A short history of spices


Published on

1 Like
  • Be the first to comment

No Downloads
Total views
On SlideShare
From Embeds
Number of Embeds
Embeds 0
No embeds

No notes for slide

A short history of spices

  1. 1. THE SPICE OF LIFEVast fortunes made and squandered, powerful rulers seduced, ailments cured, and nations discovered - allin the name of spice. Spices have always cast a spell on our imaginations. They flatter our senses: oursight with their vibrant colors, our smell with their enticing fragrances, and our taste with their distinctflavors.Spices have been the catalysts of some of the greatest adventures in human history, from ChristopherColumbus to Vasco da Gama, as well as being the driving force for the British East India Company and theBritish Empire, whose merchants turned London into the greatest spice market in the world for 200years.More dramatic, through the book Nathaniels Nutmeg, is the transfer of Manhattan Island in 1667 toEngland in exchange for the nutmeg rich island, Run, to the Dutch. Spices energize our daily adventures infood and remind us of journeys to exotic places - and great nights out with friends and family. PRIMITIVE BEGINNINGSThough the word "spice" didnt appear until the end of the 12th century but the use of herbs dates backto early humans. Early civilizations wrapped meat in the leaves of bushes, accidentally discovering thatthis enhanced the taste of the meat, as did certain nuts, seeds, berries - and even bark.It is claimed that the lavish use of spices in ancient times was a way to mask the often unpleasant tasteand odor of food, and later, to keep food fresh. We dont believe this myth as the cost and value of spiceshas always been very high, so it would be unlikely that you would use something very expensive oncheaper, less fresh, food. PRECIOUS COMMODITIES IN ANTIQUITYThe first spice expeditions were organized in ancient times to ensure that these coveted commoditieswould always be in supply. Legend has it that: in 1000 BC the Queen of Sheba visited King Solomon inJerusalem to offer him "120 measures of gold, many spices, and precious stones." A handful of cardamomwas worth as much as a poor mans yearly wages and many slaves were bought and sold for a few cups ofpeppercorns. ARAB TRADERSArab traders were the first to introduce spices into Europe. Realizing that they controlled a commodity ingreat demand, the traders kept their sources of supply secret and made up fantastic tales of the dangersinvolved in obtaining spices. At the crossroads of land trade from India and sea trade from theMediterranean, spices played a huge role in Phoenician trade. The Phoenicians were expert merchantsand smooth navigators; so much so that at the end of the 14th century BC, spices were called "Phoenicianmerchandise." These slick middlemen knew how to offer their services to kings as well as pharaohs inorder to extend their supply sites and possibly pave the way to India. PEPPER REIGNS IN THE ROMAN EMPIREThe Roman Empire, whose boundaries progressively extended from one side of the Mediterranean to theother, couldnt ignore these bewitching spices. Cleopatra herself used a "very stimulating" food to seduceCaesar. Huge quantities of saffron were strewn on the streets of Rome to celebrate Neros entrance intothe city. The reputed excesses of ancient Roman food consumption were apparent in the wide variety ofseasonings used in the meals of the rich. Long pepper, the Roman spice of choice, was as omnipresentas garum iberico (a special salty fish paste from Portugal) on the Roman tables. Without a doubt, spiceshad become status symbols.
  2. 2. In the biblical story of the Magi, three kings from the exotic reaches of the Orient give gifts of gold,frankincense, and myrrh to the newborn Jesus Christ. Frankincense and myrrh were rare, very expensivespices of the time. And in the 5th century,. SPICES IN THE MIDDLE AGESThe Islamic heartland straddles the three continents of Asia, Africa and Europe and was central to alltrade routes. Routes to and from southern Africa and Europe passed through African Islamic lands.Routes to and from China/southeast Asia to Europe passed through key Islamic territory, as did similarroutes leading to India. The region, therefore, already had an advantage in the trade industry since manyof the routes traversed these lands either overland or by sea.Simultaneously, as Islam continued fortifying itself and steps were being taken to convert more followers,Arabs were becoming more and more involved in trading. Principally, spices became a key pillar of thetrade industry because they were not bulky, perishable, or breakable and thus could be carried/tradedover long distances easily. For these reasons the actual process of trading probably began with suchitems. It continued to be successful since people began relying on them early on to preserve food, improvetheir health, add taste to food, augment their personal appearance and smell, and perfume their houses.Furthermore, the characteristically Muslim impact on the spice trade was revolutionary. Prior to Muslimconquest, trading had been indirect and was accomplished by the connection of local merchants whotraded exclusively in their local area. They were involved in a trade-relay of sorts where the spices weretransported from one carrier to another to another, without any singular group making the entire journeyitself. When Muslim forces gained control over the trade, however, one of their first innovations was tomake this a direct trade, wherein Muslims would travel the entire length of the trade routes personally,without relying on intermediaries. This markedly influenced their ability to spread the word of God andMuhammad.The specific agricultural products -- spices -- were actually conducive to this strategic use of trade tospread religion. "Spice plants were limited in supply. They grew in particular areas ... and they could notalways be moved for cultivation elsewhere." (5) This made the continuity of the spice trade essential toimporters for a number of centuries since they had come to rely on the aromatic, medicinal, andpreservative qualities of spices users could not grow at home. From the 10th century on, the crusadesprompted a rediscovery of spices; seasonings made an obvious comeback to the tables of the great andpowerful European courts. It was mainly from the Orient, overland via Arabia and the Red Sea, Egypt andthe ports of Venice and Genoa that spices reached Britain. Venetian merchants, strategically locatedmidway between the Levant and Western Europe, became the great middlemen of the spice trade. Theysent their cargoes via Flanders and the Low Countries for sale in local markets to supply the NorthernEuropean countries. EUROPEAN NAVIGATORS SET SAILAs with any great discovery, the opening of the Southern seaboard spice route was no accident.Portuguese navigators and geographers had been working at it for over a half-century. Henry thenavigator, who encouraged exploration of the African coast, was the most famous of them. ChristopherColumbus set sail in 1492 to head west and find gold and spices, hoping to hit the Indian coast wherethese precious commodities could be found. Controlling and supplying the spice market were keyobjectives for the Portuguese and Spanish powers at the time in their goal to overturn the Arab andVenetian monopoly in the Mediterranean.Poor old Venice, The virtual monopoly - that it had held of the European spice trade and which had madethe Serene Republic rich - was doomed. One day in May 1498 Vasco da Gama anchored his ship off thecost of India. The Arab merchants were shocked to see a Portuguese man on Indian shores. "We arelooking for Christians and spices," stated the Portuguese navigator, and with that, the Arabs saw theirmonopoly crumble. The sea route to India was discovered at last.Three months later da Gama set off on his return voyage to Lisbon, bearing news that the ruler of Calicutwas prepared to barter cinnamon and cloves, ginger and pepper for gold, silver and (strangely) scarletcloth. The European spice trade passed into the hands of the Portuguese, who held on to it - with difficulty
  3. 3. - for a century, only to lose it to the Dutch, whose trade with Java and the Spice Islands, as the Moluccascame to be known, led to the formation in 1602 of the powerful Dutch East India Company.By the 1680s, the Dutch had established a total monopoly of the highly profitable trade in cloves andnutmegs, while the Portuguese retained a corner in the cinnamon business. At this period, British cookingwas still heavy with ginger and pepper, cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg. The food of Italy, Portugal, France,Holland and Germany was similarly spiced and scented.It was not until towards the middle of the seventeenth century that the British East India Company held amonopoly on all trade with India and that the British began developing it’s cooking along lines werecognize today. Spices and sugar were readily available and became relatively cheap, and were thereforeless prized and used with more discretion. But the economic value of these products declined as farmingsites increased. CULTURAL EXCHANGEHindu and Buddhist religious establishments of Southeast Asia came to be associated with economicactivity and commerce as patrons entrusted large funds which would later be used to benefit localeconomy by estate management, craftsmanship and promotion of trading activities. Buddhism, inparticular, traveled alongside the maritime trade, promoting coinage, art and literacy. Islam spreadthroughout the East, reaching Maritime Southeast Asia in the 10th century; Muslim merchants played acrucial part in the trade. The Portuguese colonial settlements saw traders such as the Gujarati banias, South Indian Chettis, SyrianChristians, Chinese from Fujian province, and Arabs from Aden involved in the spice trade. Epics,languages, and cultural customs were borrowed by Southeast Asia from India, and later China. Knowledgeof Portuguese language became essential for merchants involved in the trade.Indian merchants involved in spice trade took Indian cuisine to Southeast Asia, notable presentday Malaysia and Indonesia, where spice mixtures and curries became popular.European peopleintermarried with the Indians, and popularized valuable culinary skills, such as baking, in India. ThePortuguese also introduced vinegar to India, and Franciscan priests manufactured it from coconut toddy,Indian food, adapted to European palate, became visible in England by 1811 as exclusive establishmentsbegan catering to the tastes of both the curious and those returning from India. INDIAN INDUSTRY OVERVIEWINDIAS SHARE IN THE GLOBAL SPICE MARKETThe Indian spice industry is booming with a substantial increase in exports over the past few years. Indiaaccounts for nearly 45% and 30% in terms of volume and value in the world spice trade.The booming global spice market also poses good opportunities for the Indian spice industry to providequality spices at competitive prices. India faces stiff competition form China, Malaysia and Pakistan interms of pricing of the products. Manufacturers should therefore ensure consistency in supply, productquality, pricing and marketing strategy to increase the share in exports.Producers are incorporating latest methods and technologies to ensure higher quality of spices and herbs.India is one of the prime exporters of pepper, chilies, turmeric, seed spices and spice derivatives to therest of the world. USA, EU, Japan, Pakistan and Sirilanka import these Indian spices in large volumes.
  4. 4. INDIAS SHARE IN GLOBAL SPICE DERIVATIVE MARKETSpice derivatives can be categorized into spice oil, oleoresins and essential oils. The demand for spicederivatives is also increasing due to the hygiene, standardization and consistency factor. India contributesnearly 70% to the world spice derivative market. It exports largely to the US, EU etc. Indian southernstates including Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu provide concentrated oils and oleoresins for use inperfumery, pharmaceuticals, foods processing and industrial chemical industry.GOVERNMENT INITIATIVEIndian Government is providing financial assistance to farmers, growers and spice producers and has alsotaken certain steps to ensure the availability of better quality spices, more hygienically processed spicesin order to boost exports. Indian spice board also provides financial and technical assistance to farmers. WHERE ARE WE NOW?Today, colonial empires have all but vanished, spices are used in almost everything we eat, and costs arerelatively low. It is hard to imagine that these fragrant bits of leaves, seeds, and bark were once socoveted and costly. For centuries wars were waged, new lands discovered, and the earth circled, all in thequest of spices. However, many of the spices have other purported properties as well as their culinaryuses, such as nutmeg which is believed by some to be an aphrodisiac.Thanks to the vogue of international travel, we can engage in our own spice conquest now. We can strollthrough market stalls around the world where spices, perfumes, and exotic plants and flowers enchantthe senses. And when we take these scents and tastes of far-reaching places back to our homes, we areagain compelled to discover the allure of the unknown.WORKS CITEDENCYCLOPEDIA OF SPICES. (2011, 12 5). Retrieved from THE EPICENTRE:http://www.theepicentre.com/Spices/spiceref.htmlFarrell, K. (2011, 12 5). Arab Spice Trade and Spread of Islam: SPICE Case. Retrieved from TEDCase Studies: http://www1.american.edu/ted/SPICE.HTMHow Spices Shaped History. (n.d.). Retrieved 12 5, 2011, from THE SPICE TRADER:http://www.thespicetrader.co.nz/history-of-spiceM., L. M. (1999). The History of the Spice Trade in India. Retrieved 12 5, 2011, fromhttp://english.emory.edu/Bahri/Spice_Trade.htmlThe Spice Trade, The Explorers. (n.d.). Retrieved 12 5, 2011, from ZANZIBAR:http://zanzibar.net/history/the_spice_trade_the_explorersWhipps, H. (2008, MAY 12). How the Spice Trade Changed the World. Retrieved 12 5, 2011, fromLIVE SCIENCE: http://www.livescience.com/7495-spice-trade-changed-world.html