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Herbs and spices

Herbs and Spices

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Herbs and Spices
Plus: Incense and Perfume
Outline
• The sense of smell
• Essential oils
• Incense
• perfume
• some herbs
• Spice trade
• pepper
• Cinnamon
• cloves, nutmeg, mace
• Saffron, ginger
• New World spices
• Chap 17
• Box 5.3, pp. 84-85
The Sense of Smell
• Herbs, spices, incense, and perfume all work on the
sense of smell.
• More precisely, the sense of smell is
chemoreception: the ability to detect specific
chemical compounds.
– We do it with volatile compounds, which must be
small and uncharged to move through the air.
– The human tongue can only distinguish 5 basic
flavors: sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and savory). The
rest of taste perception in based on the sense of smell.
• We detect smells because the chemical compounds
stimulate olfactory receptor neurons, which are
special nerve cells in the olfactory bulb, located in
the nasal passages.
– The olfactory bulb is part of the brain, and the signals from
here go to many other parts of the brain.
• Some dogs can smell odors that are 100 million
times more dilute than humans can smell.
Smell
• Odor molecules bind to receptor proteins on the surface of the
receptor neurons and stimulate them to send signals into the
brain.
• Each receptor neuron has only one type of receptor protein, so
each cell responds to only a single compound or class of
compounds.
– There are about 1000 different receptor types in mammals,
but humans have only about 400 active receptor types.
The rest of our genes have become inactivated.
• The olfactory signals are highly processed, not just due to
specific olfactory receptors. Individual receptors respond to
many different compounds: it’s pattern of overlap between
receptors that distinguishes different odors. We can
distinguish between about 10,000 different odors.
• Various theories as to why a given compound stimulates a
particular receptor: overall shape of the molecule, some
specific feature of the molecules, the frequency of vibration,
etc. There is no theory that explains olfactory perception
completely as yet. It’s hotly debated!
Essential Oils
• Before refrigeration (invented around 1900), food was
often a bit spoiled when people ate it. Herbs and spices
were a way of covering up off-tastes and generally making
food taste better and more interesting.
• Similarly, before modern times, bad smells were
everywhere: sewage in the streets, dead animals lying
around, unwashed bodies and clothes. Incense hid these
odors behind something much more pleasant.
• Many plants produce essential oils, which can attract
animals to help with pollination and seed dispersal, and
also to inhibit bacterial, fungal, and insect pathogens.
• Essential oils are volatile compounds that are secondary
metabolites. They are usually terpenes, constructed from
isoprene, the same 5-carbon compound that is the subunit
of rubber.
Essential Oils
• Essential oils are not soluble in water, but are soluble in
alcohol or other organic solvents, including olive oil.
– Other than the nice scents, other terpenes include carotene
and turpentine.
• Muslim alchemists invented the first still, the alembic,
and used it to produce concentrated alcohol that would
extract the scents of various flowers. Attar of roses (attar
= extract), jasmine, patchouli, violet, and many others.
• Essential oils used to be common in medicine, but
scientific studies have not found them to be particularly
valuable. However, they are used in aromatherapy, a
type of alternative medicine.
• The sense of smell triggers deep memories and
emotions that aren’t always connected with the
conscious mind. Thus, scents are useful in romantic
situations and in religious ceremonies.

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Herbs and spices

  • 1. Herbs and Spices Plus: Incense and Perfume
  • 2. Outline • The sense of smell • Essential oils • Incense • perfume • some herbs • Spice trade • pepper • Cinnamon • cloves, nutmeg, mace • Saffron, ginger • New World spices • Chap 17 • Box 5.3, pp. 84-85
  • 3. The Sense of Smell • Herbs, spices, incense, and perfume all work on the sense of smell. • More precisely, the sense of smell is chemoreception: the ability to detect specific chemical compounds. – We do it with volatile compounds, which must be small and uncharged to move through the air. – The human tongue can only distinguish 5 basic flavors: sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and savory). The rest of taste perception in based on the sense of smell. • We detect smells because the chemical compounds stimulate olfactory receptor neurons, which are special nerve cells in the olfactory bulb, located in the nasal passages. – The olfactory bulb is part of the brain, and the signals from here go to many other parts of the brain. • Some dogs can smell odors that are 100 million times more dilute than humans can smell.
  • 4. Smell • Odor molecules bind to receptor proteins on the surface of the receptor neurons and stimulate them to send signals into the brain. • Each receptor neuron has only one type of receptor protein, so each cell responds to only a single compound or class of compounds. – There are about 1000 different receptor types in mammals, but humans have only about 400 active receptor types. The rest of our genes have become inactivated. • The olfactory signals are highly processed, not just due to specific olfactory receptors. Individual receptors respond to many different compounds: it’s pattern of overlap between receptors that distinguishes different odors. We can distinguish between about 10,000 different odors. • Various theories as to why a given compound stimulates a particular receptor: overall shape of the molecule, some specific feature of the molecules, the frequency of vibration, etc. There is no theory that explains olfactory perception completely as yet. It’s hotly debated!
  • 5. Essential Oils • Before refrigeration (invented around 1900), food was often a bit spoiled when people ate it. Herbs and spices were a way of covering up off-tastes and generally making food taste better and more interesting. • Similarly, before modern times, bad smells were everywhere: sewage in the streets, dead animals lying around, unwashed bodies and clothes. Incense hid these odors behind something much more pleasant. • Many plants produce essential oils, which can attract animals to help with pollination and seed dispersal, and also to inhibit bacterial, fungal, and insect pathogens. • Essential oils are volatile compounds that are secondary metabolites. They are usually terpenes, constructed from isoprene, the same 5-carbon compound that is the subunit of rubber.
  • 6. Essential Oils • Essential oils are not soluble in water, but are soluble in alcohol or other organic solvents, including olive oil. – Other than the nice scents, other terpenes include carotene and turpentine. • Muslim alchemists invented the first still, the alembic, and used it to produce concentrated alcohol that would extract the scents of various flowers. Attar of roses (attar = extract), jasmine, patchouli, violet, and many others. • Essential oils used to be common in medicine, but scientific studies have not found them to be particularly valuable. However, they are used in aromatherapy, a type of alternative medicine. • The sense of smell triggers deep memories and emotions that aren’t always connected with the conscious mind. Thus, scents are useful in romantic situations and in religious ceremonies.
  • 7. Techniques for Extracting Essential Oils • Expression. Just squeezing citrus rinds brings out the essential oil. • Solvent extraction. Different essential oils are soluble in different liquids. Concentrated alcohol was first used by Muslims, but before this, many essences were extracted with olive or coconut oil. Today the solvents are petroleum products like petroleum ether. The solvents can then be evaporated away. What makes this useful is that some essential oils break down with heating, and solvent extraction can be done at room temperature. • Fractional distillation. This technique is basic to organic chemistry: different compounds vaporize at different temperatures. If you set up a column above a boiling mixture, there is a temperature gradient between the top and the bottom. Some careful manipulation allows different compounds to be separated from each other. Essences of mint, cloves, cinnamon and vanilla are obtained by fractional distillation. – Same technique is used in the petroleum industry to separate out different components of crude oil.
  • 8. More on Scent Extraction • Enfleurage (cold fat extraction). For very delicate oils that break down with heat. They are extracted by being covered with cold animal fat. Takes several weeks. New flowers are added periodically. Then the oils are extracted out with alcohol, which can be removed by evaporation. – The fat can be reused. It retains some odors and is eventually made into soap. • There are a few completely artificial scents: calone is a “fresh, ozone-like, metallic, marine” scent used in many contemporary perfumes for both men and women.
  • 9. Incense • Incense is material that smells good when burned or vaporized. • It has been used in religious ceremonies in many cultures since ancient times, to spiritually purify the air, or as an offering to the gods, or as an aid to prayer. – Native Americans use burning sage for this purpose. • Incense can be used to mask unpleasant odors. In American society today we are more inclined to use scents vaporized by other means. – We are less tolerant of releasing potential carcinogens and particles into the air than in previous times.
  • 10. More Incense • The scent comes from essential oils that vaporize when heated. Some incense can be burned directly, and other types are heated by smoldering charcoal . Coating a stick with incense gives a support as well as a source of heat to the incense. • Frankincense and myrrh are the solidified oils of trees growing in southern Arabia. They are produced in very small amounts and had to be shipped across the Arabian desert on the Incense Road, so they were very expensive. • Sandalwood is the wood of a group of trees growing India, Southeast Asia, and Australia. The essential oil is used in the perfume industry as well as for incense. • Citronella is an Old World perennial grass, often called lemongrass. When vaporized, it repels mosquitoes and other annoying insects. In the US, this is often done with candles, but it can be burned as incense as well.
  • 11. Perfume • Perfume making is an ancient art. A perfume factory from 2000 BC with 40,000 square feet of floor space has been discovered on the island of Cyprus. A perfume maker is mentioned on a clay tablet from ancient Mesopotamia, and they are mentioned in ancient Indian texts as well. • Chemists in the Islamic world starting about 800 AD significantly advanced the art. They had good access to many fragrant substances through trade, plus they developed basic chemical processes far beyond previous work. Abu Yusaf al-Kindi did scientific work in several fields, and wrote a book on perfume manufacture which fits modern methods very well. • Perfume manufacture entered Europe through the Crusades. European perfumer’s guilds started in the 1100’s or so. France became the center of the industry. – At one time there was a law saying that a woman who lured a man into marriage by using perfume was guilty of procuring (that is, promoting the practice of prostitution), and the marriage was annulled. • The court of Louis XIV of France used huge amounts of perfume: he demanded a different scent every day.
  • 12. Blending Perfume • Perfumes are blended by a master perfumer (called a “nose”). Some perfumes use up to 800 ingredients! Blending perfume is an art that requires an excellent memory for scents. • Perfumes consist of several “notes”: – a top note (tangy and citrus fragrances), These are scents that are perceived immediately: they are very volatile molecules: small and fast-moving. – a central note or heart note (provides body: flowery scents such as rose and jasmine), The main body of the perfume, perceived as the top notes dissipate – base note (woody scents). The base note provides a rich, deep, enduring fragrance and is generally not perceived for about 30 minutes. Perfume fixatives usually act as base notes. • Fragrances are classified into several groups and sub-groups, which can be described with a fragrance wheel. • After blending they are diluted with alcohol. – Perfume: 10-20% oils; cologne: 3-5% oil; toilet water: 2% oils. • Some successful perfumes have been around a long time: Chanel #5 was developed in 1924, and Arpège in 1927.
  • 13. Perfume Fixatives • Many essential oils evaporate too quickly for our taste: we expect a scent to last several hours at least. • Another issue: essential oils tend to turn rancid or be degraded by microorganisms over time. • Fixing agents are used to slow evaporation and to prevent spoilage. • The first fixative in common use was musk, extracted from a gland near the penis of Asian deer. It has its own odor and has been associated with sex since medieval times. • Another fixing agent is ambergris, isolated from sperm whales. Also, oils from beavers, civet cats. Many are animal products, often from endangered species. • These days, synthetic fixing agents are mostly used.
  • 14. Herbs and Spices • Herbs and spices have been used to flavor food as long as we have been cooking. They are among the earliest trade items. They have also been used as parts of incense and perfumes, as medicine, and as aphrodisiacs. • There is no great difference between herbs and spices. Herbs are usually leaves or seeds from temperate climates, and spices are other plant parts (flowers, bark, roots, etc.) from tropical climates. There is clearly some overlap in the definition. Both are used to flavor food.
  • 15. Herbs • Before trade with Asia was widespread, food in Europe was flavored primarily with members of four plant families. These represent the majority of the herbs used in cooking. All are native to Europe. – onion family (Allium) – parsley (carrot) family – mint family – mustard family
  • 16. Onion Family • Important onion family members include onions, garlic, and chives (and also leeks, shallots, and scallions). • They are monocots that form bulbs (underground stem bases with fleshy leaves). • The flavor comes from sulfur-containing compounds. Some of these compounds pass undigested from the digestive tract into the blood, and then get excreted through the lungs and skin: garlic breath. – Eating fresh parsley helps with garlic breath. • Most onion family members are cultivated for the bulbs, but the leaves of chives are used as an herb. • Alliumphobia is the irrational fear of garlic. • Garlic is also considered to be protective against werewolves and vampires, in Central European folklore. “Alliumphobia” by Ambera Wellman
  • 17. Mint Family • Many familiar herbs are in the mint family: (Lamiaceae) basil, oregano, marjoram, rosemary, sage, thyme. • Mint family plants have a characteristic square stem. • Many of these go well with tomatoes and Italian food. American soldiers in World War 2 developed as taste for Italian food and contributed greatly to the popularity of pizza after 1945. • Mint itself is important as a flavoring for candy, toothpaste, tea, and cigarettes. – For an intense experience: the Celestial Seasonings factory in Boulder Colorado has a mint room that will overwhelm your sense of smell. – In mythology, Menthe was a Greek nymph who got involved with Hades, god of the Underworld. Unfortunately, his wife Persephone found out, and she turned Menthe into the sweet-smelling mint plant. • Salvia divinorum, Diviner’s sage, is a Mexican plant used to induce visions. Possession is illegal in Illinois. – Catnip is also a mint. Cats love it, but it just smells bad to people.
  • 18. Carrot Family Herbs • The carrot family (Apiaceae) has characteristic umbel- shaped flowers. We discussed the family members used as vegetables: carrots, celery and parsnips. • Carrot family herbs include coriander, cilantro, cumin, dill, and fennel. • Parsley is said to be the world’s most widely used herb. In this country it is widely used as a garnish, a decoration on the plate that is mostly just pushed aside. The custom of using parsley as a food decoration started in butcher shops: it was a spot of green that contrasted nicely with all that red and white of the meat. – Parsley is actually used as a breath freshener. • Anise contains a licorice flavor, but real licorice is extracted from the root of another plant, a legume.
  • 19. Mustard Family • The mustard family is Brassicaceae, which we discussed earlier under Fruits and Vegetables. – The flowers are yellow of white, with 4 petals. • Two related species are used as a condiment, often mixed together: black mustard and white mustard (which is milder than black mustard). • Mustard seeds are ground up to make the spice. • Horseradish is also in this family. Grated horseradish roots also produce a hot taste. • Mustard gas, used as poison gas in World War 1, is not related to the mustard plant or the compounds it contains, although the color and smell are similar.
  • 20. The Spice Trade • Spices such as pepper, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, ginger, and turmeric were used in the Eastern world since ancient times. Some spices from Southeast Asia got to Egypt before 1000 BC. – Cinnamon (from India and Sri Lanka) was used to embalm ancient Egyptian mummies, as well as for incense and as medicine. – Also worth noting: cotton from India was used to wrap mummies, more evidence of trade between India and Egypt 3000 years ago. • India is the source of many important spices. They were originally brought overland by caravans. Spices were very expensive, having passed through many hands. • One major caravan route was the southern part of the Silk Road from China: ship the spices up from southwest India to the Indus River in modern Pakistan. Then up the Indus River to the Khyber Pass into Afghanistan and over the Hindu Kush mountains into Persia (modern Iran). Through northeastern Persia to Baghdad on the Tigris River. Then cross to the Euphrates River and follow it across the Syrian desert to either Damascus and then south into Egypt, or to Antioch and north to Constantinople. – An overland caravan trip from India took two years, and there were lots of unpleasant adventures on the way. Lots of mountains, deserts, and people wanting money.
  • 22. Indian Ocean Routes • The Indian Ocean is calmer than the Atlantic or Pacific and so was used for trade from earlier times. – Also, the entire coast of the Indian Ocean as settled, with overland routes through the region in existence before sea routes existed. • Originally, ships sailed along the coasts, staying within sight of the land. • Cities on the south coast of Arabia (Aden, chiefly) were the destinations for ships from India. From there, spices were shipped up the Red Sea to the cities of Egypt and on into the Mediterranean region. • The Romans learned to navigate directly across the ocean to India. They used the monsoon winds: blow towards India in the spring, and then back towards Africa in the fall. There was a great deal of trade in spices and other goods between the Roman Empire and India. – They probably learned this from the Ethiopians (called Axum in those days), who had been doing it since about 300 BC or so. • The Periplus of the Erythraeaen Sea is a navigation guide to the Red Sea and the parts of the Indian Ocean known to ancient Romans, written about 60 AD. It is accurate and practical, not philosophical, and is our best source of knowledge of this trade route. – Written by a Greek living in Egypt, who was a Roman citizen. Name unknown.
  • 23. Periplus of the Erythraean Sea (100 AD)
  • 25. After the Roman Empire • In 303 AD, the Roman Emperor Constantine moved the capital from Rome to Constantinople. Rome and the Western Roman Empire declined, and the barbarians took over. – Rome itself was sacked by Alaric and his Visigoths in 410 AD. – this is the end of the Greco-Roman world, that was centered on the Mediterranean Sea: southern Europe, northern Africa, Egypt, the Levant, Greece, Asia Minor (Turkey), and into the Black Sea basin. They were citizens of Rome, who spoke Greek for intellectual and cultural purposes, and Latin for government purposes. • Europe moves out of Classical times into the early Medieval period (the Dark Ages). Trade and economic activity slow in Europe, and only small amounts of spices make it into Europe.
  • 26. Islamic Golden Age • However, Muslim civilization spreads and flowers during this time. In the 100 years following the death of the Prophet Mohammed in 632 AD, the Arabs conquered and converted much territory in North Africa and up into Spain. And, eastward through Asia Minor, Persia, and central Asia up to the Indus River (modern Pakistan). – Mohammed married the widow of a spice trader. • The Arab empire was the Caliphate, whose ruler was the Caliph. The capital was in the newly founded city of Baghdad. • Many scholars gathered there to translate all known books into Arabic. – Most of our knowledge of ancient Greece and Rome comes from this. – It was helped by the Arabs taking the knowledge of papermaking from the Chinese, in a battle in central Asia. Arabs used starch to size the paper, making it easier to write on. • Many scientific and medical advances. All those words starting with "al" came from here: algebra, algorithm, alchemy, alcohol. It means "the". • Arabs had long been the main traders on much of the spice shipment routes, and they took over the sea routes from the Romans. Also, much of the overland trading route (Silk Road) lay within the Caliphate, allowing relatively easy travel. • Caliphate ends with the conquest of Baghdad by the Mongols in 1258 AD.
  • 28. The Crusades • Starting in 1095 AD and continuing for the next 200 years, Western Europeans invaded the Levant (eastern Mediterranean region) in an attempt to win Jerusalem back from the Muslims. – Partially successful: the Europeans ruled parts of the region for the next 200 years. • Big effects: Europeans get introduced to many new ideas and goods from the Muslim world. For our purposes, they get a real taste for spices. – Trade between Europe and the East picked up. Also, Europeans get into the habit of travelling around. • Venice, Genoa, and other Italian city-states supplied much of the sea transportation used by the Crusaders. • Constantinople, the capital city of the Byzantine (Eastern Roman) Empire, was captured and sacked by the Crusaders (in 1204 AD). After this, it was largely run by the Venetians. The Byzantine civilization wound down.
  • 29. Venice and the Maritime Republics • The Italian city-states, the "Maritime Republics", were originally part of the Byzantine Empire. They developed strong navies to deal with pirates and for trade; this led to independence from Byzantium. By the time of the Crusades, they controlled much of the transportation between the Black Sea and the eastern Mediterranean, and they traded with the Arabs in the Levant. • Spices and other goods coming overland went through Constantinople. • The water routes in the Indian Ocean, to India and Southeast Asia, were controlled by the Arabs, who carried spices up the Persian Gulf or the Red Sea, then overland to the Mediterranean. Then Italian merchants shipped them to Venice and other Italian city-states. – The Arabs traded all the way to the Spice Islands, in eastern Indonesia. • All this trade made Venice very rich, and the Italian Renaissance got started about 1200 AD. • However, the Ottoman Turks (Muslims) conquered Asia Minor, and eventually conquered Constantinople in 1453 AD. The Ottomans were in completely control of the overland routes, and they started charging high tolls and interfering with trade. • Also, the Europeans were tired of the Venetian monopoly.
  • 30. Trade Routes from Venice and Genoa
  • 31. Marco Polo • Marco Polo was a Venetian merchant who traveled to China in 1271 with his uncles. He spent 24 years in China, in the service of the Mongol leader Kublai Khan. When he returned to Italy, he wrote a book about his travels during a brief stay in Genoa as a prisoner of war. • He described spice plantations in Indonesia and India, and lots of other details about the riches of East Asia. The impact on European audiences was to reinforce the desire to trade directly with the Indians and Chinese, bypassing the Arabs.
  • 32. Prince Henry the Navigator • Portugal is on the coast of the Atlantic Ocean, barely part of the Mediterranean world. • Prince Henry was the son and brother of the king, born in 1394. He got interested in finding a way around the Sahara Desert. There were trade routes (dominated by the Arabs) across the desert that brought gold from west Africa, and he wanted it. • The Portuguese developed a new ship capable of sailing on the Atlantic Ocean: the caravel. It could sail upwind better than previous ships. • Prince Henry sponsored a series of expeditions along the coast of Africa, starting in 1416. • Getting around the bulge of Africa proved very difficult: the winds blow in the wrong direction very steadily and underwater reefs in inconvenient places. The land was desert for a long distance. • Eventually, the Portuguese worked their way around Africa, which was much bigger than expected. In 1488 the Portuguese got around the Cape of Good Hope, which seemed like (and was) the southern end of Africa, and in 1498 Vasco da Gama went all the way to India, returning with a load of spices.
  • 33. Portuguese Expeditions Around Africa • In 1400, it wasn’t even known that there was a sea route around Africa. It might have been all land, a view widely held in educated circles. • Another popular idea: the lands near the Equator were too hot for human habitation. • Yet another: Prester John, a mythical character, had a large and powerful Christian empire somewhere in Asia or Africa.
  • 34. The Age of Discovery • European exploration of the world, during which time all continents and most islands were mapped and brought into direct contact. Contemporary with the Renaissance in Europe. • Starting with Prince Henry and the Portuguese trying to get around Africa. The Portuguese continued past India, and in the early 1500's became the first Europeans in Indonesia and China, including the Spice Islands. • Christopher Columbus sailed for the Spanish, trying to find a western route to China, India, and the Spice islands. Accidentally discovers the New World in 1492, one of the most significant events in the world of plants, since many plants were moved between the Old and New Worlds after this. • Magellan (his crew, actually) made the first voyage around the world in 1522. • After 1600, the Portuguese and Spanish faded as powers, and the English and Dutch took over explorations. The Dutch found Australia in 1603. Systematic sailing up and down the Pacific by the English in the 1700's showed that there were no other unknown continents there. • Discovering that there was no northerly route between the Atlantic and the Pacific was important. The Northwest Passage and Northeast Passage do exist, but they are usually ice-bound.
  • 35. Pepper • Pepper was the most important spice in Europe for a long time: we consider it an essential part of a dinner table setting: salt and pepper. Getting pepper from India was the initial driving force behind European exploration starting with Prince Henry the Navigator (from Portugal) in the early 1400’s. • Pepper comes from the berries of the pepper vine Piper nigrum, which is native to India. • Black pepper is made from the unripe berries, which become black when dried in the sun. The process is quite similar to the fermentation process used with cacao and coffee. The whole fruit plus the seed (one seed per fruit) are used. • White pepper is made from ripe berries (which are red). The red fruit is removed by allowing it to rot away, and the seeds are dried to become white pepper. • Red pepper gets its color from the ripe berries, which is preserved by soaking them in brine and vinegar (pickling). • Currently, Vietnam is the largest producer of pepper.
  • 36. More Pepper • Alaric the Visigoth and Attila the Hun both demanded a ton of pepper from Rome when they besieged the city in the 400’s. Eventually, Alaric sacked the city anyway. • It was also imported to China at about this time. • The flavor comes from piperine, an alkaloid. When purified, it is about 1% as hot as capsaicin, the active ingredient in chili peppers. Other terpene compounds in the peppercorns add other flavors. The flavors are lost through evaporation, so grinding whole peppercorns immediately before use gives the best flavor. • Pepper is the world’s most traded spice, and has been for a very long time. • There is a related species, the long pepper Piper longum, which was an important spice in Roman times. It comes from Northwest India, and so it was more accessible to the overland trade routes. Not used much today.
  • 37. Cinnamon • Cinnamon is the inner bark of the Cinnamomum zeylanicum tree, usually from young twigs. Originally from Sri Lanka and the southwester coast of India (the Malabar Coast). • Closely related is cassia, the bark of Cinnamomum cassia and some related trees. It is native to Burma and was mostly imported through China. We don’t usually distinguish between these, calling both cinnamon. • Cinnamon was uses for embalming in ancient Egypt, and the Romans used huge amounts of it. – After Nero killed his wife Poppaea (or perhaps she died as a consequence of miscarriage), he burned a year’s supply of cinnamon as a tribute. He also had her elevated to the status of godhood.
  • 38. Nutmeg and Mace • These two spices both come from the same plant, Myristica fragrans. Nutmeg is the seed, and mace is the red seed covering. The fruits grow on the nutmeg tree, which has male and female flowers on different plants. Since the males are unproductive and there is no way to tell males from females before they mature (8 years), most nutmeg trees are grown from cuttings. • Connecticut is called the Nutmeg State, because sailors from there used to carve fake nutmegs from wood and sell them as the real thing. • The Caribbean island of Grenada is a major source for these spices. • Nutmeg has been used for hallucinogenic purposes, but it has variable and often unpleasant effects. Grenada flag. On left: a stylized nutmeg
  • 39. The Spice Islands • Before modern times, the nutmeg tree was found exclusively in the Banda Islands, a small group in eastern Indonesia. They are part of the Moluccas, the Spice Islands. – Arab traders knew of the islands but kept their location secret. – In 1511, the Portuguese captured the Strait of Malacca, the main sea route between China and India. From this they learned to location of the Spice Islands. – The Dutch captured the islands from the Portuguese in the 1600’s, and killed or enslaved the entire native population. The nutmeg trees were then confined to plantations to better control the supply. All other nutmeg trees were removed. The Dutch ruled for the next 200 years. – To end a war in 1667, the Dutch traded with the British: exclusive rights to the Spice Islands vs. New Amsterdam (Manhattan). – A lapse in Dutch rule during the time of Napoleon (1800) allowed the British to transplant some trees to Zanzibar (island of the east coast of Africa) and Grenada (Caribbean), breaking the Dutch monopoly.
  • 41. Cloves • Cloves are the dried flower buds of Syzygium aromaticum, a tree in the same family as nutmeg. – The name “clove” is derived from clavus, which means “nail” in Latin, because cloves looks vaguely like nails. • Cloves originally came from two small volcanic islands, Ternate and Tidore, a few hundred miles north of the Banda Islands (source of nutmeg). The volcanoes are active, and the soil is regularly fertilized by volcanic ash. – This is a bit north of the Equator: the North Molucca Islands. The Banda Islands are the South Molucca Islands. – The two islands were separate kingdoms that spent a lot of time warring with each other. – The Portuguese found these islands on the same voyage that led them to the Banda Islands. – A few years later, Magellan’s crew visited these islands during the first voyage around the world (Magellan himself had been killed earlier). – Also, the Dutch eventually controlled the islands, forced all clove growing to be done on plantations while killing all other clove trees, and generally treated everyone horribly. – The French managed to steal some trees and transplanted them to the Caribbean and east Africa. The island of Zanzibar is the main source today.
  • 42. Cloves • As with nutmeg, the location of islands was known to Arab and Chinese traders, but most of the crop was shipped through the port of Malacca. And then on to India and eventually to Europe. Both nutmeg and cloves were used in ancient Rome: very expensive. – The Chinese also used them: when addressing the Emperor, a courtier would keep a clove or two in his mouth to sweeten his breath. This was in Han Dynasty times, 200 BC-200AD. • Most cloves are used for cooking. However, they are sometimes stuck into an orange and used as a pomander ball, to improve the smell of a room or closet. Another important use in Indonesia is as a flavoring for tobacco: clove cigarettes. They were outlawed in the US in 2009, and are now sold as clove cigars. • Oil of cloves is very useful as a temporary cure for toothache. Dentists use it today, as both an anaesthetic and a disinfectant. The active ingredient is eugenol. – It also works quite well as an anesthetic for aquarium fish.
  • 43. Ginger • Ginger is native to southern China and is made from the rhizome (horizontal underground stem base) of Zingiber officinale. • The spice is made by harvesting the rhizomes after flowering is finished, then scalding it to prevent it from sprouting. It is usually ground up. • The best ginger comes from Jamaica, where it was introduced by the Spanish in the 1500’s. • Turmeric and cardamom come from the same family. – Turmeric produces a yellow dye, and it gives the yellow color to American mustard. – Cardamom is made from the seeds, not the roots. • The taste come from a volatile essential oil. • Ginger ale is made from ginger: it is a common folk remedy for an upset stomach. • The North American plant “wild ginger” (Asarum canadense) also has an aromatic root, but it is not related to the real ginger plant. – There are also several other “ginger” plants around the world.
  • 44. Saffron • Saffron comes from the autumn crocus, Crocus sativus, native to Asia Minor (Turkey). It has been cultivated for more than 3000 years, and it was well known in ancient Rome. It was brought to India and China 2000 years ago at least. – It is mentioned in Shen Nung’s book of herbal medicine. • The spice come from the stigmas (the sticky parts at the end of the carpels that receive pollen grains). Each flower has 3 vividly red stigmas, and they are picked by hand. This makes saffron the most expensive of all spices by weight. It takes about 75,000 flowers to make a pound of saffron. – This leads to a great deal of adulteration of saffron with cheaper yellow things like turmeric and marigolds. • The plant is a sterile triploid, propagated through corms (swollen stem bases surrounded by fleshy leaves, like onions). It is unknown in the wild: the triploid form has been the only cultivated form since antiquity. • It was also used as yellow-red dye. The dye compound is related to carotene (carrot pigment). The flavor comes from a glucoside: a sugar attached to the active principle. • Saffron is used to flavor rice. • Cleopatra used it in her bath, as an aphrodisiac.
  • 45. Chili Peppers • Chili peppers are a New World crop. They are in the nightshade family along with potatoes and tomatoes. They have been cultivated for thousands of years. • The active principle, which makes peppers hot, is capsaicin, an alkaloid. It is 100 times as hot as the active ingredient in black pepper. – When Columbus tasted chili peppers, he was sure he had reached India, the source of black pepper. • There are 5 cultivated Capsicum species, and many varieties. Some have almost no capsaicin (such as sweet bell peppers) while others are extremely hot. • Pepper hotness is measured in Scoville units. A panel of subjects tastes a series of dilutions of pepper extracts, to find the dilution where it is just barely detectable. Habanero peppers can have up to 350,000 Scoville units, and jalapeños are about 5000 units. Pepper spray is up to 5,000,000 units. • Capsaicin is used to relieve pain by rubbing it on the skin. It seems to deplete the supply of Substance P, the body’s main neurotransmitter for pain and heat.
  • 46. Vanilla • Vanilla planifolia is a tropical New World vine, from Central America. It is a monocot, a member of the orchid family. • It was introduced into Europe by Hernan Cortes, who also introduced chocolate. • Vanilla was a plant that proved hard to move to new locations. The problem was, it was pollinated by a species of bee that didn’t make the move. Once this was discovered (after 300 years!), artificial pollination was developed, and the plant is grown in tropical regions worldwide now, especially Madagascar and Indonesia. – The hand pollination method was developed by Edmond Albius, a 12 year-old slave. – This makes vanilla a very expensive spice • The vanilla spice is produced by the fruit, which is a dry fruit that contains very tiny black seeds. “Vanilla beans” are dried, fermented (cured) pods. The flavor develops during the fermentation process. • The most common form used in cooking in vanilla extract, in which the vanilla flavor is extracted from the beans by soaking them in alcohol. • The main flavor comes from vanillin, which can be synthesized chemically. But vanilla beans contain other flavors.