History of spicesThe gods drank sesame wine
The earliest recorded use of a spice, sesame seed, comes from an Assyrian myth, claiming that the gods drank sesame wine the night before they created the earth. Hieroglyphs in the Great Pyramid at Giza show workers eating garlic and onions for strength. Around 400 BC Hippocrates listed more than 400 medicines made with spices and herbs, half of which we still use today. As the Roman Empire grew to dominance, they started sailing from Egypt to India to trade pepper, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and ginger. These spices were available only to the upper class, who valued them as highly as gold.
War: exclusive trading routes and supply sources
In the Middle Ages, many of the world's most valuable spices came from China, India and the Indonesian islands, including the Moluccas (or Spice Islands). Explorers such as Marco Polo, Vasco da Gama and Christopher Columbus sought new worlds in their quest for exclusive trading routes and supply sources. Between the 15th and the 17th centuries wars over the Indonesian Spice Islands broke out between expanding European nations (Spain, Portugal, England and Holland) and continued for about 200 years.
Holland's unchallenged rights
Today all those countries are friendly members of the E.C. By the end of the 17th century most Indonesian islands were under Dutch control, giving Holland unchallenged rights to the Asian spice trade. 400 years ago, the Dutch merchants 'invented' the first publicly listed multinational 'the Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie' or VOC which was active for more than two centuries.
America's new contributions
In the last three centuries, Americans made many new contributions to the spice world. Texan settlers, for instance, developed chilli powder in 1835 as a simpler way to make Mexican dishes. In 1889 food researchers in California developed the technique for dehydrating onions and garlic.
Ready meals and the growing taste for exotic food
Today, Asia still grows most of the spices that once ruled the trade, including cinnamon, pepper, nutmeg, cloves and ginger. Pepper is the single largest item with approximately 300,000 tons per year, of which half is consumed locally. With the progress of ready meals and the growing taste for exotic food in the Western World, the general consumption of spices is increasing steadily.