Tag Archives: Spice Trade

New Book Topic Announced, kinda, sorta

This is a brief note to let you know that I am writing a new book proposal, which means a change in the book topic* that will be covered here. The new book proposal is actually an old book proposal – Beer and Beer history.

What this means is that you’re likely to see some posts on beer (other than pilsners) on this here site from time to time, until the proposal is finished and out the door.

The reason for the change is simply one of circumstance. An opportunity has arisen to take advantage of some of the ideas in the old book proposal and package it in a different manner, and try to sell it. If the proposal doesn’t sell to a major publisher, then there’s an alternative path that I want to take the book down. In essence, it’s a proposal that has a multitude of opportunities, with new challenges to face, and I couldn’t pass that up.

I will return to the Spice Trade book proposal after the beer book proposal project is complete.


*Note: For those not acquainted with the new policies on “topics”, see this entry.

100 Greatest Moments in Food History? meh…

I realize that any “greatest” list making is a hackneyed ploy to get people debating/talking about the list rather than actually conveying anything resembling insight or knowledge. But let me suggest something…

If you’re going to write a list determining the “100 Greatest Moments in Food History“, it might help if the writer actually knew anything about food history.

Let’s take a look at the list for some quick examples… oh look! Item number 2!!

1762 The sandwich is created as gambler John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich, calls for his dinner to be put between two slices of bread so he can continue his card game with one hand and eat with the other. Lunchtimes would never be the same again.

Let’s ignore the fact that the invention of the sandwich is the second most relevant even in food history, and instead point out that the idea of putting meat in between two slices of bread didn’t first happen in 1762. People had been doing it for centuries prior to Earl Montagu. It simply became socially acceptable for all classes to eat it once royalty had been seen ordering it.

Item 3-

1904 The hamburger, popular in the USA, is served at the St Louis World Fair – crucially, in a bun. It soon becomes the world’s favourite fast food. Some might suggest the burger’s impact has been greater than the sandwich’s; but where would it be without its bread/filling/ bread template?

According to the Los Angeles, CA Metropolitan New-Enterprise newspaper article, Old Menus Tell the History of Hamburgers in L.A., by Roger M. Grace:

From 1871-1884, “Hamburg Beefsteak” was on the “Breakfast and Supper Menu” of the Clipper Restaurant at 311/313 Pacific Street in San Fernando. It cost 10 cents—the same price as mutton chops, pig’s feet in batter, and stewed veal. It was not, however, on the dinner menu; “Pig’s Head” “Calf Tongue” and “Stewed Kidneys” were. (found here)

Item 11 –

1499 Portuguese navigator Vasco da Gama sails to India aboard the São Gabriel, with the aim of breaking the Venetian monopoly on the spice market. Da Gama’s seaborne route kick-starts an international trade in spices that bankrolls European expansionism for centuries to follow.

While this event is relevant in food history, the spice trade that instigated da Gama’s trip had a far more important affect upon history.

I could go on, but let me put in items that are missing from the list.

  • Man’s quest/need for salt. Simply put, any civilization that had limited to no access to salt (either through trade or production) was at a severe disadvantage developmentally when compared to those civilizations that had ready access.
  • Man’s discovery of fermentation has led to the development of the wine, beer, and spirits industries. It also has affected everything from tax codes to religious movements.
  • Britain’s quest for Tea and the “Honourable East India Company”, which was likely the first global corporation, before the idea of corporations was codified.
  • East Asia’s immigration to North America (and immigration in general) which introduced new foods to different parts of the world.

I’m sure I could think of others but instead I will leave it up to you readers out there. What, in your opinion, were the greatest moments in Food History?

The History of Pepper

It is one of the most innocuous of spices. We see it every day, on nearly every table, and very few ever give two thoughts about the stuff. For many, it’s the first real spice that we get to eat on a regular basis. No – it’s not salt (which is, technically speaking, a mineral and not a spice). Rather, it’s black pepper, the Bud Abbot to salt’s Lou Costello.

Black pepper has been around for nearly 4000 years, fortuitously not so coincidentally from the Black Pepper plant that is found native to the Western Ghats of Kerala State, India, where it still occurs wild in the mountains. The Black Pepper plant is also called Piper nigrum. Most black pepper comes from India, but it is also exported from Indonesia, Malaysia and Brazil.

It’s also one of the spices that had launched the spice trade, along with ginger (which I’ll get to next). It was quite popular in Rome, as Pliny the Elder had remarked. It has remained a near necessity in Europe ever since. They were also rare (as were many spices), and for a time was used in lieu of currency.

The Worshipful Company of Grocers, a Livery Company (aka Trade Guild) in London actually got its start as the Guild of Pepperers waaaay back in 1180. Their purpose, as with most guilds, was to maintaining standards for the purity of the spice and for the setting of certain weights and measures for distributing the spice. They became so good at their task with pepper that they became the Spice Guild, and then later evolved into the Grocer’s Guild.

Black Pepper (as well as other spices) was one of the primary reasons for the search for a sea route to India. Portugal made inroads, and actually controlled the pepper trade for a while, but countries with larger, more efficient navies, as well as smuggling, forced them out rather quickly. And once technology evolved to such a point where pepper could be imported on a regular basis, prices for the spice quickly fell and pepper’s popularity further increased as it became available to markets that previously could not afford it.

How important it Black Pepper to the spice trade? Consider this. Today, it seems rather innocuous as it sits there on your table. But it makes up 20% of today’s world spice trade. So, yeah. Black Pepper is a big deal.

I’ll be focusing on Black Pepper recipes when time and opportunity allows. Expect a few recipes and hopefully a few more tips and stories surrounding the spice.