmeg, mace, and pepper were produced.

Those who controlled the spice trade got rich, as prices were very high. By the early s, spice plantations were established in other locations around the world ending the spice trade cartel forever.

The United States entered the spice trade, as it now exists, in the late s and is the largest spice importer and consumer in the world. The use of plants as herbs has been important to all cultures since long before history was recorded.

Hundreds of tribal cultures have used wild and cultivated herbs for medicinal and food purposes for thousands of years. Herbs are mentioned in Genesis, the first chapter of the Bible, and throughout its text. As civilizations developed so did the knowledge for the use of herbs. The study of herbs is well-documented. Evidence of early herb gardens dates to Europe in the Middle Ages.

Egyptian schools of herbalists have existed since B. Scholars were interested in herbs medicine, cosmetics, cooking, history, and folklore. Most herbs are symbolic.Abundant anecdotal information documents the historical use of herbs and spices for their health benefits 1.

Early documentation suggests that hunters and gatherers wrapped meat in the leaves of bushes, accidentally discovering that this process enhanced the taste of the meat, as did certain nuts, seeds, berries, and bark. Over the years, spices and herbs were used for medicinal purposes.

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Spices and herbs were also used as a way to mask unpleasant tastes and odors of food, and later, to keep food fresh 2. Ancient civilizations did not distinguish between those spices and herbs used for flavoring from those used for medicinal purposes. When leaves, seeds, roots, or gums had a pleasant taste or agreeable odor, it became in demand and gradually became a norm for that culture as a condiment. Spices were also valuable as items of exchange and trade. For example, the Bible mentions that in BC, Queen Sheba visited King Solomon in Jerusalem and offered him " measures of gold, many spices, and precious stones.

Historically, culinary spices and herbs have been used as food preservatives and for their health- enhancing properties. Papyri from Ancient Egypt in BC classified coriander, fennel, juniper, cumin, garlic and thyme as health promoting spices 3. Records from that time also note that laborers who constructed the Great Pyramid of Cheops consumed onion and garlic as a means to promote health. Other historical evidence suggested that cassia was an important spice in south China when the province "Kweilin," meaning "Cassia Forest," was founded around BC.

Early on, nutmeg and cloves from Moluccas were brought to China. Anecdotal evidence suggests that Chinese courtiers in the 3rd century BC carried cloves in their mouths so their breath was sweet when addressing the emperor. During the 5th century, ginger plants were grown in pots and carried on long sea voyages between China and Southeast Asia to provide fresh food and to prevent scurvy.

Ancient cuneiform records noted spice and herb use in Mesopotamia in the fertile Tigris and Euphrates valleys, where many aromatic plants were known. Sumerian clay tablets of medical literature dating from the 3rd millennium BC mention various odoriferous plants, including thyme A scroll of cuneiform writing, established by King Ashurbanipal of Assyria BCrecords a long list of aromatic plants, such as thyme, sesame, cardamom, turmeric, saffron, poppy, garlic, cumin, anise, coriander, silphium, dill, and myrrh.

The Ancient Assyrians also used sesame as a vegetable oil. He kept records on how to cultivate many spices and herbs e.

The magic religion of Babylonia involved an ancient medical god of the moon, who controlled medicinal plants.

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Potent parts of herbs were not allowed sun exposure and were harvested by moonlight. Onions, garlic, and shallots became popular condiments in Persia by the 6th century BC. Records from King Cyrus BC noted a wholesale purchase ofbunches of garlic. Persians also produced essential oils from roses, lilies, coriander, and saffron. Spices and herbs e. Spices indigenous to India e.

Susruta, an ancient surgeon around 4th century BC used white mustard and other aromatic plants in bed sheets to ward off malignant spirits. He also applied a poultice from sesame to post operation wounds which may have acted as an antiseptic. Medical writings of Charaka 1st century and Susruta II 2nd century referenced spices and herbs. Susruta II also used spices and herbs such as cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, turmeric, and pepper for healing purposes.

Spices such as cardamom, ginger, black pepper, cumin, and mustard seed were included in ancient herbal medicines for different types of health benefits. In Ayurvedic medicine, spices such as cloves and cardamom were wrapped in betel-nut leaves and chewed after meals to increase the flow of saliva and aid digestion.

Ancient Greeks imported Eastern spices pepper, cassia, cinnamon, and ginger to the Mediterranean area; they also consumed many herbs produced in neighboring countries. Examples include caraway and poppy seeds for bread, fennel for vinegar sauces, coriander as a condiment in food and wine, and mint as a flavoring in meat sauces. Garlic was widely used by the country people in much of their cooking. Ancient Greeks wore parsley and marjoram as a crown at their feasts in an attempt to prevent drunkenness.The history of spice is almost as old as human civilisation.

It is a history of lands discovered, empires built and brought down, wars won and lost, treaties signed and flouted, flavours sought and offered, and the rise and fall of different religious practices and beliefs. Spices were among the most valuable items of trade in ancient and medieval times.

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As long ago as BC the ancient Egyptians were using various spices for flavouring food, in cosmetics, and for embalming their dead. The use of spices spread through the Middle East to the eastern Mediterranean and Europe. Spices from China, Indonesia, India, and Ceylon now Sri Lanka were originally transported overland by donkey or camel caravans.

For almost years, Arab middlemen controlled the spice trade, until European explorers discovered a sea route to India and other spice producing countries in the East.

The search for a cheaper way to obtain spices from the East led to the great Age of Exploration and the discovery of the New World. European explorers such as Ferdinand Magellan, Vasco da Gama, and Bartholomeu Dias began their long sea voyages to discover a sea route to the sources of spices.

Christopher Columbus went westwards from Europe in to find a sea route to the lands of spices but found the Americas. In the Portuguese navigator Vasco da Gama discovered a sea route around the southern tip of Africa, eventually reaching Kozhikode on the southwest coast of India in Da Gama returned from his voyage with a cargo of nutmegs, cloves, cinnamon, ginger, and peppercorns. The lack of refrigeration and poor standards of hygiene meant that food often spoiled quickly and spices were in great demand to mask the flavour of food that was far from fresh.

Fierce competition among European nations for control of the spice trade was the driving force behind the colonisation of India and other Asian lands. At various times, the Portuguese, Dutch, French, Spanish, and English established monopolies over various parts of the spice trade. This period saw empires founded and fortunes made and was also characterised by brutal conquests, piracy, and greed.

This era saw the formation of trading empires such as the British East India Company.

history of spices in the world

Migration has had a profound influence on the use of spices in New Zealand in recent times. Immigrant communities have brought their authentic traditional cuisine, and many of their dishes make good use of spices.

Now the rest of us can delight in a more varied, tasteful, and interesting cuisine!Tonight you might grind a bit on Caesar salad or use it to perk up a steak, but pepper was once so valuable that it could be used to pay the rent. Pepper, along with other spices such as cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg, was such a hot commodity five centuries ago that it drove nations to sail across vast oceans searching for new routes to the spice-rich Orient.

Spices didn't just make merchants rich across the globe — it established vast empires, revealed entire continents to Europeans and tipped the balance of world power.

If the modern age has a definitive beginning, it was sparked by the spice trade, some historians have argued. Spices were an important component of ancient commerce well before the 15th-century, but were monopolized for centuries by Middle Eastern and North African middlemen who guarded the Asian provenance of their valuable sources closely and became fabulously wealthy for it.

Back then, the colorful grains were used for flavoring food, but also for such tasks as making perfume, embalming the dead, preserving meat and sprucing up salve recipes in traditional medicine. Europe dangled at the far end of the trading chain for spices, without access to eastern sources or the power to contest exorbitant prices. At one point in the s, when tariffs were at their highest, a pound of nutmeg in Europe cost seven fattened oxen and was a more valuable commodity than gold.

history of spices in the world

Even the aristocracy — one of the biggest consumers of imported spices — began finding it hard to afford their shipments of peppercorn and clove.

So, by the s, when navigational equipment had improved to the point that long-haul sailing became possible, the kings and queens of Europe set out to change the balance of world trade by funding spice-hunting missions of their own. First out of the blocks came Christopher Columbus who, in searching for a quicker route to India, bumped into the Americas instead.

How Spices Shaped History

Disappointed he hadn't reached India, Columbus' name for the native people he encountered in America and their local version of a spicy condiment — "Indians" and "peppers" — stuck nonetheless. Also looking for spices, Vasco de Gama was the first to 'round Africa, and a crew led by Ferdinand Magellan fully circumnavigated the globe.

The map of the colonial period was largely drawn in those frenzied years when all of Europe clamored for a piece of the spice trade, using dubious and often brutal tactics to establish a foothold in India and Southeast Asia.

Spain and Portugal spent much of the 16th century fighting over cloves, while England and the Dutch dueled over nutmeg in Indonesia. Jammed with nutmeg trees, a tiny island called Run became the world's most valuable real estate for a time in the s, when England gave it up to The Netherlands in a treaty to end hostilities between the two nations. In exchange for Run, The Netherlands swapped a couple of colonies across the pond — including what is now known as the island of Manhattan.

By that time, burgeoning European outposts already formed a ring around the Indian Ocean, bringing enormous wealth to their home countries and fuelling the colonization of any territory deemed suitable for crops.

How Spices Shaped History

Flags were planted and ship paths formed a web of sorts across the world's ocean like never before. For better and for worse, the world's first crack at globalization had begun, all in the pursuit of a more flavorful dinner. Live Science.Herbs have been used throughout written history, and probably much longer. They were depicted on cave paintings in France, dated between 13, B. It is speculated that early humans probably discovered myriad uses for wild plants through trial and error.

It even makes sense that civilization began about the time that humans first began cultivating plants. Anthropologists believe that people began making healing ointments out of fragrant plants combined with olive oil and sesame oil as early as B.

By the 28th century B. The Sumerians followed with a written herbal record around B. By B.

Join us on a journey to learn about the magical history of spices

About years later, Hippocrates used many plants to treat diseases, which led him to become known as the father of medicine. He catalogued about herbs in common use in his day. Greeks and others continued to study the medicinal uses of plants over the next several centuries.

Aristotle requested that Alexander the Great learn how other cultures were utilizing the aloe plant. Alexander sent cuttings of new plant varieties to friends as he traveled the world.

Herbs are also mentioned repeatedly throughout both the Old and New Testaments of the Bible. The European colonists who settled North America in the s and s carried seeds from their most useful plants to the New World.

Their limited capacity for luggage is a testament to how important these herbs were to colonists that they carried them aboard ships for transport to their new homes. The herbs they introduced here included plantain, mint, lavender, parsley, pot marigold also known as calendularoses, dandelion, chamomile, thyme, and yarrow. Both safety and convenience prompted the settlers to plant their herb gardens just steps outside their front doors. They continued their study of herbs by learning more from the Native Americans they encountered here.

The Arawak introduced Columbus and his crew to cayenne on the Canary islands. Cherokees showed the new settlers how to use goldenrod to treat fevers, and the Sioux showed frontier settlers how to use echinacea to treat wounds and snakebites. Herbs were extremely important in the times before clinics or hospitals. Doctors weren't available to everyone then, either, and medications as we know them today were nonexistent.

The common people used plant parts for treating different ailments, and dried the most useful herbs to store and use during the winter months. There was little formal research other than trial and error, with the results passed on by word of mouth. Thomas Jefferson was also a gardener who kept thorough records of his gardens at Monticello.

Some of the herbs grown there were lemon balm, sage, mint, thyme, chamomile, rosemary, and lavender. By the 20th century, the introduction of synthetic medicine spurred a decline in the use of herbs as health care treatments. Interest did not resume on a large scale until the self-sufficiency movement of the s. Today, our culture is experiencing a resurgence of interest in everything natural, including herbal medicine.

history of spices in the world

An herb is a plant that is used for its medicinal properties, flavor, or scent. Herbs are used for both culinary and medicinal purposes -- sometimes even spiritual ones.

Their leaves are often the favored part of the plant, but herbal medicine also avails itself of herbs' roots, seeds, flowers, berries, and bark. The definition of a medicinal herb is more expansive than that of a culinary herb.

Herb and Spice History

Medicinal herbs may be shrubs or other woody plants, but culinary herbs are limited to the leaves only of non-woody plants. Any portion of the plant may be considered herbs in medicinal and spiritual use, including the plants' fruits and vegetables.

In cooking, herbs are narrowly defined as the leafy green parts of plants.


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