Scientists agree that our “species” of humans has been walking the earth for at least 100,000 years. And that civilization, as we know it, goes back at least 6 thousand years.
And, not so coincidentally, that’s just about the time of “The Big BANG!”
Of spices that is.
Before that big bang, trees were just trees, bushes just bushes, and no one had any clue, or interest, or knowledge, about just how valuable the bark, leaves, berries, flowers or roots of these plants really were.
Then, for whatever reason, BANG! Humans suddenly discovered their amazing virtues, and we’ve never looked back.
It hasn’t been an easy ride for that pepper to end up in your peppermill.
The spice trade has been part of life, and unfortunately, death.
It’s brought wealth to nations, and it has started wars.
To understand a little bit more about how we got from there to here, below is a snapshot of some of the more important and interesting sign posts along the spice trade path.
Important Dates and Events Along the Spicy Journey to Your Cupboard
When Where What
5000 Middle East Evidence of spices being used. Among the first are cinnamon, cassia, cardamom, ginger, and turmeric.
4000 Asia/Middle East The “Silk Road” becomes the most important trade route in the world, connecting Asia and the Mediterranean spice Meccas.
3000 Egypt Spices used for embalming. Frankincense and myrrh are popular.
2000 Arabia Monopoly of the spice trade for 2000+ years.
1750 Mesopotamia Clay tablets found with recipes using garlic, cumin, and coriander.
1000 Palestine Use of spices in anointing oil and incenses.
992 Arabia Queen of Sheba brings spices to King Solomon.
500 Greece Importance of spices in diet as a medicine.
200 China Cloves imported from the Spice Islands.
1st Century Rome Extravagant use of spices and development of sea-trade with India, which lasted 3 centuries.
330 Constantinople Becomes a trading metropolis, Nutmeg and cloves brought to Europe for the first time from Moluccan (Spice) Islands
500 Arabia Controlled spice trade until the Middle Ages.
1100 Europe Crusades stimulated interest in spices.
1200 England Guild of Pepperers established; merged with the Spicers.
1250 Europe Spices regarded as aphrodisiacs.
1300 Italy Marco Polo’s book stimulates interest in Oriental spices.
1350 Europe Spices used as medicines & fumigants during The Black Death.
1350 Italy Venice and Genoa now begin to control the spice trade.
1400 England The Spicers’ Guild becomes the Grocer’s Company.
1450 Turkey Controls spices; forced other sea route discoveries.
1450 Spain Columbus finds spices in the Caribbean islands.
1500 Portugal Controls spice trade after Vasco da Gama sails to India.
1500 England It’s said that dockworkers now paid bonuses in cloves!
1500 Holland The Dutch and English East India Companies come on the scene and compete with Portugal for world spice trade dominance.
1521 Spain Magellan’s expedition circumnavigates the globe.
1525 Italy Venice’s spice wealth helps finance the Renaissance.
1550 England Drake circumnavigates globe; imports spices to England.
1600 Holland Gradually takes the Spice Islands from Portugal in an attempt to monopolize spice trading.
1600 Spain Competes for spice trade.
1650 Holland Controls spice trade from East Indies.
1700 Ceylon Coffee trees planted; later, grown in Brazil.
1700 Europe Coffee, chocolate and tobacco favored over spices.
1750 Holland Destroys spices to try and create price increases.
1800 England Takes over the Spice Islands, briefly.
1800 America Pepper trade with East Indies makes millionaires in Salem, MA.
1850 Europe Spices decrease in significance a sugar becomes favored flavor.
1900 World Dietary fashions change; spices decrease in cost and importance.
Sources: UCLA History & Special Collections Library, CABI Digital Library (The Association of International Research and Development Centers for Agriculture).