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ALL ABOUT SPICES
SPICE ENCYCLOPEDIA
NUSKHA
TIPS


 













 
ALL ABOUT SPICES
 
A spice adds to the taste and hence is an enhancer. Always used in insignificant quantities, it actually happens to be dried seed, fruit, root, bark, leaf. Once added, it becomes a harbinger of different flavors - that can be fairly be customized by adding different quantities. In the west, the spices were crucial before refrigeration was invented- the spices preserved food by killing or preventing the growth of harmful bacteria.

Spices have always been an intrinsic part of the Eastern life. Used as medicines, religious rituals, cosmetics, and perfumery or even as vegetable, they have even flavored literature and the arts. Kalidas has extensively used spices as metaphors. These are also extensively used for multiple purposes- apart from being a flavoring agent for example, turmeric is also used as a preservative; and garlic as a vegetable for diverse preparations. Sometimes, they take on different terms.

In the kitchen however, spices are renowned as the king - flavoring, modifying and enhancing the tastes of everything they touch. Easily distinguishable from herbs, which are leafy, spices are mainly used for flavoring -the famous Indian curry that has taken the west by storm is actually cooked up by the spices. Often confused with herbs, that may be used fresh; spices are dried and often ground or grated into a powder. They can be used both in powder or whole form.

Early history
Man's interest in these wondrous substances began early-the earliest evidence points to their usage even in 50,000 B.C. The settling of man after being hunters, stirred the culinary interests. As more interesting recipes developed, and different tastes acquired, trading in spices became imperative. The spice trade initially centered around cinnamon, Indonesian cinnamon and pepper and developed from about around 2000 BC in the the Middle East.

An Assyrian myth declares that the gods drank sesame wine the night before they created the earth. Sesame is of course a spice and its influence was widespread.

Archaeologists have found a clove dating to 1700 BC that was burnt onto the floor of a burned down kitchen in the Mesopotamian site of Terqa- now modern-day Syria. The clove that indigenously grew in the Indonesian island of Ternate in the Maluku Islands came to the Middle East even earlier.

References to spices abound in the ancient literature-reflecting the immense importance entire civilizations placed on spices. In Genesis, Joseph's older brothers sold him to a passing caravan of spice merchants traveling from Gilead to Egypt. The male protagonist compares his beloved to many forms of spices in the biblical poem Song of Solomon. The Queen of Sheba made a tribute to King Solomon in the form of spices, gold, and precious stones, in the book of Kings.

Concrete evidence of the use of spices emerges in the art work and writings of early civilizations. Workers eating garlic and onions to gain strength are depicted in the Hieroglyphs in the Great Pyramid. The first Olympians in Greece wore wreaths of bay and parsley to celebrate victory in 1453 BC. Hippocrates, the great Greek physician prescribed from a list of more than 400 medicines made with spices and herbs- about half of these are still in use today.

The nutmeg, indigenous to the Banda Islands in the Moluccas acquired a Sanskrit name, reflecting its antiquity as well as its widespread usage in South East Asia. The spice was probably introduced to Europe in the 6th century BC. Cloves find prominent mention in the ancient Indian epic of Ramayana. Pliny the Elder in Romans spoke of its virtues in his writings early in the 1st century AD.

The South East Asia emerged as a hub f spice trade as Indonesian merchants traveled to China, India, the Middle East and the east coast of Africa laden with spices. Arab merchants controlled the routes through the Middle East and India until Roman times with the discovery of new sea routes. The city of Alexandria in Egypt became the main trading centre for spices because of its port. Arabs were favored to trade in spices and herbs among early civilizations due t their ideal location and he knowledge of both the east and the west.

The spice trade route of “the Golden Road of Samarqand" quickly developed, winding through the tortuous deserts of southern Asia and the Middle East between kingdoms. The Arabs were masters of this route, trading locally produced goods, products from Africa with spices from the Far East to mint fortunes. Caravans of donkeys and later thousands of camels followed the route for generations - fuelled by an ever greater demand for spices. Years later, when flowers of Buddhism wanted to spread their message, they took the Spice Route.

The Roman dominance began after they started sailing from Egypt to India to trade spices. The arduous two-year voyage across the Indian Ocean was shortened once they observed the seasonal monsoons and began taking advantage of it. Now onwards getting pepper, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and ginger from the East took only about a year.

Nevertheless, spices were a highly prized and available only to the upper class, who valued them like gold. In 65 AD, at the funeral for Nero's wife, a year's supply of cinnamon was burned as a mark of respect. After overrunning Rome in 410, the Goth’s leader, Alaric I, demanded 30,000 pounds of peppercorns the decline and the fall of the Roman Empire also marked a downturn in Spice use and trading in Europe.

The middle Ages were devoted to finding newer and ever larger sources of spices as the European culture developed. After vanquishing the Arabs, the Europeans dealt directly with China, India, and the Indonesian islands, including the Moluccas (or Spice Islands) for spices, and obtained astronomical returns. The lure of the lucre and adventure impelled the explorers to seek new routes in their quest for exclusive trade. European prosperity rose and fell on the quantum of spice trade. Marco Polo's exploration of Asia established Venice as the most important trade port ensuring the city-state’s prosperity till 1498. The Portuguese and Spanish soon got into the fray and soon enough the Portuguese explorer Vasco De Gamma reached India. The constant flow of riches from pepper, cinnamon, ginger, and jewels, laid the foundation for the Portuguese empire.

In 1492, Christopher Columbus was actually looking for a direct western route to the Spice Islands thus opening up the New World that still dominates.

Spices continued to shape history ever after.

Wars for control of the spice trade erupted as the popularity of spices rose with the growth in the middle classes during the middle ages. Wars broke out between Spain, Portugal, England, and Holland over the Indonesian Spice Islands and continued for about 200 years.

Portuguese traders reached first by sailing south around Africa into the Indian Ocean. Their Spanish king sent expedition after expedition to secure a more profitable spice route. Meanwhile, Holland had prospered and gained control of shipping and trading in northern Europe. As their influence expanded, they entered the spice trade, and overthrew the Portuguese control. By undertaking numerous expeditions to the East Indies and setting up new deals with local rulers they acquired the unchallenged rights to the Asian spice trade. Holland conquered the city of Malacca in 1641, soon adding the cinnamon trade in Ceylon, the pepper ports along the Malabar Coast and finally the Indonesian Islands .They even "fixed" the spice market- when prices fell, they kept the profits high by burning cinnamon and clove trees. Years later, France helped to break the Dutch hold on the market by stealing enough cloves, cinnamon, and un-limed nutmeg from the Dutch to begin plantings on French-controlled islands in the Indian Ocean.

The British Raj was also built on Spices. In 1600 Elizabeth I chartered the British East India Company and began the saga of British dominance for the next two centuries. In 1780, English destroyed the Dutch East India Company and took over the spice trade.

The American dominance began after they entered the spice race in the late 17th century. With typical American inventiveness and entrepreneurial spirit, Elcho Yale, a former clerk of the British East India Company began his own spice business, made a fortune that later would found the Yale University. In 1797, Captain Jonathan Carnes brought back enormous profits of spice trade into Salem, Massachusetts by trading traded directly with Asian natives. Salem, Massachusetts, became the center of spice trade in North America. With growing influence, the Americans also made many new innovations. Texan settlers developed chili powder in 1835 as a simpler way to make Mexican dishes. Techniques for dehydrating onions and garlic were developed in California. Eugene Durkee laid down the first standards for spice purity under the U.S. Pure Food and Drug Act in USA

Asia still grows most of the spices but the balance of spice power shifts as more spices are being planted in the Western Hemisphere along with a wide variety of herbs and aromatic seeds.

From the dawn of history control of the spice trade has ensured world dominance. The truism still prevails: the United States is now the world's major spice buyer, followed by Germany, Japan, and France.
 
 
 
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