If all you know about the history of spices is that there was once a band called the Spice Girls, you’re not alone. Today with the world’s best spices available to us it is hard believe that spices were once a prized possession that took months or years of travel to acquire. Read on to learn more about how spices were discovered and why we enjoy tasty recipes today.
Before pumpkin spice lattes were a thing, and cinnamon and nutmeg warmed up our cooking, spices had many uses from cosmetics to embalming. They were first used by the ancient Egyptians for these purposes around 3500 BC. In medieval times they were more valuable than gems for trade, and later when they came to Europe they were seen as a symbol of social status.
Donkeys are so Yesterday
Nowadays, you can have a handy subscription service where your spices arrive neatly in a package at your door. Originally, spices were transported by donkey or camel caravans across Asia and the Middles East. The use of spices soon spread through the Middle East to the eastern Mediterranean and Europe. Once European explorers discovered a spice route by sea route to India and other spice producing countries they were in high demand.
He went out for Cinnamon and Came back with a Continent
In 1492 Christopher Columbus travelled westwards from Europe to find a sea route to the spice lands and found the Americas instead! That’s quite the detour. Five years later Vasco da Gama, Portuguese explorer discovered a sea route that reached the southwest coast of India, returning from his voyage with a cargo of nutmegs, cloves, cinnamon, ginger, and peppercorns.
Nutmeg, the Diamonds of the Middle Ages
Diamonds might be a sought-after gift today, but during the Middle ages, a better gift would have been spices. During the Middle Ages, spices were in great demand as they masked the taste of spoiling food, a common occurrence due to lack of refrigeration and poor hygiene. Since they were hard to get and valuable, they became a symbol of wealth. This made them as valuable in Europe as gold and gems and the single most important force driving the world’s economy.
How big is your spice cupboard?
Spices became a status symbol amongst the European elite. It was like driving a Tesla. This began a fierce competition full of piracy, conquests and greed, kind of like Game of Thrones. The Portuguese, Dutch, French, Spanish, and English established monopolies over various parts of the spice trade at one time or another.
What happened as a result of the spice trade?
It contributed to the colonisation of India and other Asian lands and trading empires such as the British East India Company.
There you have it! How spices came to be a part of our lives. Luckily today, you can easily get high-quality spices from around the world, without piracy or mayhem.