The History of Spices
The spice (and herb) trade developed in the Middle East and South Asia as far back as 2,000 BC The Egyptians used herbs extensively, creating and stimulating demand for exotic herbs throughout the known world. The word Spice is closely associated with the word species and is originally derived from Latin root ‘spec. It then morphed into (old) French, as ‘espice’ then into ‘epice’. In China and India, medical systems were based on spices and herbs as far back as 1,000 BC and were associated with magic, religion, medicine and preservation.
Spices are also mentioned in the Bible, in particular in the story of Genesis when Joseph was sold as a slave to spice merchants.
In the middle ages, spices were in heavy demand in Europe and became hugely expensive. Black pepper, cinnamon, cumin, ginger, cloves and nutmeg were sought after as part of the belief that their consumption with food helped to keep you healthy.
Much later, control of trade routes to spice producing countries became a priority for many European counties and was the main reason that Vasco de Gama sailing to India in 1499. The discovery of the New World brought new spices to Europeans including chilli peppers, bell peppers, vanilla and chocolate.
Spices still maintain their popularity today and with good reason. Spices and herbs are packed with anti-oxidants due to their phenolic compounds, especially flavonoids which have an influence on the way that your body absorbs nutrition. Studies have found cumin and ginger to be highest in anti-oxidant activity. Anti-oxidants can also act as natural preservatives which slow down deterioration of stored food and helping to retain its nutritional value.
Spices tend to have strong flavours and are therefore used in relatively small quantities. Spices also add few calories to food. It has been established by the US FDA for instance, that one teaspoon of Paprika will give you over 20% of your daily required intake of vitamin ‘A’. Spices can also contribute useful amounts of minerals to your diet, including, calcium, iron, magnesium and many other others.