Definitions

spice

spice

spice, aromatic vegetable product used as a flavoring or condiment. The term was formerly applied also to pungent or aromatic foods (e.g., gingerbread and currants), to ingredients of incense or perfume (e.g., myrrh), and to embalming agents. Modern usage tends to limit the term to flavorings used in food or drinks, although many spices have additional commercial uses, e.g., as ingredients of medicines, perfumes, incense, and soaps.

Spices include stimulating condiments, e.g., pepper, mustard, and horseradish; aromatic spices, e.g., cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, anise, and mace; and sweet herbs, e.g., thyme, marjoram, sage, and mint. Spices are taken from the part of the plant richest in flavor—bark, stem, flower bud, fruit, seed, or leaf. Although spices are very commonly used in the form of a powder, some are used as tinctures obtained by extracting essential oils, and many are used whole.

Garlic, chives, caraway, mustard, and many herbs grow in temperate regions, and vanilla, allspice, and red pepper are indigenous to the West Indies and South America. Most of the major spices, however, are produced in the East Indies and tropical Asia.

The Spice Trade

Spices from India, E Asia, and the East Indies were in demand from ancient times; they were carried by caravan across China and India to ports of the Mediterranean Sea or the Persian Gulf and thence to the marketplaces of Athens, Rome, and other cities, where they were sold at exorbitant prices. Certain spices were used as media of exchange; Alaric I is said to have demanded pepper as part of the ransom for raising the siege of Rome in 408. In the early Middle Ages few spices reached the markets of Europe, but trade was slowly resumed in the 9th cent. and was later greatly stimulated by the Crusades. In Western Europe the desire for spices arose in part from the monotony of the diet and from poor facilities for the preservation of food, especially of meat.

When overland trade routes from Asia were cut off by the Mongols and Turks, the European demand for spices was a major factor in motivating a search for new trade routes around Africa and across the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. The high price obtainable for spices was partially responsible for the bitter rivalry of European powers for the control of spice-producing areas and of trade routes. Even after adequate supplies of spices were found and means of transportation made available, the cost long remained very high in Europe and in America. This was largely because of the expenses incident to attempts to retain monopoly of markets and to deliberately limit crops in order to secure high prices.

Although spices today are still important in trade, their per capita use for flavoring food has declined in Western civilizations, and certain spices must compete with synthetic flavorings. The demand for spices has remained large in Asia, where spices have a wider social and ceremonial significance than they ever attained in the West.

Bibliography

See J. W. Parry, Spices (2 vol., 1969); F. Rosengarten, Jr., The Book of Spices (rev. ed. 1973); J. Heinerman, Complete Book of Spices (1983).; A. Dalby, Dangerous Tastes: The Story of Spices (2000); J. Turner, Spice (2004).

Dried parts of various plants cultivated for their aromatic, savory, medicinal, or otherwise desirable properties. Spices are the fragrant or pungent products of such tropical or subtropical species as cardamom, cinnamon, clove, ginger, and pepper; spice seeds include anise, caraway, cumin, fennel, poppy, and sesame. Herbs are the fragrant leaves of such plants as basil, marjoram, mint, rosemary, and thyme. The most notable uses of spices and herbs in very early times were in medicine, in the making of holy oils and unguents, and as aphrodisiacs; they were also used to flavour food and beverages and to inhibit or hide food spoilage. Trade in spices has played a major role in human history. Important early trade routes, including those between Asia and the Middle East and between Europe and Asia, were initially forged to obtain exotic spices and herbs. The 15th-century voyages of discovery were launched largely as a result of the spice trade, and in the 17th century Portugal and the British, Dutch, and French East India companies battled furiously for dominance (see British East India Co.; Dutch East India Co.; French East India Co.).

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Indonesian Maluku

Island group (pop., 2005 est.: 2,059,200), eastern Indonesia, lying between Celebes (Sulawesi) and New Guinea. The Moluccas comprise three large islands (Halmahera, Ceram, and Buru) and many smaller ones. Their combined area is about 30,066 sq mi (77,870 sq km). They constitute the Indonesian provinces of Maluku and North Maluku; the provincial capitals are, respectively, Ambon and Ternate. The population is ethnically diverse, including Malays and Papuans and people of Dutch, Portuguese, and Javanese descent. Known as the “Spice Islands,” the Moluccas were part of the Asian spice trade before being discovered by the Portuguese in 1511, and they were fought over by the Spanish, English, and Dutch, eventually coming under the Dutch. Occupied by the Japanese during World War II, the islands were afterward incorporated into the state of East Indonesia and then into the Republic of Indonesia in 1949.

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A spice is a dried seed, fruit, root, bark or vegetative substance used in nutritionally insignificant quantities as a food additive for the purpose of flavoring, and sometimes as a preservative by killing or preventing the growth of harmful bacteria.

Many of these substances are also used for other purposes, such as medicine, religious rituals, cosmetics, perfumery or eating as vegetables. For example, turmeric is also used as a preservative; licorice as a medicine; garlic as a vegetable. In some cases they are referred to by different terms.

In the kitchen, spices are distinguished from herbs, which are leafy, green plant parts used for flavoring purposes. Herbs, such as basil or oregano, may be used fresh, and are commonly chopped into smaller pieces. Spices, however, are dried and often ground or grated into a powder. Small seeds, such as fennel and mustard seeds, are used both whole and in powder form.

Classification and types

Spices can be grouped as:

(The mineral salt is a common seasoning, but it is not a spice.)

Early history

The spice trade developed throughout the Middle East in around 2000 BC with cinnamon, Indonesian cinnamon and pepper.

A recent archaeological discovery suggests that the clove, indigenous to the Indonesian island of Ternate in the Maluku Islands, could have been introduced to the Middle East very early on. Digs found a clove burnt onto the floor of a burned down kitchen in the Mesopotamian site of Terqa, in what is now modern-day Syria, dated to 1700 BC .

In the story of Genesis, Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers to spice merchants. In the biblical poem Song of Solomon, the male speaker compares his beloved to many forms of spices. Generally, Egyptian, Chinese, Indian and Mesopotamian sources do not refer to known spices.

In South Asia, nutmeg, which originates from the Banda Islands in the Moluccas, has a Sanskrit name. Sanskrit is the language of the sacred Hindu texts, this shows how old the usage of this spice is in this region. Historians estimate that nutmeg was introduced to Europe in the 6th century BC .

The ancient Indian epic of Ramayana mentions cloves. In any case, it is known that the Romans had cloves in the 1st century AD because Pliny the Elder spoke of them in his writings.

Indonesian merchants went around China, India, the Middle East and the east coast of Africa. Arab merchants controlled the routes through the Middle East and India until Roman times with the discovery of new sea routes. This made the city of Alexandria in Egypt the main trading centre for spices because of its port.

Middle Ages

Spices were among the most luxurious products available in Europe in the Middle Ages, the most common being black pepper, cinnamon (and the cheaper alternative cassia), cumin, nutmeg, ginger and cloves. They were all imported from plantations in Asia and Africa, which made them extremely expensive. From the 8th until the 15th century, the Republic of Venice had the monopoly on spice trade with the Middle East, and along it with the neighboring Italian city-states. The trade made the region phenomenally rich. It has been estimated that around 1,000 tons of pepper and 1,000 tons of the other common spices were imported into Western Europe each year during the Late Middle Ages. The value of these goods was the equivalent of a yearly supply of grain for 1.5 million people. While pepper was the most common spice, the most exclusive was saffron, used as much for its vivid yellow-red color as for its flavor. Spices that have now fallen into some obscurity include grains of paradise, a relative of cardamom which almost entirely replaced pepper in late medieval north French cooking, long pepper, mace, spikenard, galangal and cubeb. A popular modern-day misconception is that medieval cooks used liberal amounts of spices, particularly black pepper, merely to disguise the taste of spoiled meat. However, a medieval feast was as much a culinary event as it was a display of the host's vast resources and generosity, and as most nobles had a wide selection of fresh or preserved meats, fish or seafood to choose from, the use of ruinously expensive spices on cheap, rotting meat would have made little sense.

In the Caribbean, the island of Grenada is well known for growing and exporting a number of spices including the nutmeg which was introduced to Grenada by the settlers.

Early modern period

The control of trade routes and the spice-producing regions were the main reasons that Portuguese navigator Vasco da Gama sailed to India in 1499. Spain and Portugal were not happy to pay the high price that Venice demanded for spices. At around the same time, Christopher Columbus returned from the New World, he described to investors the many new, and then unknown, spices available there.

It was Afonso de Albuquerque (1453–1515) who allowed the Portuguese to take control of the sea routes to India. In 1506, he took the island of Socotra in the mouth of the Red Sea and, in 1507, Ormuz in the Persian Gulf. Since becoming the viceroy of the Indies, he took Goa in India in 1510, and Malacca on the Malay peninsula in 1511. The Portuguese could now trade directly with Siam, China and the Moluccas. The Silk Road complemented the Portuguese sea routes, and brought the treasures of the Orient to Europe via Lisbon, including many spices.

Common spice mixtures

Production

Production in tonnes. Figures 2003-2004
Researched by FAOSTAT (FAO)
India 1 600 000 86 % 1 600 000 86 %
China 99 000 5 % 99 000 5 %
Bangladesh 48 000 3 % 48 000 3 %
Pakistan 45 300 2 % 45 300 2 %
Nepal 15 500 1 % 15 500 1 %
Other countries 60 900 3 % 60 910 3 %
Total 1 868 700 100 % 1 868 710 100 %

Further reading

  • Turner, Jack (2004). Spice: The History of a Temptation. Knopf. ISBN 0-375-40721-9.
  • Food Bacteria-Spice Survey Shows Why Some Cultures Like It Hot Quote: “...Garlic, onion, allspice and oregano, for example, were found to be the best all-around bacteria killers (they kill everything)...Top 30 Spices with Antimicrobial Properties...”
  • August 18, 1998, Common Kitchen Spices Kill E. Coli O157:H7 Quote: “...The study is the first in the United States that looks at the effect of common spices on E. coli O157:H7. Previous studies have concluded spices kill other foodborne pathogens. “In the first part of our study, we tested 23 spices against E. coli O157:H7 in the laboratory,” Fung said. “We found that several spices are good at killing this strain of E. coli.”...”
  • The Lure and Lore of Spices Quote: “If the appearance of spices were to reflect their real importance in the history of the world, the bottles of spices would be filled with bright glittery substances, diamonds, rubies, emeralds or gold would be appropriate. When you opened the bottle, a poof of vibrantly colored, mystically fragrant, magical smoke would slowly billow softly throughout the room.”

Notes

Sources

  • Adamson, Melitta Weiss (2004), Food in Medieval Times. ISBN 0-313-32147-7.
  • Scully, Terence (1995), The Art of Cookery in the Middle Ages. ISBN 0-85115-611-8.

See also

External links

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