The procurement of spices as explorers traveled and discovered the world was as exciting and rewarding to them as finding new lands and their inhabitants. It’s absolutely fascinating to ponder how our food and our palates have evolved. We often talk of the United States as being the melting pot of the world. We think “fondue pot” is more like it. We can experience so many cultures and so many food choices in this country….many of the differences in cuisine types are really based on the use of spice…it’s really all just meat and potatoes until we add the magic spices.
We can trace the discovery and use of spices back as far as history is recorded. There are stories of great battles and significant trading of wealth and assets for spices. As the people at World Spice tell the story, “as recently as the 1500s, the ‘Spice Wars’ were shaking out between the Portuguese and the Dutch and later the Dutch and the English, one of the most sought after spices on the wish list was nutmeg. And it was not because the Queen desired a new dessert; rather, nutmeg was highly touted as a miracle cure for the plague, which killed more than 35,000 people in London in 1603.
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 could be paid in peppercorns, and a pound of pepper could serve to buy the freedom of a serf in France.”
The use and fascination of spices traveled well beyond the kitchen walls.
While today we take for granted the good hygiene habits of most of our fellow companions, throughout periods of civilization, people did not necessarily have free access to water. In other words, a gathering of your fellow men would not be the most pleasant experience for the olfactory sense. Spices served as a way to perfume a room and the people in it.
Spices took on a whole different nuance as cooks and servants and proprietors began to mix them, cook them, burn them and even freeze them. The complexity of the spices turned everyday foods into special occasion extravaganzas. Spices were also used regularly to preserve food and for the first time in history, food could be stored in alarming volumes, thus allowing people to thrive and prosper, even in the harsh winter months.
So think about things today. We still trade, encourage sharing and distribute wealth based on spices. As restaurant people, we understand the significance of spice. Can you imagine your apple pie without cinnamon or, your baked potato or spinach quiche without salt? What about the secret dry rub for your ribs? Everything old in the spice world is new again and again and again based on your palate and use of the spice. How lucky are we that our ancestors did all the heavy lifting?
Dine stocks many different types and sizes of seasonings, spices and breading. You can concoct a new house blend for your restaurant or use one that is premixed. We can ship these spices and breading straight to your kitchen door.
So this year as you are preparing the holiday feast, in your commercial restaurant kitchen or in the nook at Grandma’s house, what you are really doing is giving a nod to the past. As you toss in the oregano and salt and grind the pepper, as you flavor butter with tarragon and rub sage on your turkey, add cinnamon and nutmeg to the sweet potatoes and on and on and on, thank your lucky stars for the abundance of your celebration and remember that spice is the variety of life. Happy Holidays and best wishes for a blessed New Year from all your friends at Dine Company – The Restaurant Store.