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Spices – History and Evolution

Spices in India have history older than 7000 years!!!

History of Spice Trade

Many people connect spices with magic, medicines, culture and tradition since early human history. They have played crucial role in India’s external trade with many countries such as China, Mesopotamia, Egypt, Arabia and Sumeria along with textile and scent, that’s much before it was known to Greek or Roman civilization.

We find mention of spices like cloves in Ramayan as well as in the books of Roman Empire during 1st century. They were exported from Goa, Madras, and Calicut and from many other places of India to remote destinations such as Alexandria and Rome.

It is also interesting to know that people many a times risked their lives to gain access to Indian spices and also attracted both traders as well as invaders in India.

Historical uses of Spices

The history of spice is almost as old as human civilization. They were the most valuable items of trade during ancient and medieval period. It’s amazing to note that the ancient Egyptians were very much fond of spices for not only flavouring food but also using them as cosmetics and for preserving dead bodies. The earliest written records come from ancient Indian, Egyptian and Chinese cultures. The Ebers Papyrus from Early Egyptians that dates from 1550 B.C.E. describes some eight hundred different medicinal remedies and numerous medicinal procedures. In early age of trading, spices from India were originally transported overland by camel caravans or donkey. For almost 5000 years, Arab middlemen controlled the spice trade, until European explorers discovered a sea route to India and other spice producing countries in the East.

General uses of Spices

In general they are used for flavouring or colouring or preserving food, it is a seed, fruit, root, bark, or a substance. Spices are distinguished from herbs, which are the leaves, flowers, or stems of plants used for flavouring or as a garnish. They may be available in several forms: fresh, whole dried, or pre-ground dried. Generally, spices are dried and can be ground into a powder for convenience. A whole dried spice has the longest shelf life, so it can be purchased and stored in larger amounts, making it cheaper on a per-serving basis. A fresh spice, such as ginger, is usually more flavourful than its dried form, but fresh spices are more expensive and have a much shorter shelf life. Some of them are not always available either fresh or whole, for example turmeric, and often must be purchased in ground form. Small seeds, such as fennel and mustard seeds, are often used both whole and in powder form.

Flavour of a spice is derived from volatile oils that oxidizes or evaporates when exposed to air. Grinding a them greatly increases its surface area and so increases the rates of oxidation and evaporation, thus resulting in maximized flavour by storing a spice whole and grinding when needed. The shelf life of a whole dry spice is 2 years and of a ground spice around 6 months.

Spices have evolved with time, community and race but have become an integral part in existence of human life. Today, no food can be imagined without spice be it pepper, salt or turmeric.

To know more about spices and their quality please click here.

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