The Lure of Spices….
Men have traveled, as they have lived, for religion, for wealth, for knowledge, for pleasure, for power and the overthrow of rivals. Yet no very profound acquaintance with Haklut’s book is needed to discern, as he clearly discerned, the single thread of interest running through all these pilgrimages. The discovery of the new Western World followed, as an incidental consequence, from the long struggle of the nations of Europe for commercial supremacy and control of the traffic with the East. In all these dreams of the politicians and merchants, sailors and geographers, who pushed back the limits of the unknown world, there is the same glitter of gold and precious stones, the same odour of far-fetched spices
– Sir Walter Raleigh, 1605
Today when spices cost so little that we can all enjoy little nip of black pepper, or the delicious aroma of cinnamon, ginger or cloves, it seems unbelievable that these fragrant bits of bark, leaves and seeds were once so costly, so hard to track down and transport, that men were willing to risk their lives going to the antipodes, if need be, for a few quintals of nutmegs or piculs of cassia.
The traffic in spices goes back to the days before recorded history. Archeologists estimate that by 50,000 B.C. primitive man had discovered that parts of certain aromatic plants help make food taste better. To reconstruct what may have happened, we can imagine that man was about to cook a piece of meat in an emberlined pit. He saw some leaves and it occurred to him that if he wrapped the meat he could keep it free of grit and ashes He covered the meat with the leaves and left it buried in the hot pit. Later, to his surprise and delight, he found that the leaves had given a new flavor to his meal.
At that moment mankind discovered the art of seasoning.