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)
Anise
Black Pepper
Cardamom
Cassia
Chile Pepper
Chocolate
Cinnamon
Clove
Coriander (Cilantro)
Cumin
Dill
Fennel
Fenugreek
Frankincense and Myrrh
Galangal
Garlic
Ginger
Horseradish
Licorice
Mustard
Nutmeg and Mace
Onion
Saffron
Sugar
Sumac
Tamarind
Turmeric
Vanilla

Contacts and Acknowledgments

WHAT IS A SPICE?

The name spice is derived from the word species, which was applied to groups of exotic foodstuffs in the Middle Ages. Aromatically scented herbal products have been used since ancient times to flavor foods and for preparing incenses and perfumes. Exotic imports obtained from Asia were particularly appealing to Greeks and Romans, who spent vast fortunes on trade with Arabia, which was the center of the spice trade. Rare spices were utilized in cooking as a sign of wealth in Rome, and later in Medieval and Renaissance times, and the privileged developed an exaggerated taste for spicy foods. The need to supply European markets spurred explorations, culminating in the extraordinary voyages that resulted in the discovery of the New World and demonstrated that the globe could be circumnavigated by sea. The fabled Spice Islands of Indonesia became the site of horrendous colonial practices by competing European powers. The desire to control spice sources took the British to India, the Portuguese to Brazil, the Spanish to Central and South America and to the Philippines, the French to Africa, and the Dutch to Indonesia. However, each country feuded with others to establish a monopolistic control over the spice-growing regions and the major trade routes.

Today, many of the valued old spices, such as nutmeg, have lost their fabulous attraction, while the more lowly garlic, peppers and other commonplace kitchen herbs have become, paradoxically, increasingly popular. It is now impossible to give a strict definition of a spice: the word suggests an imported tropical herbal plant or some part of it that is valued for providing color and aromatic flavoring along with stimulating odor for use in cooking and in condiments, as well as in candies, cosmetics, fragrances and medications. A host of such products utilize spicy herbs varying from ajowan and aniseed to wasabi and zedoary. Indeed, the term spice could include chocolate, coffee, kola nuts, tea, wine and olive oil, since these mouthwatering delicacies are generally imported from tropical or sunny countries into the more temperate countries of northern Europe and North America to give a zestful taste to food products and beverages. See a list of spices by Taste and Hotness.

Spice Exhibit URL: http://unitproj.library.ucla.edu/biomed/spice/index.cfm

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