The lure & lore of India's spices.....and viagra
posted on Tuesday, July 08, 2008 02:19 PM
Posted by Sanjay Kumar
When you walk into one of the many supermarkets that grace Brighton and Hove, and you go to the section which houses Asian spices, you will see myriad bottles of multicolored powder. Some spices look relatively fresh, while other spices look like they were scooped out of the desert on the planet Mars and bottled. Unfortunately, this is the only view many people have of spices - mostly uninteresting, merely a way to add some flavour to food.
If the appearance of spices were to reflect their real importance in the history of the world, the bottles of spices would be filled with bright glittery substances, diamonds, rubies, emeralds or gold would be appropriate. Spices have been the inspiration for trade, exploration, war, and poetry since the beginning of civilization. That ground Keralan pepper you shake on your salad was once worth its weight in gold; the nutmeg you grate once fueled a war that gained Long Island for Americans from England.
Before the time of recording, we are still quite certain spices played a prevalent part in man’s daily life - and death. Archeologists discovered spices in Egyptian and Hindu temple tombs as early as 3000 BC. The strong preservative quality of many spices made them ideal for embalming. Many of the spices had strong connections or affiliations with different Gods. Therefore in addition to the embalming qualities of the spices, their fragrance was also thought to curry the favor of the Gods, offering one a better chance of celestial help in travels into the afterlife.
Throughout many periods of history, spices have claimed attention for their mystical properties, either through ingesting or smoking. What mankind has done throughout time to creatively enhance or elevate the perception of his existence is a fascinating subject.
We know that as soon as man understood the importance of preserving and recording the complex existence of his life, and his intelligence developed to a level of rudimentary picture making, he left us a pathway to the past.
Spices are evidenced from the beginning of hieroglyphic practice. A wall in the palace of Knossos, in Crete, shows a monkey/man picking saffron, one of the most precious of all India's spices. The carving dates back to 1700 BC. As civilization progressed, so did the complexity of record keeping.
A fascinating document called the Ebers Papyrus, dating 1550 B.C., details information about the practice of surgery and medicine at the time. Present is a listing of a vast array of cures formed from herbs and spices, many of these exactly the same herbs and spices we commonly find in our own spice racks for our everyday cooking. So it is most likely that the most important aspect of spices in history was their ability to heal and perpetuate life.
Not only were many men’s fortunes made in the pursuit of spices, spices at many periods throughout history literally served as currency. Pharisees in Judea paid tithes in cumin seeds. When Alaric the Visigoth held Rome under siege in the fifth century, the ransom included 3000 pounds of peppercorns. During the fourteenth century, in Germany, one pound of nutmeg could be traded for seven fat oxen. At other points in history, rent would be paid in peppercorns, and a pound of pepper would serve to buy the freedom of a serf in France.
In researching the history of spices for IndiaOrganix's first cookbook 'Bhajji on Brighton Beach', we find a recurring theme in that virtually every spice was considered a strong aphrodisiac. The famous English herbalist Culpepper prescribed ginger for his patients “weak in the sports of Venus.” After vanilla was discovered by Cortez in Mexico and brought back to Europe, a German doctor conducted an extensive several year study to conclude very scientifically that vanilla cured impotence in men (an early viagra). Spices throughout time also seem to have been touted for their help in dieting. Apparently mankind has been dieting since the beginning of time. One must remember also, that clever marketing has also been evident since the beginning of time!