Variety is the spice of life
This is a common saying which means that doing many different things, or often changing what you do, makes life more interesting.
Spices are plant substances such as seeds, fruits, roots or bark mainly used for flavoring, coloring or preserving food. They are different from herbs, which are the leaves, flowers, or stems from plants used for flavoring or as a garnish.
Many spices have antimicrobial properties and have therefore more commonly been used in warmer climates. Spices are sometimes used in medicine, religious rituals, cosmetics or perfume production.
A spice may be available fresh, though generally, spices are dried since a whole dried spice has the longest shelf life. Sometimes, spices may be ground into a powder for convenience. Some small seeds, such as mustard seeds and peppercorns, are used both whole and in powder form. Spices can be used on their own or in combination with others. Common spice mixtures include curry powder, masala, quatre Ã©pices and ras el hanout.
The flavor of a spice is derived in part from compounds called volatile oils that oxidize or evaporate when exposed to air. Grinding a spice greatly increases its surface area and so increases the rates of oxidation and evaporation. Thus, flavor is maximized by storing a spice whole and grinding when needed. To grind a whole spice, the classic tool is mortar and pestle. Other tools are more common now: graters, coffee grinders, pepper mills.
The spice trade played an important role in history. It developed throughout South Asia and the Middle East by at least 2000 BC with cinnamon and black pepper. The Egyptians used herbs for mummification and their demand for exotic spices and herbs helped stimulate world trade. Early uses were connected with magic, medicine, religion, tradition, and preservation.
Clove is mentioned in the ancient Indian epic Ramayana and the Romans used it at least 2000 years ago. Nutmeg, which originally comes from Southeast Asia, was introduced to Europe in the 6th century BC. Indonesian merchants traveled around China, India, the Middle East, and the east coast of Africa. Arab merchants facilitated the routes through the Middle East and India. This resulted in the Egyptian port city of Alexandria being the main trading center for spices.
Sailing from Eastern spice cultivators to Western European consumers gradually replaced the land-locked spice routes once facilitated by the Middle East Arab caravans. Spices were among the most demanded and expensive products available in Europe in the Middle Ages, the most common being black pepper, cinnamon, cumin, nutmeg, ginger and cloves.
In addition to being used in medieval medicine, the European elite also craved spices in the Middle Ages. An example of the European aristocracy’s demand for spice comes from the King of Aragon, who invested substantial resources into bringing spices to Spain in the 12th century. He was specifically looking for spices to put in wine.
Spices were all imported from plantations in Asia and Africa, which made them expensive. From the 8th until the 15th century, the Republic of Venice had the monopoly on spice trade with the Middle East. The trade made the region rich. The most exclusive was saffron, used as much for its vivid yellow-red color as for its flavor. Spain and Portugal were not happy to pay the high price that Venice demanded for spices. The control of trade routes and the spice-producing regions were the main reasons that Portuguese navigator Vasco da Gama sailed to India in 1499. When Gama discovered the pepper market in India, he was able to get peppers for a much cheaper price than the ones demanded by Venice.
At around the same time, Christopher Columbus returned from the New World, and described to investors the new spices available there. Some of them became popular, including allspice, chili peppers, vanilla, and chocolate.
Happy English learning!!