Spices are the food seasonings that come from the different parts of a plant like the buds, the bark, the fruits, the flowers, the roots, the seeds, and the stems. These spices have played a very important part in the development of the Western civilization. In ancient and medieval times, Spices were rare and precious. To look at the history of spices is to look at the history of civilization as we know it.
Today, spices play a major role in any cooking endeavor – they are used for their fragrance, their flavor and their taste. They also have a number of medicinal properties.
The first recorded documentation of the use of spices as medicines is found amongst the documents of the ancient Sumerians. This was over five thousand years ago. Over four thousand years ago, we have records that the Chinese also used over 300 different herbs and spices for medicinal reasons. Over three thousand years ago, ancient Egyptians used spices for a variety of purposes, including embalming mummies.
The Greeks and the Romans have also used spices for a variety of reasons. The Greeks used laurel leaves in the form of a wreath worn on the head to honor their heroes. The Romans used herbs for magic and sorcery.
From the middle ages onwards, herbs began to be cultivated even in the western parts of the world. But prior to that, trade was the only means of obtaining these spices. Hence these spices were often considered to be very precious and were quite valuable as trade goods.
From around 3000 BC to 200 BC, the Arabs were the prime traders of spices in the western world. The Romans took over the trade and were controlling it till about 1200. From 1200 to 1500, the Europeans explored different routes to the Eastern parts of the globe and began to take over the spice trade. The period between the 15th to the 17th centuries even saw wars break out for the control of the spice trade.
The period between the 16th to the 18th century saw the English explore and control the spice trade. After this period, the Americans also entered into the spice trading community.
Thus, one can see that the history of spice has always been a history of control, of power and of wealth. Spice has proved to be the number one commodity of trade that has made a lot of difference in the lives of many people – especially in the way we eat food – simply because it just tastes better with a little bit of spice!