For centuries Spices have been worth their weight in gold, literally.
‘’But in truth, should I meet with gold or spices in great quantity, I shall remain till I collect as much as possible, and for this purpose, I am proceeding solely in quest of them’’ – Cristopher Columbus.
During the Middle Ages, spices were as valuable in Europe as gold and gems, and the single most important force driving the world’s economy. The lack of refrigeration and poor standards of hygiene meant that food often spoiled quickly and spices were in great demand to mask the flavour of food that was far from fresh. Fierce competition among European nations for control of the spice trade was the driving force behind the colonisation of India and other Asian lands.
The search for a cheaper way to obtain spices from the East led to the Great Age of Exploration and the discovery of the New World. European explorers such as Ferdinand Magellan, Vasco da Gama, and Bartholomeu Dias began their long sea voyages to discover a sea route to the sources of spices. Christopher Columbus went westwards from Europe in 1492 to find a sea route to the lands of spices but found the Americas. In 1497 the Portuguese navigator Vasco da Gama discovered a sea route around the southern tip of Africa, eventually reaching Kozhikode on the southwest coast of India in 1498. Da Gama returned from his voyage with a cargo of nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon, ginger, and peppercorns.
At various times, the Portuguese, Dutch, French, Spanish, and English established monopolies over various parts of the spice trade. This period saw empires founded and fortunes made and was also characterised by brutal conquests, piracy, and greed. This era saw the formation of trading empires such as the British East India Company. The first half of the Seventeenth Century saw the Dutch – Portuguese War, basically a war over who had the largest Cinnamon Stick!!
Nowadays we find it hard to believe that the simple nutmeg or peppercorn could have caused such conflicts, as they are now so affordable for almost everyone on the planet and grown in huge swaths all over the world!
The fact is that spices hold all manner of wondrous qualities and can amp up a dish's' flavour and nutritional value.
- Red peppers are unusually rich in vitamin C, and that paprika made from them retains more vitamin C by weight than even lemon juice.
- Nutmeg is a psychotropic and in high enough doses causes hallucinations, delusions and an impending sense of doom.
- Turmeric has been surprisingly effective against Alzheimer’s symptoms in multiple studies, and currently, out-performs any known Alzheimer’s drug.
- Anise, the herb that flavours traditional absinthe, Jagermeister, Ouzo, etc. can relieve menstrual cramps.
- Cinnamon lowers blood sugar levels and has a powerful Anti-Diabetic Effect.
- Ginger can treat nausea and has anti-inflammatory properties.
- Cumin seeds contain many phytochemicals that are known to have antioxidant, carminative and anti-flatulent properties. The seeds are an excellent source of dietary fibre.
- The therapeutic properties of cardamom oil have been found application in many traditional medicines as antiseptic, antispasmodic, carminative, digestive, diuretic, expectorant, stimulant, stomachic and tonic.
When you’re next standing in front of the spice aisle or looking hopelessly at your spice rack, how about making a couple of delicious dry rubs that are ideal for the BBQ or any form of home cooking? Here are some ideas to get you started:
Fragrant Moroccan Rub.
This rub is idea for a leg of lamb or a nice juicy steak.
- 2 Tbs. ground cumin
- 1 Tbs. paprika
- 1 Tbs. ground coriander
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1 tsp. fresh ground black pepper
- 1 tsp. cinnamon
- 1 tsp. allspice
- 1⁄4 tsp. clove
- 1⁄8 tsp. cayenne
Simply combine all the ingredients in a bowl and rub generously over the meat - it's best to leave overnight in the fridge for the flavour to really infuse.
Spicy Fish Rub.
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. paprika
1/2 tsp. dried dill
1/2 tsp. dried thyme
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/8 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
Simply combine all the ingredients in a bowl and rub generously over the meat but there's no need to keep overnight in the fridge - simply pan fry or put under a hot grill.
P.S. Don't forget to check out our earlier blog post on hosting an epic bbq here!