A Story of Spices

from the book “Indian Spices” by Dr. A G Mathew

Spices bring to mind images of tempting culinary art, fascinating travels, and bitter struggles for supremacy. Expressions like “Variety is the Spice of Life” and “Sugar and Spice and all that is nice” show how spellbound were people of letters about the fascination of Spices. To Orientals, Spices are indeed the soul of food. In the Western World, it evokes dreams of exotic tropical islands, exciting expeditions to find routes to the sources of Spice, and the rise and fall of empires.

Columbus went westward from Europe in 1492 to find a sea route to the land of Spices, but instead he found the New World. Eight years later Vasco da Gama went round Africa and touched Kozhikode on the South West coast of India. Long before that, Arabs were trading with the Orient through land routes, and during the 13th century Marco Polo experienced the attraction of Spices in his travels.

Even the European conquests and trade arrangements in India and the East Indies, had a lot to do with Spices.

Thousands of years ago the great masters of Ayurveda, notably Susruta and Charaka discussed in detail the use of Spices for culinary and medicinal purposes.

Enterprising soldiers of fortune took knowledge of Spices to Egypt where they used them along with aromatic herbs, in food, medicine, cosmetics, and for embalming.

Conquests of Egypt and Asia by Alexander the Great made Spices an article of commerce in the Mediterranean countries, and later in Central and Northern Europe.

There are reports of pepper being used in meat, both to aid preservation, and to mask the unwelcome odor of deterioration of quality during the long winter storage.

Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, and Theophrastus, a Greek scholar and botanist, wrote treatises on medicinal plants, including spices.