Learning about Spices
What is a spice?
Why were spices important?
Sources of spices
Perfumes and Incenses 
Use of spices as aphrodisiacs
Use of spices as medicines
Culinary herbs
A spice timeline

Table of Spices
Allspice (Pimento)
Black Pepper
Chile Pepper
Coriander (Cilantro)
Frankincense and Myrrh
Nutmeg and Mace

Contacts and Acknowledgments
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Genus SpeciesTheobroma cacao
Origin Tropical America
Cultivated Ghana, Brazil, Mexico
Description Although not often considered to be a spice, the seeds of the Theobroma cacao tree deserve to be thought of as an exotic, aromatic, flavor with medicinal values, i.e. as a spice. It originated in the Yucatan area of Mexico, and it was used as a hot drink by the Maya and as a cold, sweetened drink by the Aztecs. Linnaeus chose to call the chocolate tree Theobroma, meaning “food of the gods”, since it was used as an offering by the Maya and Aztecs in their religious ceremonies. The word “cacao” is from the Mayan, ka-ka-io; the word chocolate comes from Mayan “chocol” (hot) and Nahuatl “alt” (water) implying that the chocolate content of the bean was extracted by hot water.

The Spanish brought chocolate beans to Europe in 1544, but the original criollo cacao trees have since been replaced by a variety of the tree called forastero; this has resulted in a blander form of chocolate which now comes from many parts of the world, including West Africa. The harvesting of cocoa pods in some African countries has become notorious, since it is based essentially on slave labor. Over the centuries and in different countries, chocolate has been enjoyed in many different forms and flavors. The Mayans added vanilla and chile to it, and this exists today as mole. Allspice, annatto, cinnamon, mace and other spices have been added to this sauce; less popular were combinations including ambergris (a secretion of sperm whales), musk, jasmine, lemon peel and so on. Sweetening with honey or sugar and the addition of milk made chocolate drinks and confections more addictive.

At one time, chocolate houses were as popular in Europe as coffee houses have become in the U.S.A. Schivelbusch comments that coffee was a “Protestant, northern drink” while chocolate was its “Catholic, southern counterpart”. However, as chocolate and cocoa spread from the aristocratic courts of Spain to become a more mundane drink in France, it became a more social, Bohemian, non-alcoholic alternative social drink in England and other northern countries. Eventually, the chocolaty drink, cocoa, declined in importance as it became a beverage directed at children, as an alternative to tea and coffee. Nevertheless, countries such as Switzerland and Belgium produced famous varieties of chocolate confections that appeal to ordinary and sophisticated consumers who accept that their delight in the product is a mild addiction, based on the sweetness and the deliciousness of the manufactured product. Surely, this makes the chocolate seed a spice, equal to spicy flavors such as vanilla and cinnamon. See a list of spices by Taste and Hotness.
Useful Parts “All cocoa beans are fermented, dried, roasted, crushed into nibs or pieces, then further ground into a liquid mass usually containing 50% cocoa butter.” (Mulherin. Spices, 1992)
Medicinal Properties The theobromine content may stimulate the brain, since it is an xanithine similar to coffee. Recently, the polyphenols in chocolate have been generously praised as being potent anti-oxidants that may prevent degenerative diseases, thus reducing the guilt sensations of chocaholics. However, true medicinal values have not been established for pure chocolate.
See chemicals in spices.
Historical View “Cacao butter has been but lately introduced into the British and United States pharmocopoeias, but it has been long used on the Continent. It is peculiarly well adapted from its consistency, blandness, and freedom from rancidity, for the preparation of suppositories for which purpose it is official. It is also used as a basis for pessaries, as an ingredient in cosmetic ointments, and for coating pills and other purposes.”

Bentley, Robert and Henry Trimen. Medicinal Plants; being descriptions with original figures of the principal plants employed in medicine and an account of the characters, properties, and uses of their parts and products of medicinal value. London, Churchill, 1880. (WZ 295 B556m 1880)
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Spice Exhibit URL: http://unitproj.library.ucla.edu/biomed/spice/index.cfm

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