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History of Spices


Aromatic gold

Over time, spices began to be used as a seasoning and as a preservative for meat.

Even when filled with abundant meat, stews, or cooked, they would always be incomplete if there wasn't a touch of spice there.

Ginger, for example, originating in India, was ideal for seasoning meat and fish and also for adding flavor to salads. A 16th century cookbook even mentions ginger as the usual ingredient in meat and fish recipes and also in meatballs, pastries and sweets. From a certain point onwards, the ships even began to stock up on gingerbread cookies, the taste of which appealed to seafarers. Cinnamon was also used in making biscuits and sweets in general, and there were also those who used it as a condiment in food and in the preparation of aromatic wine.

Since these products were only within reach of the purses and tables of the richest, it is no wonder that spices were equated in value to gold. It is therefore understandable that many wills left large amounts of spices as inheritance.

In Europe, at the time, cinnamon, false cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves were already being sold. , pepper and others.

Little by little, some of the cities that supported their economy on the spice trade grew in opulence and wealth. Venice and Genoa, in Italy, grew and distributed this commodity throughout Europe.

However, other nations were about to emerge as world powers in the spice trade. Among them, a small country located in the western reaches of Europe. Portugal would, in later centuries, lead a true maritime epic, based in part on the spice trade. The country first ran out of ambition to reach the spices and then in the eagerness to spread them around the world.

Portugal on the spice route

The Portuguese, who had been traveling around the Mediterranean for a long time and had contact with its riverside people, were aware of the fabulous way of getting rich through spices . They also knew the routes for these products, from the East.

It then seemed natural to include the search for new sources of oriental spices within the discovery enterprise, namely through the search for a sea passage to India.

The kings of Portugal brought together the best cosmographers, cartographers, naval architects and navigators of the time, setting out to discover a route that, bypassing Africa, would allow them to reach India. In the 90s of the 15th century, a small armada, commanded by Vasco da Gama, a nobleman born in Sines, set sail towards India.

Vasco da Gama's return to Lisbon, in the summer of 1499, was reason for a great celebration in the kingdom. When people saw the caravels, even the poorest, they realized that new times were beginning. From then on, buying pepper and ginger from Malabar, cinnamon from Ceylon, nutmeg and cloves from the vast Indonesian archipelago became cheaper and simpler. Meals began to be richly scented with the taste of oriental spices, previously so inaccessible. But it wasn't just the people of Lisbon who celebrated the return of the discoverer of the sea route to India. King Manuel I, who someone remembered to call the Pepper King, also welcomed the success of the mission led by Vasco da Gama, writing to the Spanish monarchs, Isabella of Castile and Fernando of Aragon, to announce the good news.

Pepper bought for two Crusaders per yard in Cochin, Malabar, was sold in Europe for 20 or 30 Cruzados, even so, a price with which neither Venetians nor Arabs could compete. Venice even sent spies to Lisbon, at the same time that its agents prodded the Sultan of Egypt into threatening to destroy the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem and forcibly convert Christians in his domains to Islam, if the Pope did not prohibit D. Manuel from sending ships the India. Despite all these efforts, the Portuguese monarch continued the profitable spice trade. After passing through Lisbon, they headed to Northern Europe, to the trading posts in Flanders, such as Burges and Antwerp. It is curious that, in exchange for spices, the Portuguese donated vindallo to the Indian gastronomic heritage, a famous condiment that is no more than our garlic vine. It is mainly in the region of Goa, a Portuguese possession from 1511 to 1961, that pork is seasoned in this way before, inevitably, a multitude of spices are added to it, much to the taste of the people of the Malabar coast, the one where Vasco da Gama arrived.

Some of the spice mixtures are known from our table, such as paprika, a mixture of pepper, paprika and salt, the French 'four épices', composed of pepper, cloves, nutmeg and ginger, used to season fish and smoked meats. In Moroccan cuisine, 'harissa' is known, a set of more than twenty spices, and in Egypt 'dukkah' is used, which can range from a simple mixture of pepper, salt and mint powder to more compound forms. In Arab countries, the best-known aromatic mixture is 'taklia', made with fried garlic and chopped coriander.

One of the most famous is undoubtedly curry, or Curry for many, a mixture of black pepper, paprika, cloves, cinnamon, ginger, fenugreek, nutmeg and turmeric, widely used in Indian cuisine. For Chinese cuisine, the best-known spices are anise, cinnamon, cloves, sesame and pepper. Before seasoning your cooking, reflect a little on the history of the small jars you now have on hand.