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Salt, pepper, cinnamon, cumin, saffron. You can find them in our store, you can find them in the food you eat when you eat out, you can put them in the dishes you make on your own. You’ll find them in the recipes we share through our blog. Having spices in our kitchens, stores and eventually food comes naturally to us. But let’s put the ladle aside for a moment and talk a bit more about them. Sure, they are always there when you need them, but did you ever stop to think it wasn’t always the case?
Because it wasn’t. There was a time when spices came from lands far far away - the same lands they come from today, but since it took longer to get there, they probably seemed to be much further away. It took ages to transport them, by sea or by land, and they were very expensive. In those times, owning spices was a status symbol, trading in it meant huge profits, and being the country that produces spices meant power, wealth, and envy of other countries.
Although spices have been traded by land and water for thousands of years BC, it wasn’t until the Silk Road was established, connecting China to the Mediterranean at the turn from BC to AD, that the spice trade started to become very important to all the countries involved. Everyone profited from the spice trade, even the transit countries, who got to charge the right of passage. But the spice trade was yet to reach its highest point.
The demise of Silk Road, which came in the middle of the 15th century, sparked what came to be known as the Age of Discovery, when many countries took to the seas to secure new trading routes. Along with other valuable goods, like gold, precious stones and fabrics, spices were a commodity that propelled the era when new lands were discovered, or discovered to the Europeans at least, and the shapes of the world we see today started to show. Although this boom in trade came with its downsides, like wars and slavery, it also came with some unexpected benefits, like scientific and cultural exchange. In fact, you can say that trade has always been in the driver seat of the car where cultural exchange rode shotgun, and spices were one of the pistons in the engine that made the car go forward.
So, the next time you’re making chicken curry, and your hand reaches for the spices that are used to make the dish, remember that you’re dealing with something that’s made empires rise and fall in the past. It may not look so today, but spices were once as valuable and rare as gold, and they were an integral part of the ages that shaped the world we live in today.