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Nuts and seeds…


Nuts and seeds were a perfect food for our ancient hunger gatherer ancestors. Consisting of edible kernels in a hard outer shell, nuts were particularly nourishing and sustaining, providing fat, carbohydrate, protein and fiber in varying quantities depending on the species. Unlike roots and tubers, which required digging out, they were easy to gather, kept well, and could be moved from one place to another without great difficulty or loss.

Gaining knowledge though observation 

Like many animal, the earliest humans are whatever they could find growing readily available. Over the centuries, they steadily increased their knowledge of which plants were most beneficial to eat, which should be avoided and which provided the most energy. These early humans were observant, often ingenious, and were acutely aware of their surroundings. They noticed that nut tree harvests varied from year to year and also discovered that the trees growing deep in the shady forest interior were usually less productive than the ones growing around the forest edge. This knowledge, coupled with an increasingly sophisticated variety of tools, eventually inspired them to clear away undergrowth and smaller trees to foster greater nut harvests, giving rise to the beginnings of what we now call cultivation.  Hunting and organized crop-raising came later. 

The first nutcrackers 

Nuts remains and “nutting stones” –flat or slightly concave rocks bearing traces of nuts and seeds- have been found at archaeological sites all over the world providing evidence of the importance of these foods in prehistoric diets. These primitive nutcrackers typically have a shallow depression in the center showing where the nus had been placed and then cracked with another stone- the same technique that has been observed among many primate species today. At Gesher Benot Ya’aqow, close to the Dean Sea in Israel, 50 pitted stones of this type were found and given an estimated date of 780,000 years old. Among the nu remains were acorns, almonds, and pistachios. 

Some nuts could be cracked and eaten but others needed processing to become edible. Acorns, for example, were put into woven baskets and suspended in running water in a stream to remove ….. acid. They were then dried or roasted and…. And anything made from them …. Qualities, and new scientific techniques ….traces have shown that acorns were  …. Previously thought. This is shown in ….. ancient periods such as in those of 1st– century  …. Naturalists and chronicler Pliny the Elder, who wrote that the oak was the “tree which first produced food for mortal man”. It is now believed that nut consumption in general has been widely underestimated, mainly because the evidence for them had disappeared the nuts were all eaten, while the shells were burned in fires as extra fuel. 

Hoards of hazelnuts 

Hazelnut are the most commonly found nut excavated at archaeological sites worldwide. Their shells are especially hard many that formed millennia ago have survived intact to this day. They probably reached Italy and Greece from Asia Minor and have been found at prehistoric lake-dwelling sites in Switzerland and at least one Neolithic site in Sweden. At Colonsay in the Scottish Hebrides, hundreds of thousands of burned hazelnut shells from 7000 BCE were unearthed in a shallow pit, evidence of hazelnut storing on an epic scale. In addition to protein and other nutrients, the high fat content of nuts meant that oil could be produced from them, this was also true of seeds. Ancient Egyptians used a variety of seeds to produce oil, including radish, flax, moringa, and sesame, the latter was also used in King Nebuchadnezzar’s palace in Mesopotamia Seeds, like  nuts, were easily transportable and useful as a ready source of energy. 

Seeds as early breath mints

In medieval times, seed were coated in layers of sugar- an expensive and time consuming process- and eaten as sweetmeats and breath-fresheners.   Generally, however seeds were not consumed as much as nuts, although sunflower seeds become popular in Russia in the early 18th century when Peter the Great introduced the plant there. Poppy seeds were used in spice mixtures in India where the Indian poppy’s pale seed is ground and used as a thickener. 

Herbs and spices

An herb is defined as a plant whose leaves are used for food, medicine, scent, and/or flavor. A spice, in contrast, is considered an aromatic or pungent vegetable substance, mainly  derived from tropical plants, and used to flavor food and drink. Ancient peoples were surrounded by all kinds of plants and lie so many other animal species, their instincts guided them to herbs that were useful and safe to eat. It I possible that they many have wrapped meat in leaves to store or transport it, and in this way they would have gradually discovered the flavors and preservative qualities of many herbs and plants. 

Ancient medicines, ancient flavors

There are numerous references to herbs in the writings of many ancient civilizations, such as China and Egypt, but their applications were mainly medical. The Greeks and Romans on the other hand, developed an early appreciation of herbs, using them not only in cooking, but in cosmetics and perfumes as well, and attaching all kinds of superstitious to them along the way. The expanding Roman Empire introduced many unfamiliar plants, including herbs common in the Roman world, to the counters and cultures it conquered. As a result, these people modified and adapted the use of these plants to their own tastes, customs and customs.  

Herbs and religion 

Because of the seasonal nature of cultivation, the growing, gathering, and storing of herbs because bound up with early peoples’ observance of, and reverence for, the elements of nature, so it it was a natural step to associate them with gods and goddesses lined to the sun, moon, and seasons. As Christianity gradually displaced earlier pagan religions in the West, its priests, nuns, and monks developed their knowledge of herbs, mainly in a medicinal context. By the Middle Ages, European monasteries had become well established as authorities on herbs, they planted herb gardens and kept written records about their uses and properties. Today these properties are fully understood and their continued cultivation seems assured. 

The Age of the Exotic   

Every country has its herbs, but spiced, grown mainly in Asia, the Middle East and the Mediterranean were exotic and their ….. them even more desirable. Strange tales were told about the dangers of collecting spices guarded by flying snakes or ….. giant birds- and of course there was a  risk of a ship sailing off the edge of the world if it is strayed too far from land. Such legends  provided a wat of keeping prices high as well as detaining others from trying to find sources of such valuable commodities. 

Spices had been bought and sold millennia, but trade reached its peak in the 1st century CE when Roman appetites for them seemed insatiable. Exotic meats were cooked with all kinds of spices and nothing was eaten without a sauce of some kind. They were shipped from India to Rome and used in wine, perfumes, and bath oils as well as food. One popular ancient spice plant was silphium  from Cyrenaica (modern Libya) Romans used it in food as medicine and even as a form of birth control. If fact, they enjoyed it so much that they drove it so much that they drove it to probable extinction, for scientists have yet to find any surviving examples. 

Spices such as silphium  were good to trade because the kept well over time and distance. They Silk Road, a network of land and seas routes connecting the Far East to the West, brought luxury goods, including spices to Europe and beyond. It is even thought by some scholars that the amount of gold Rome sent in exchange for spices actually the fall of the Roman Empire. Whatever the case, the spice trade certainly brought untold riches to other places.  Venice, for one, prospered by being the control center of the import and export of spices for centuries.    

From the Crusades to kitchen cupboards

In the 12th and 13th centuries, Roman Catholic Crusaders brought many spices back across Europe, creating a new demand for these exotic substances. The high prices that these goods incurred meant that they were only seen on the tables of the rich, but this mainly served to fuel demand. In 1602, the Dutch East India Company was established and it held an almost unbreakable monopoly on the spice trade that lasted nearly 200 years. Eventually spices spread even further, especially when they were taken to America by early settlers. With the rise of communication and transcontinental modes of transportation, herbs and spices are now found in kitchens around the world. 

Parsley – breath sweetener 

Parsley is much more than just a garnish, Packed with vitamins and minerals, the fresh-tasting leaves of this herb have been used to flavor food since ancient times. 

Nature to the Mediterranean, parsley has been cultivated for more than 2,000 years and was used medicinally before it entered the kitchen. There are more than 30 varieties of parsley ….. the most popular being … leaf parsley and its stronger tasting ….., .. leaf parsley. The curly leaf variety has dark green leaves with curly divided tips, while the flat leaved variation in paler deeply divided and feathey.  

The devil’s herb 

The ancient Greeks 

Curry leaf – a taste of Asia 

The Shiny, aromatic leaves of the small evergreen curry leaf tree are the source of one of the key flavors of South Asian cuisine.   

Not to be confused with curry powder, curry leaves known variously in India as kadi-patta, kari-patta, or meethi neem (sweet neem) provide a distinctive flavor to curriers and vegetable dishes. 

Native to southern India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka, the evergreen curry leaf tree belongs to the citrus fruit family and bears clusters of small fragrant while flowers in summer. The leaves release a delicate nutty lemony aroma when bruised. The botanical name for the plant –Murroya koenigit – refers to the 18th century German Botanists Johann Konig, who worked as a naturalist in southern India and recorded descriptions of plants used I traditional Indian medicine. 

Accounts of curry leaves being used to flavor vegetables appear in early. Tamil literature dating back to the 1st century CE, and reference appear again a few centuries later in the Kannada literature of southern India. The leaves are still closely linked with these regions, the word “curry” originates from the Tamil word kari for spiced sauces.  

Spicy addition 

Traveling Indians brought curry leaves to many cuisines around the world. For example, they are often included with other spices in fish curries prepared in Malaysia, Singapore, and the Thai islands. Today, curry leaves are cultivated and used to season food in Sri Lanka, South East Asia, Australia, the Pacific Islands, and Africa as well as in India. 

The leaves are often fried in hot oil or ghee with onions and other spices, and used as a base for curries or poured over an already made dish Curry leaves are also used in a thick chickpea soup popular in the north Indian states of Punjab and Rajasthan, known variously as kadhi or kathi, and in yogurt or buttermilk. 

Coriander – a seed for immortality 

With its flavor-packed leave, tiny seeds, and distinctive aroma, coriander is famously not to everyone’s taste. But over the years this plant has become popular both as a fragrant herb and a spicy flavoring. 

Reputedly used to scent the Hanging Gardens of Babylon in ancient Persia, coriander is native to the Mediterranean regions and Anatolia (part of Turkey). It is also known as cilantro and is related to parsley (another name for the herb is Chinese parsley) its bright green leaves are aromatic and have a slightly citrus flavor and its small white or pinkish flowers give rise to small, spherical seeds. 

 Seeds of immortality 

Mentioned in Sanskrit, ancient Egyptian, Greek and Latin texts, coriander is said to have been grown in Persia 3,000 years ago it was cultivated in ancient Egypt for medicinal and culinary purposed where its seeds were dried and used as a spice. Lars of coriander seeds were among the provisions found in the tomb of Tutankhamun, put there possibly to accompany his spirit to the land of the dead. 

Coriander seeds were transported 5,000 years ago from the Mediterranean along the Silk Road to China, where the plant became highly revered and was thought to increase the chance of immortality. It was introduced to Mexico and Peru by the Spanish conquistadors in the 16th century and in the early 17th century it became one of the first herbs to be cultivated by European settlers in Massachusetts. 

Flavor and garnish 

Although the whole plant is edible, in Europe the culinary focus is mainly on the seeds, which are used to flavor foods ranging from stews to cakes, breads, and pickles. In Central and South America and Southeast Asia, the chopped leaves are used as a garnish or in fresh sauces to accompany fish, meat, and poultry as well as in salads and soups. The leaves are used in similar ways in the Middle East in parts of Southeast Asia, the roots of the plant is also used in cooking. Both seeds and leaves are used in Indian curries and the ground seeds are an ingredients in the aromatic spice mix, garam masala.

Dill – an aid to over-indulgence 

Valued and widely cultivated by the civilizations of the ancient world for its medicinal properties, this herb, with its graceful, feathery leaves, has become a key flavoring in northern European kitchens. 

In a reference to its traditional use as a remedy for insomnia, dill gets its name from the Norse word “dilla,” meaning to lull. It is a member of the same family as parsley and native to Central Asia and southeast Europe. The plant bears clusters of yellow flowers on fernlike, feathery leaves similar to those of its close relative, fennel. 

Dill was certainly known it the ancient world Twigs of dill have been found in the tomb of the 14th-century BCE pharaoh Amenhotep, suggesting it was used at this time along with other herbs to embalm the dead. It was also valued by the ancient Greeks as a sign of wealth and a cure for hiccups Both the Greeks and Romans used it as a seasoning in cooking-there are more than 40 mentions of dill in a collection of recipes in the Roman cookbook Apicius (published in the 4th century).

Healing brew

In the early Middle Ages when tales of witchcraft abounded, drinking a cup of tea brewed with dill leaves and seeds was thought to help drive away the evil curses of a witch. The 8th-century Holy Roman Emperor Charlemangne had bowls of dill seeds placed on banqueting tables for those who had over indulged to dip into to fragrant, delicate flavor, dill is an important ingredient in German and Scandinavian cuisine, famously in gravlax- salmon marinated with salt, sugar, pepper, and finely chopped dill. It is also often used to flavor pickles as well as potato salad, sauerkraut, stews, and soups. 

Pepper –prized spice 

One of the oldest spices in the world- and these days one of the most popular- pepper was being used in Indian cuisine more than 4,000 years ago. 

Pepper was once so highly prized that in 410 CE Alaric, the first king of the Germanic tribe the Visigoths, demanded 3,000lb (1,360kg) of peppercorns as part of the ransom for the city of Rome. And in the Middle Ages, pepper commanded a pace 10 times higher than that of any other spice. 

Native to southern India, black pepper (Piper nagrum) is the fruit of an evergreen, woody, vinelike plant that grows to a height or length of 33ft (10m) or more. The plant bears clusters of while flowers which turn into long ribbons of pea-size fruits or “corns.” Pepper gets its spicy taste from piperine , a volatile oil found in the outer fruit and seed. 

The color of the pepper produced is determined by the way the fruits are harvested and handled Black peppercorns, for example, are sun dried ripe berries Green peppercorns are soft under rice berries, usually preserved in brine. White pepper is made from the seeds left after the skin and fleshy parts have been removed from the ripe berries. Pink peppercorns, however, come from a completely different plant, the Brazilian pepper tree (Schinus terchinthifalaus).      

Traveling the ancient world 

When pepper was exported from India- and by which trade route- is not known, but archaeologists found peppercorns in the nostrils of the mummified body of Ramses II, suggesting that the spice was used in ancient Egyptian burial rituals at least as long ago as the 13th century BCE. In India, pepper was used both in traditional medicine and as a condiment. 

The famous Hindu epic poem the Mahabharata written in the 4th century BCE describes feasts that included meats flavored with black pepper. 

Pepper was a favorite flavoring in Roman cuisine, and it was also used as preservative As trade in pepper thrived under the Roman Empire it became an expensive and sought alter commodity. The trade was largely under the control of Arab merchants, who supplied the Romans through the port city of Alexandria. After the decline of the Roman Empire, the trade remained and Arab monopoly, with traders keeping their sources of pepper secret in order to maintain high prices.

Changing hands 

During the middle Ages, as the trade in pepper and other spices between Asia and Europe grew, pepper was so highly valued for its flavor by Europeans that it became a lucrative commodity. Nearly every city had its spice street, where traders gathered to sell their wares, and which was often named after the prized pepper-for example. Rue de Powre in Paris France. 

By the 14th century, Genoa and Venice had become centers of the pepper trade from the East. However, in 1498, the Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama discovered a route to India around the Southern tip of Africa, heralding the beginning of Portugal’s dominance of the pepper trade. This lasted until the end of the 16th century, when the Dutch became the world’s leading power in the spice trade. By  the beginning of the 19th century, control of the trade had passed to Britain. 

Nowadays pepper is the most widely used spice in the world Ground or whole it adds piquancy and warmth to an endless array of dishes to casseroles and soups. It is also used in sauce, dressings, stocks, and pickle.    

Mustard – fiery condiment 

Ancient civilizations in Europe and Asia, where mustard plants grew wild, first used the white, brown, or black seeds to make the condiments and sauces that are still popular today.   

The name mustard comes from ancient Romans, who steeped mustard seeds in crushed grapes (must)     to make  museum ordens, or “burning must”. There is archaeological evidence that the southern Asian Indus Valley civilization of 3330-1300 BCE cultivated mustard, and it is also mentioned in ancient Sumerian and Sanskrit texts. According to Greek mythology mustard was a gift from Asclepius, the god of medicine and Ceres, the goddess of agriculture.  

Related to cabbages

In fact, mustard is the name given to several members of the brassica (cabbage) family, and the color of the seeds depends on the species. Stnapis alba (native to Europe and the Middle East) black seeds, and B jeniea (from Asia) brown. A recipe for a mustard sauce appears in a 4th-5th century CE collection of recipes attributed to the 1st century Roman Gaurmand Marcus Gavius apicius. The Romans took mustard seed with them to Gaul and by the 13th century, Dijon had become the hub of French mustard as a condiment in England was in the late 14th century Today Canada is the world’s largest producer of mustard seed. 

Mild, hot, or fierce 

Grinding the mustard seeds and mixing them with water and vinegar forms the condiment popular in the West, where it is used mainly to accompany cold and hot meats, such as sausages and hot dogs. Mustards are made with varying degrees of “bores” from the mild French mustards to the hot English type. In the Netherlands and northern Belgium mustard is used to ….. along with cream, parsley, garlic, and ….. The Chinese and Japanese, who use ……. Mustard seeds, prefer their mustard fiercely ……. Seeds are also widely used in Indian …… where they are often friend before  being ……. Flavor curries, rice, and other dishes. 

Caraway – Roman savior 

Caraway originated in Asia Minor (modern Turkey) around 5,000 years ago and this graceful plant is thought to be the oldest cultivated spice in Europe. 

Caraway grows wild in Northern and Central Europe and Central Asia. The remains of caraway have been uncovered in Mesolithic sites in Turkey in food debris left behind by prehistoric humans. Early Arabs are thought to have been the first to used “karawya” (the Arabic name for the seeds) to flavor food, and caraway seeds have also been found in ancient Egyptian tombs. The ancient Greek physician Dioscorides noted in his encyclopedia of herbal medicine. De material Medica (c 70 CE),  that eating the seeds aided digestion. 

Caraway roots are said to have saved a Roman army from starvation during the siege of Dyrracluom  in 48 BCE, when the legionaries cooked and mixed them with milk to make a molded cake called “chara”. The Romans took caraway with them when they invaded Britain, and Shakespeare mentions it in his play Heary IV Part II. When Robert Shallow invites Sit John Falstaff to partake of “a last year’s pippin [apple] with a dish of caraways”

Wide-ranging uses

Caraway seeds enhance the flavor of northern European cheeses, rye bread, and sauerkraut, and they are also added to soup and stews, such as goulash. They are an essential ingredient in the popular liqueur kummel, and are also found in Middle Eastern dishes as well as in harissa, a hot chili paste from northwest Africa. 

Cardamom – Viking import 

One of the most versatile of the Asian spices, cardamom has long been valued by cultures the world over for its distinctive flavor and fragrance. 

Cardamom was known to the ancient Egyptians, who chewed the seeds to cleanse their teeth and freshen their breath. However, this member of the ginger family has its origins much further east in the forests along the Western Ghats of southern India. 

The plant ha large lance-shaped leaves with white flowers, which mature into pods with a triangular cross section, each containing three rows of dark brown, sticky, aromatic seeds. There are two main types of cardamom green and black. Green cardamoms have a delicate, sweet flavor. Black cardamoms have a coarser and stronger flavor.

References to cardamom have been discovered on a clay tablet from the ancient Sumerian city of Nippur dating back to 2000BCE. Thousands of years later in the 9th century CE, the Vikings, who encountered it on their travels in the eastern Mediterranean introduced it to Northern Europe. 

Modern- day versatility 

Cardamom is widely used in rice dishes and is used in Asian cuisine in sweetmeats, desserts, and teas, as well as savory dishes. In Arab countries, it is used to add a distinctive taste to coffee. Sweetbreads and buns in Scandinavia are often flavored with cardamom.  

Lemongrass – distinctively delicate 

Long valued in Thai cuisine for its fragrant, lemony flavor, lemongrass is gaining culinary recognition the world over to flavor Asian-style dishes, and as a tea. 

Surprisingly, there are 45 species of this willowy, tall grass, but Cymbopogon citrates is the species mainly used in cooking. When crushed or chopped, its leaves release a distinctive, lemony scent. It grows in chimps from a bufbous base and is found throughout the tropics, although the plant is thought to have originated in India and Southeast Asia. The name “Cymbopogon” is believed to come from the Greek kymbe, meaning boat, and pogon, meaning beard, referring to the shape of its tiny white flowers. 

In Asia, lemongrass has been used to flavor foods such as soups and stews for 5,000 years. In eastern India and Sri Lanka, it was combined with other herbs to make a drink locally known as lever tea used to treat fevers, irregular menstruation, diarrhea, and stomach aches. Much secrecy surrounds the history of this herbs, but there are unconfirmed stories of lemongrass being distilled for export in the Philippines as early as the 17th century. 

Modern popularity 

Lemongrass is widely used fresh or freeze dried as an integral ingredient in Southeast Asian cuisine. It is a key flavoring in the well-known Thai soup, tom yum. As Thai cuisine has become more popular around the world over recent years, the demand for lemongrass has increased. It pairs particularly well with curries, marinades, stews and seafood soups. It also makes a refreshing herbal tea. 



Chili – world-conquering hot spice 

The fruits of small shrubs native to Mexico, chili have been cultivated for 7,000 years and are now a crop of all tropical regions, adding heat and spice to many of the world’s cuisines. 

Christopher Columbus mistook chili for members of the pepper family when he encountered the plants on his arrival in the NEW World because of their “hot” taste. Chili are part of the  Capsicum genus, which belongs to the Solanaceae plant family, which also includes the tomato and potato. There are around 25 species of chili, but only five are cultivated. 

Chili come in all shapes, sizes, and colors from red, yellow bright orange, and green to purple and black. Most are thin and pointed and they can be as small as a pea-such as the bullet shaped bird’s-eye chilis popular in Southeast Asian cooking-or as long as the cayenne pepper, which can measure up to 12in (30cm). The spicy taste of chilis ranges from mild and tingling to very hot, depending on the concentration in the fruit of capsaicin, a compound found mostly in the path that surrounds the seeds.  

Fast-spreading spice

Chili seeds have been found at archaeological sites in Tehuacán, in south-central Mexico, daring back to 7000 BCE, with the first cultivation taking place in the same …… around 2,000 years later. The Genoese explains Christopher Columbus is thought to have been the best European to encounter chilis, on his voyage to the Americas, beginning in 1492. He brought the best plants back from the Caribbean to Spain where they were initially grown in Spanish monasteries and used as a cheaper alternative to pepper to flavor food. From there, chilis soon became established in Italy, especially in the southern region of Canada. 

Traders from Portugal, introduced to chllis by Spanish merchants passing through Lisbon on their way to the Americas, took them to South Asia. The spice became a staple part of the local cuisine in the Indian coastal settlement of Goa-including the fiery, chili-infused vindaloo (its name derived from the Portuguese vin d’atho meaning a wine and garlic sauce). From India traders took chilis further east to China and Southeast Asia. 

 Chlis, thanks in part to their usefulness as a dried  commodity, spread quickly along trade routes, and within 50 years of their introduction to Europe they were being used across much of Asia, along the along the coast of West Africa though North Africa and in the Middle East, Arab traders dominated the spice trade to Europe at the time, and clulis found their way to Europe by this route. In southern Europe (such as Hungary and Bulgaria), paprika a ground spice made from sweet peppers and chilis, became a popular ingredient in dishes such as goulash and paprikash. The spicy fruits traveled from India to England (where they were known as “ginnie” or “guinea” peppers) in the 1540s but were not their beat from mustard and horseradish. The 16th century English botanist John Gerald claimed the chili hath in ita malicious quality whereby it is an enemy to the liver and other of the entrails in killeth dogs.   

A global flavoring

Chllis are now the most widely grown spice in the world, with China especially the provinces of Sielitian and Human producing around 50 percent of  global output, followed by the home of the spice-Mexico Fresh, dried, pickled, or powdered, the fruits are used to add a hot punch to many meat, vegetable and fish dishes and play an integral role in Mexican, Central American, South American, Asian Middle Eastern and North African cuisine. The aji chili which was first grown in Andean countries such as Peru and Bolivia around 7,000 years ago, is used as a flavoring in many dishes and also as a condiment- a bowl of salsa is a familiar sight on dining tables. In the US, thanks to the popularity of Mexican food, the market for hot chili based sauces has grown more than 165 percent since 2000. So much so, that chili condiment are now vying with old favorites such as tomato ketchup for top-seller status. 

Cloves – aromatic flower buds 

Cloves were once exclusive to the Maluku Islands- the former spice Islands of Indonesia Today, this aromatic spice is cultivated in tropical regions from Africa to Asia and South America. 

Looking a bit like small nails when dried, the French name of this spice clou de girafle meaning, “nail of clove” is a reference to its appearance. The part that is used in cooking is the dried unopened flower bud of a tropical evergreen tree, Syrygtum arometicum, which has large glossy leaves and clusters of creamy colored flowers. 

Cloves are first mentioned in Asian literature in the Han dynasty in China (206 BCE-220 CE) where they are called the “chicken tongue spice” Introduced to the Mediterranean from the Maluku Islands (also known as the Moluccas) by Arab traders in the 4th century CE, by the 8th century cloves had become a major part of the European spice trade. By the 16th and 17th centuries cloves were one of the most precious spices in the world with bitter wars being fought for control of the trade. 

The spice wars 

During the 16th and 17th century Dutch revolt against Spanish rule, the King of Spain and Portugal, Philip II as retribution against the rebellious state, excluded the Netherlands from Lisbon’s spice markets. In 1605, this prompted the newly formed Dutch East India Company to invade the Portuguese ruled Maluku Islands. On gaining control of the Islands’ spice trade, the Dutch pulled up any clove trees growing in areas outside their control. They also established export rules to keep he price high, which affected world trade as well as providing a substantial boost to Dutch coffers for more than a century.

The Dutch East India company was unable to maintain its monopoly, however and the French managed to struggle out clove seedlings to the Indian Ocean islands of Mauritius and …… in 1771, from where the plants were transported all over the tropics, including Zanzibar in  1818. For a century, Zanzibar was the world’s largest producer of cloves. 

A spice for today 

Today, the sweet earby taste of cloves lends itself well to classic spice blends such as Chinese five spice, Indian garam masala, Moroccan …… and French …….. In India cloves are often chewed to freshen breath, while in the West they are added to apple pies, pickle, and muffled wine, and are pressed whole to flavor onions and ……..


Cinnamon – a fragrant bark 

Once an exotic spice that only the wealthy could afford, cinnamon is now a popular pantry staple used to flavor both sweet and savory dishes. 

Cinnamon comes from the inner bark for a medium size evergreen tree whose outer bark has been scraped off at harvesting. That inner bark, beaten out in long lengths, curls as it dries to form the familiar hard brown rolls or quills. 

There are several species of cinnamon, which fall into two categories Ceylon (or Sri Lankan) cinnamon, “true” cinnamon (Cinnamamum serum), to light brown all coiled in a single spiral, and has a mild delicate flavor Southeast Asian or Chinese cinnamon (C Cassoa), also known as cassia, has a stronger more bitter taste and woodier texture than the Sri Lankan type.  

 As early as 2000 BCE the ancient Egyptian were using cinnamon as a perfuming agent for embalming bodies. It is referred to several times in the Old Testament as an ingredient in anointing oil Cinnamon was well known to the ancient Greeks and Romans, who used it to preserve foods and as a seasoning, although their Arab suppliers kept its source a secret. This remained a mystery to Europeans until the early 16th century But after discovering cinnamon growing wild in Ceylon (present day Sri Lanka) in 1505, the Portuguese controlled the cinnamon trade until 1636, when the Dutch took over the island. In the 18th century, Britain gained control of the trade and passed it to the East India Company, who retained it until 1833. 

In Western cuisine,  cinnamon is mainly used in cakes, cookies, and desserts as well as savory dishes such as Moroccan ragines and Iranian khoresh. 

Nutmeg and mace – the spice twins 

Much prized in Medieval Europe for its culinary and medicinal uses, the seed that produces the delicately flavored spice nutmeg is wrapped in another spice, mace. 

First described by the Roman chronicler Pliny the Elder, who wrote of a tree bearing nuts with two flavors, these spices come from an evergreen tree and waxy, pale yellow, bell-shaped flowers. The crimson-red, lacy yellow, bell-shaped flowers. The crimson-red, lacy covering of the fruit is removed and dried to form the brownish orange spice mace. The kernel of the seed, which is dried, is known as nutmeg. The tree is believed to have originated in Indonesia’s Maluku Islands (also known as Moluccas).

Nutmeg was known in ancient Rome-possibly used to flavor alcoholic drinks-although it is thought to have been a rare delicacy. Arab traders probably carried nutmeg and mace to Constantinople (present day Istanbul) around the 8th century, and by the 12th century the twin spices had been brought to Western Europe by the Crusaders. 

Vying for control 

By the mid 16th century, Portuguese traders had taken control of the valuable nutmeg trade which they held until the beginning of the 17th century, when the Dutch became the predominant traders of this precious spice in 1770 however a French expedition managed to struggle out nutmeg seedlings, which they then planted in their Indian Ocean colony of Mauritius During the early 19th century the British established their own nutmeg plantations in the Caribbean, Malay pemnsula, and other tropical colonies. Today Grenada supplies almost 40 percent of the world’s nutmeg. Nutmeg and mace continue to be valued for the warm sweet musky flavor they add to savory and sweet in cuisines around the world.    

Ginger – an underground spice 

Used in both fresh and dried form, ginger adds a hot and citrusy flavor to Asian-style savory dishes such as curries. It is also a popular flavoring for cakes, biscuits, and fruit-based desserts. 

The name ginger comes  from a Sanskrut word stngaveram, which means horn or antler. This refers to the shape of its creeping underground stem, or rhizome (sometimes called root), from which the spice is produced Ginger is a perentual plant with short  reedlike stems and green, lance-shaped leaves that shoot up from buds on the rhizome every year. Used for culinary and medicinal purposes since ancient times, the rhizome can be white, yellow or red. 

Early records

The exact origins of ginger are uncertain. It may be from India, although the first formal records of this pungent spice are found in medical literature of China’s Han dynasty (206BCE-220CE) By around 300 CE, ginger had become a popular spice in the Roman Empire where it was recorded as a taxable commodity. It was used medicinally and to flavor tea and wine as well as meats, and young rhizomes were preserved in a honey syrup. After the fall of the Roman Empire, ginger remained an important commodity in the European spice trade, controlled by Arab merchants. 

By the 13th and 14th centuries, dried and ground ginger was being used to flavor practically every type of food. It was also shipped to Europe from the East in a preserved form to be used in confectionery England’s 16th-century Queen Elizabeth I was particularly fond of ginger.   

Cultivated today in many tropical countries, including some parts of Australian, China, Indian, Indonesia, Jamaica, Nepal, Nigeria and Thailand, the strength and flavor of ginger is determined by compounds called gingerots, which vary according to where the plant comes from, the climate of the area, and the time of harvesting Chinese ginger has a pungent flavor, South Indian and Australian a more lemony flavor, while Jamaican is more delicate, and African ginger has a hotter taste. Cone of the main spices in Asian cuisine, ginger features widely in Indian and Arabic dishes Pickled ginger is popular in Japan, especially to flavor sushi, and is used in Korea to flavor kimchi, the fermented cabbage-based accompaniment. Ginger is used mostly in the West in baked foods such as cakes and cookies, but as Asian cuisine has become more popular, it is also used in savory dishes. The grated root is often infused as a refreshing tea.     

Turmeric – the golden spice 

Perhaps best known as the spice that gives some curry dishes their yellow color, turmeric is also thought to have healing properties due to its active ingredient curcumin. 

Known as haridas in Sanskrit haldi in Hindi and  jing huang  in Chinese, turmeric is one of the most characteristic spices of many Asian cuisines. It is also known as Indian saffron because of its bright yellow hue. Turmeric is a member of the ginger family. The spice is derived from the plant fleshy rhizomes (underground stems), which are harvested in winter boiled or steamed and then dried and ground. 

Out of Asia 

Turmeric’s exact origin is unknown, but it is thought to have first been cultivated thousands of years ago in India, probably initially for its dye. Alexander the Great, King of Macedonia, probably brought it to Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey) and the Mediterranean in around 330 BCE. Turmeric reached China in around 700 CE. East Africa a century later and West Africa by 1200 it is now cultivated throughout the tropics. 

Sometimes used as a cheaper option to saffron, turmeric is a key ingredient in curry powder and curries the world over. It is also used in the Middle-East and North Africa to flavor and color sauces, syrups, rice dishes, meat and vegetables. Research is continuing into the possible pharmacological used of curcumin a chemical in which turmeric is rich ….

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