How spices have revolutionized our world

Dear readers, this week’s blog will just touch on some of the history of spices as the topic has been explored previously.

Firstly, spices are derived from seeds, roots, barks, flowers, and even some weeds and defined by their fragrances and at times their colours.

Cinnamon is the oldest known spice traded, being transported from Indonesia to Madagascar in the 1,500’s AD.

The very earliest spice on record apparently is the clove used around 1700 BC in Mesopotamia having arrived from Indian, China, and Egypt. Not all records are related to the East as it has been revealed that early European hunters/gatherers as far as 6000 years used spices during cooking such as garlic mustard seeds giving a “peppery kick” to food.

Besides food enhancement, spices have been used to suppress certain sensations, perpetuate a superstition or fulfill religious obligations. Certain rituals require a wick to be soaked in perfumed oil, then lit much like a modern-day perfumed candle.

Jesus was apparently, before the Last Supper, anointed with oil, created from an exotic spice called Spikenard also known as muskroot, having a mossy fragrance costing a year’s worth of wages in those times.

Fast forward to our times and one could discover that some spices are as costly as a small motor car!

SAFFRON is the most expensive worldwide right now due to the intricate and expensive method of harvesting it. The pickers risk their lives daily in war-torn countries like Afghanistan but it is a case of “poppies or poverty”.

80% of VANILLA is grown in Madagascar. Each flower is pollinated by hand to develop into the pods, sometimes termed “beans” from which the precious seeds are scraped.

Bad weather has recently threatened production causing prices to soar and has resulted in vanilla being more valuable in weight than silver.

The third most expensive spice is CARDOMON – again the pods being picked by hand at a specific time, being labour intensive. Cardamon has a unique fragrance and taste and though so costly only small amounts are needed due to its pungent nature.

For cooking purposes, some blends have anything from 3 to 18 different spices, perhaps ideal for the novice chef, but generally, individuals have a preference for one or many. For the requ
ired result, when cooking, a question has arisen as to whether old spices are dangerous?

Fortunately, they will not make one ill, but the colour, aroma and texture could be spoilt and these are then best discarded.

In a future blog, we will note how vital spices are in the cosmetic industry and how adventurous manufacturing has become.

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