Spic­ing the World

The quest for spices re­vealed en­tire con­ti­nents to the Euro­peans, re­drew maps and tipped the bal­ance of world power.

Southasia - - Sights & sounds - By Tehmina Qureshi

We take them for granted. They are found in our kitchen clos­ets, de­posited in small jars and pots to be used as fla­vors in our ev­ery day food. Their avail­abil­ity, de­spite the oft-vac­il­la­tion in prices, seems nat­u­ral, al­most as if they have al­ways been this easy to find. For us, the peo­ple of this re­gion, it may be true to some ex­tent; but the his­tory of spices for peo­ple of other con­ti­nents is col­ored with all the drama, tact and guile of in­ter­na­tional power strug­gles. Spices lead na­tions to war, kill hun­dreds of thou­sands if not mil­lions, and cre­ate na­tional heroes and traitors. It won’t be an exag- ger­a­tion to say that mod­ern his­tory, in a lot of ways, was shaped by man’s quest to find a smooth and se­cure sup­ply of ex­otic spices like black pep­per, cin­na­mon and clove among oth­ers.

Spices have been a part of hu­man life since the be­gin­ning of civ­i­liza­tions. His­to­ri­ans can ver­i­fi­ably track the his­tory of spices to 50,000 BC. By 2000 BC, spice trade had estab­lished a strong net­work of busi­nesses through­out the Mid­dle East. It was one of the first com­modi­ties to have been in­ter­na­tion­ally traded by mankind. Un­like our contemporary pri­vate us­age of spice herbs, which is more or less lim­ited to the fla­vor- ing of food and to tra­di­tional al­ter­na­tive medicine, the use of spice, in those days was var­ied and, in many cases, oblig­a­tory e.g. the Egyp­tians used dif­fer­ent spices to em­balm their dead, so for them, spices were al­most re­li­giously important.

Spices were equally important for the Ro­mans. They fa­mously used spices in count­less daily ac­tiv­i­ties apart from food and drink. For in­stance, ro­man men would sleep on pil­lows sprayed with saf­fron in the hope that it would cure their han­gover.

All ma­jor re­li­gious scrip­tures have men­tioned var­i­ous spices in, in­clud­ing the Ra­mayana, con­sid­ered the

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