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A brilliant, original history of the spice trade--and the appetites that fueled it. It was in search of the fabled Spice Islands and their cloves that Magellan charted the first circumnavigation of the globe. Vasco da Gama sailed the dangerous waters around Africa to India on a quest for Christians--and spices. Columbus sought gold and pepper but found the New World. By th A brilliant, original history of the spice trade--and the appetites that fueled it. It was in search of the fabled Spice Islands and their cloves that Magellan charted the first circumnavigation of the globe. Vasco da Gama sailed the dangerous waters around Africa to India on a quest for Christians--and spices. Columbus sought gold and pepper but found the New World. By the time these fifteenth- and sixteenth-century explorers set sail, the aromas of these savory, seductive seeds and powders had tempted the palates and imaginations of Europe for centuries. "Spice: The History of a Temptation "is a history of the spice trade told not in the conventional narrative of politics and economics, nor of conquest and colonization, but through the intimate human impulses that inspired and drove it. Here is an exploration of the centuries-old desire for spice in food, in medicine, in magic, in religion, and in sex--and of the allure of forbidden fruit lingering in the scents of cinnamon, pepper, ginger, nutmeg, mace, and clove. We follow spices back through time, through history, myth, archaeology, and literature. We see spices in all their diversity, lauded as love potions and aphrodisiacs, as panaceas and defenses against the plague. We journey from religious rituals in which spices were employed to dispel demons and summon gods to prodigies of gluttony both fantastical and real. We see spices as a luxury for a medieval king's ostentation, as a mummy's deodorant, as the last word in haute cuisine. Through examining the temptations of spice we follow in the trails of the spice seekers leading from the deserts of ancient Syria to thrill-seekers on the Internet. We discover howspice became one of the first and most enduring links between Asia and Europe. We see in the pepper we use so casually the relic of a tradition linking us to the appetites of Rome, Elizabethan England, and the pharaohs. And we capture the pleasure of spice not only at the table but in every part of life. "Spice "is a delight to be savored.


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A brilliant, original history of the spice trade--and the appetites that fueled it. It was in search of the fabled Spice Islands and their cloves that Magellan charted the first circumnavigation of the globe. Vasco da Gama sailed the dangerous waters around Africa to India on a quest for Christians--and spices. Columbus sought gold and pepper but found the New World. By th A brilliant, original history of the spice trade--and the appetites that fueled it. It was in search of the fabled Spice Islands and their cloves that Magellan charted the first circumnavigation of the globe. Vasco da Gama sailed the dangerous waters around Africa to India on a quest for Christians--and spices. Columbus sought gold and pepper but found the New World. By the time these fifteenth- and sixteenth-century explorers set sail, the aromas of these savory, seductive seeds and powders had tempted the palates and imaginations of Europe for centuries. "Spice: The History of a Temptation "is a history of the spice trade told not in the conventional narrative of politics and economics, nor of conquest and colonization, but through the intimate human impulses that inspired and drove it. Here is an exploration of the centuries-old desire for spice in food, in medicine, in magic, in religion, and in sex--and of the allure of forbidden fruit lingering in the scents of cinnamon, pepper, ginger, nutmeg, mace, and clove. We follow spices back through time, through history, myth, archaeology, and literature. We see spices in all their diversity, lauded as love potions and aphrodisiacs, as panaceas and defenses against the plague. We journey from religious rituals in which spices were employed to dispel demons and summon gods to prodigies of gluttony both fantastical and real. We see spices as a luxury for a medieval king's ostentation, as a mummy's deodorant, as the last word in haute cuisine. Through examining the temptations of spice we follow in the trails of the spice seekers leading from the deserts of ancient Syria to thrill-seekers on the Internet. We discover howspice became one of the first and most enduring links between Asia and Europe. We see in the pepper we use so casually the relic of a tradition linking us to the appetites of Rome, Elizabethan England, and the pharaohs. And we capture the pleasure of spice not only at the table but in every part of life. "Spice "is a delight to be savored.

30 review for Spice: The History of a Temptation

  1. 4 out of 5

    John

    This isn't really a history of spices, or the spice trade- rather it is about the taste for spices. It is also almost exclusively about Europe. That was a little different from what I had expected, but I did really enjoy the book. Turner doesn't really care about where the spices come from or how they got to Europe, what he wants to delve into is how Europeans felt about spices, what kinds of associations and properties were attributed to spices, and how those changed over time. How did a spice This isn't really a history of spices, or the spice trade- rather it is about the taste for spices. It is also almost exclusively about Europe. That was a little different from what I had expected, but I did really enjoy the book. Turner doesn't really care about where the spices come from or how they got to Europe, what he wants to delve into is how Europeans felt about spices, what kinds of associations and properties were attributed to spices, and how those changed over time. How did a spice like cinnamon go from being a luxury good that had powerful powers attributed to it to this cheap thing we sprinkle on toast? Turner writes about how spices really entered into European consciousness during the Roman era, when the Romans were powerful enough to get a major trading relationship going with India (and places further east). Spices were a luxury, but gradually they seeped down into the middling classes, especially when it came to really special events, like funereal rites and religious rituals. The wealthy ate cinnamon, the middling classes might have been able to afford oils or perfumes with cinnamon for special occasions. Then later, after Rome fell, the European kingdoms still had all these associations with spices but the spices were much harder to get. So at that point ONLY kings and popes and other super wealthy people could have them. Spices developed mystical, magical connotations. So Europeans tried desperately to get the East so they could trade directly and make money from spices, and when they finally achieved this, prices dropped and spices became common and nobody cared anymore. This is also one of those books with all kinds of crazy anecdotes from history, for example, there is a long discussion of preserving bodies and the use of spice in preserving bodies for burial or transport for burial. Then Turner digresses into entertaining but disgusting stories of medieval people trying to preserve important bodies long enough to get come from the Crusades or pilgrimages. Turner writes that one time, this bishop died far from home and his men tried to boil him to preserve the body, but all they ended up with was "bishop stock". Ha ha.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Jen

    I desperately wanted this book to be better. I wanted to engross myself in the history of spices and find out how we started using them and why. Unfortunately, although I'm sure the information is somewhere in there, it's so badly organized I'm not sure I could find it. The timeline jumps around so dramatically that it's almost impossible to keep up. You start off in with Christopher Columbus, now you're in Rome, nope you're in the Middle Ages, nope now you're in ancient Egypt, nope now you're in I desperately wanted this book to be better. I wanted to engross myself in the history of spices and find out how we started using them and why. Unfortunately, although I'm sure the information is somewhere in there, it's so badly organized I'm not sure I could find it. The timeline jumps around so dramatically that it's almost impossible to keep up. You start off in with Christopher Columbus, now you're in Rome, nope you're in the Middle Ages, nope now you're in ancient Egypt, nope now you're in Rome again. GAHHHHHHH The author divides the book into how the spices were used, which seems a good system. But even within that system the inconsistencies boggle. The back and forth between time lines and cultures left me exhausted and without any coherency as to what spices were used when and why and by who. The last chapter, when the author discusses the downfall of spices is probably the best and the most interesting, and almost earned the book the third star. However, the book did make me crave some really good spice cake.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Dion Yulianto

    Tiga tahun lalu, saya membeli buku ini sebagai hadiah ulang tahun saya sendiri. Harganya cukup mahal kala itu (Rp110.000 dan tidak ada diskon), jauh melampau limit dramatis saya yang hanya Rp80.000 perbuku. Tapi, sesekali nggak apa-apa deh toh buat ulang tahun juga (belinya pakai voucer Gramedia pulak *jitak*). Butuh tiga tahun menyelesaikannya, dan setelah membaca habis buku ini, uang Rp110.000 sungguh tidak ada apa-apanya jika dibandingkan dengan tenaga dan dana yang dikeluarkan oleh penulis u Tiga tahun lalu, saya membeli buku ini sebagai hadiah ulang tahun saya sendiri. Harganya cukup mahal kala itu (Rp110.000 dan tidak ada diskon), jauh melampau limit dramatis saya yang hanya Rp80.000 perbuku. Tapi, sesekali nggak apa-apa deh toh buat ulang tahun juga (belinya pakai voucer Gramedia pulak *jitak*). Butuh tiga tahun menyelesaikannya, dan setelah membaca habis buku ini, uang Rp110.000 sungguh tidak ada apa-apanya jika dibandingkan dengan tenaga dan dana yang dikeluarkan oleh penulis untuk meriset dan menyelesaikan penulisan buku ini. Sungguh, harga segitu juga tidak ada apa-apanya dibandingkan perjuangan dan petualangan yang harus ditempuh oleh bangsa Eropa di Abad Pertengahan demi mendapatkan rempah-rempah. Lada, pala, cengkih, merica, kapur barus, jahe, ketumbar, jintan; sungguh tidak disangka bahwa bahan-bahan yang biasa kita temukan di dapur ini ternyata memiliki sejarah yang sangat panjang. Tidak sedikit darah yang tumpah, uang yang dihabiskan, emas dan permata yang digadaikan demi mendapatkan sejumput lada atau beberapa ons pala. Sejarah telah membuktikan bahwa pencarian rempah-rempah bangsa Eropa ke pusatnya di Maluku turut menjadi awal dari babakan sejarah yang kemudian mengharu-biru perjalanan bangsa kita: penjajahan. Dimulai dari Portugis, lalu Spanyol, kemudian Inggris, dan akhirnya Belanda. Kepulauan Nusantara telah menjadi bulan-bulanan dan rebutan dari bangsa-bangsa tersebut. Dari yang semuka hanya demi mendapatkan pasokan rempah, kemudian berubah menjadi niat untuk menjajah. Mengapa barang seremeh sebiji pala dan sejumput lada bisa kemudian menjadi salah satu bahan yang turut menggerakkan sejarah dunia? Buku Sejarah Rempah karya Jack Turner ini menjawabnya dengan sedemikian detail untuk pembaca. Dengan runtut, dituliskannya berbagai peristiwa dalam sejarah yang berkaitan dengan rempah-rempah: betapa dulu lada sangat digemari di Prancis dan Inggris, betapa Cleopatra dan syekh-syehk di Arabia lama begitu tergantung pada cengkih dan pala untuk memanaskan rumah tangga mereka, juga tentang aroma rempah yang konon bisa menghalau udara jahat yang membawa penyakit (tentu saja kala itu virus penyakit belum ditemukan). Inilah yang membuat rempah-rempah sedemikian berharga sehingga kadang nilainya lebih tinggi dari emas. Menyusul jatuhnya Konstantinopel ke tangan pasukan Turki pada tahun 1495 (saya lupa tahunnya, CMIIW ya), pasokan rempah ke Eropa semakin sedikit karena kota itu merupakan penghubung utama antara Barat dan Timur. Selama ini, pasokan rempah dari nusantara dan India datang ke Eropa lewat Jalur Sutra atau lewat Laut Merah sebelum kemudian singgah di Konstantinopel. Jatuhnya benteng terakhir Bizantium itu menjadikan pasokan rempah ke Eropa semakin jarang, sehingga bisa ditebak, efeknya harganya langsung melonjak tajam. Padahal, rempah kala itu sangat disukai (bukannya dibutuhkan kalau kita baca bab terakhir buku ini) sebagai sesuatu yang mahal, bumbu penyedap bagi masakan Eropa yang hambar, bahkan untuk upacara keagamaan.Inilah yang kemudian mendorong bangsa Eropa untuk mencari langsung rempah-rempah ke sumber aslinya, yakni ke Kepulauan Nusantara. Salah satu babakan sejarah yang mendorong datangnya abad penjelajahan samudra, penemuan benua Amerika,dan (sedihnya) era kolonialisme dan penjajahan. Mungkin, kaitan antara rempah dan penjajahan sudah banyak disinggung di buku lain. Tapi di buku ini, isinya tidak hanya itu. Ada banyak sekali peristiwa sejarah yang kita (eh saya ding) tidak tahu, peristiwa-peristiwa kecil di sebuah biara terpencil di Prancis abad 10, atau di sebuah hutan Eropa ketika seorang Raja besar tewas karena salah mengonsumsi ikan. Penulis menyitir banyak sekali dugaan menarik dan keliru tentang rempah, juga tentang berbagai kebiasaan aneh (dan kadang lucu) yang masih banyak dianut bangsa Eropa di abad pertengahan dan masa sebelumnya. Juga, tentang kegunaan rempah-rempah dalam banyak segi. Paling menarik tentu bahasan tentang rempah-rempah sebagai bumbu pemanas di tempat tidur. Bukan hanya konon-kononan, tapi penulis mengisahkan banyak sekali kisah-kisah yang terasa nyata tentang para raja, ratu, dan penguasa legendaris yang menggunakan rempah sebagai aroma pembangkit kekuatan. Kemudian, efek dan manfaat itu diselaraskan dengan efek medis atau penemuan terkini tentang kandungan-kandungan dalam lada atau merica. Kayaknya berat, tapi enggak kok, membaca buku ini santai banget, seperti ikut bertualang ke dunia rempah-rempah yang hangat dan menggoda. Buku yang komplet menurut saya, dan bisa dibaca sampai selesai (walau kudu dicicil) karena narasinya yang berbeda dari buku-buku referensi biasa.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Mike

    I really wanted to like this book because I think the history of commodities (their production, trade, and use) is interesting, but I just couldn't get my heart into this book. The book is rife with really interesting facts (such as how pepper used to be a sign of wealth until it became widely available and a different set of spices became the new sign of wealth) and does a nice job cataloguing the development of the spice trade, but suffers from how these facts and stories are organized. This b I really wanted to like this book because I think the history of commodities (their production, trade, and use) is interesting, but I just couldn't get my heart into this book. The book is rife with really interesting facts (such as how pepper used to be a sign of wealth until it became widely available and a different set of spices became the new sign of wealth) and does a nice job cataloguing the development of the spice trade, but suffers from how these facts and stories are organized. This book could use a better editor because the information was very interesting but the narrative seemed to jump around a lot. The book did not flow (which, as anyone who has read Dune knows, is what the spice must do) and it was difficult to get settled into a line of thinking.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Antun Karlovac

    Maybe I'm judging this book too much by its title. If the title was "An Inquiry Into the History and Uses of Spices and their Impact on Human Development Trade", I would not have rated it so poorly. But then I probably wouldn't have picked it up either. However because the title is "Spice: The History of a Temptation", I expected a microhistory. Like "Salt", "Cod", "Gunpowder", etc. I expected a book that's fast-paced, packed with information that flows easily, and is critically edited. But that' Maybe I'm judging this book too much by its title. If the title was "An Inquiry Into the History and Uses of Spices and their Impact on Human Development Trade", I would not have rated it so poorly. But then I probably wouldn't have picked it up either. However because the title is "Spice: The History of a Temptation", I expected a microhistory. Like "Salt", "Cod", "Gunpowder", etc. I expected a book that's fast-paced, packed with information that flows easily, and is critically edited. But that's not how this book reads. While it was extremely detailed and no doubt accurate, the language felt far too slow and laborious. For example, the chapter on spice as (perceived) medicine rambled on and kept giving many quotations in old English beyond what I felt were really needed to convey the message. I couldn't finish it.

  6. 5 out of 5

    John

    I really wanted to like this one, as it had a promising start, but mired into too much historical detail for me to do anything but skim of my way through most of it.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Danceswithwords

    I found this book disappointing for a couple of different reasons. Spices are, unlike salt, not strictly necessary; they're a luxury good. Turner's discussion of the ancient spice trade was the most interesting part of the book for me, because he dug into the intersection of luxury trade and political economy and the way markets in goods like spices established trade routes between east and west over what was, at the time, staggering distances. But by the time he gets to the medieval spice trade I found this book disappointing for a couple of different reasons. Spices are, unlike salt, not strictly necessary; they're a luxury good. Turner's discussion of the ancient spice trade was the most interesting part of the book for me, because he dug into the intersection of luxury trade and political economy and the way markets in goods like spices established trade routes between east and west over what was, at the time, staggering distances. But by the time he gets to the medieval spice trade, the book started reading like a laundry list of historical factoids. It also started focusing almost solely on Europe, and most discussion of spices in non-European location involved European conquest, European politics, and barely a mention of the impact of that same spice trade on the local populations. I was particularly staggered by the way India, in this book, is reduced to nothing more than a few ports with European presence. Surely the use of spice and the history of the spice trade in India (and, for that matter, a lot of other places) is something with a rich historical record, and worth exploring?

  8. 4 out of 5

    Amanda

    As traders of the old world charted new territory in their quest for spices, Turner explores the reasons why spice ruled both the imagination and the economy for centuries in a heretofore unheard of depth. From pragmatic to mystic, each narrative gives an engrossing tale of how each spice held its power, and its price, as well as how spice’s reign came to an end. The multitude of facts and anecdotes is one of the best facets of Turner’s book; however, the best thing about this book is also the w As traders of the old world charted new territory in their quest for spices, Turner explores the reasons why spice ruled both the imagination and the economy for centuries in a heretofore unheard of depth. From pragmatic to mystic, each narrative gives an engrossing tale of how each spice held its power, and its price, as well as how spice’s reign came to an end. The multitude of facts and anecdotes is one of the best facets of Turner’s book; however, the best thing about this book is also the worst. While every section is entertaining, the book lacks a cohesive argument interwoven throughout the whole, which leaves the reader with an appetite for more. Definitely a recommendation, but with a directed focus, would have been 5 stars.

  9. 5 out of 5

    SB

    Interesting bits for my forthcoming novel :p : -The king of Gale gave 150 quintals of cinnamon in tribute to foreign traders -Malacca was the richest port in the East (the name is probably derived from the Arabic malakat). Malacca was the choke point through which all eastern spices headed west; 'whoever is the lord of Malacca has his hand on the throat of Venice.' Very few people had been here, and the few European travellers who had, painted a tale straight from Sinbad's voyages -Spices only came Interesting bits for my forthcoming novel :p : -The king of Gale gave 150 quintals of cinnamon in tribute to foreign traders -Malacca was the richest port in the East (the name is probably derived from the Arabic malakat). Malacca was the choke point through which all eastern spices headed west; 'whoever is the lord of Malacca has his hand on the throat of Venice.' Very few people had been here, and the few European travellers who had, painted a tale straight from Sinbad's voyages -Spices only came into European hands through its ports, with the greatest volume of traffic passing through Alexandria and the Levant to Italy. It was often safer and faster for Venetian and Genoese galleys to carry the spices out of the Mediterranean , through the straits of Gibraltar and up and around the Iberian peninsula before docking into view of St Paul's -With regards to the spice trade in medieval times, when Rome faltered, the Arabs took over, "and the Indian Ocean became a Muslim lake, home to the seaborne civilisation that gave rise to the tales of Sinbad and his voyages to the magical realms of spice, giant birds and monsters, genii and gold." -In Roman times, spices were seen as "expensive, enfeebling, Eastern and effeminising,", with many regarding merchants as mercenary scrooges, who in the face of gigantic storms would claim, "'it's only a summer storm,' and is pitched overboard and swallowed by the waves, still clutching his purse between his teeth as he gasps his last breath." -Spices were a sign of status and spices were often included with official correspondence, a practice that endured into the late Middle Ages -The Arabs often used dhows to transport their goods (find out more about dhows!) -By camel and dhow, traders and mariners fanned out east even to China and the Moluccas; there were also many Arab-speaking merchants in Sri Lanka (Ceylon), "where there were spices, there were Muslims." Alexandria flourished under Arab rule and formed part of the spice journey west and Byzantium remained in communication with the spice routes right up until its final capture by the Ottomans in 1453. Caravans with eastern goods travelled through the deserts of central Asia, Persia, and Arabia, transferring their goods into Byzantine hands at any of the Black Sea ports. To the south, Byzantine merchants bought spices from Muslim merchants at entrepots in Anatolia or the Levant -Generally, spices were ferried from Malabar across the Indian Ocean, around the Horn of Africa and north up the Red Sea. Some were unloaded at the Red Sea port of Jiddah, then preceded by caravan to Levantine outlets via Mecca and Medina -During the Papal ban, the spice route was redirected from Muslim lands (Egypt) to the Christian port of Lajazzo in Armenia; Europeans ended up paying a little more for their spices, but then went back to trading in Egypt once the ban was lifted. The risk for merchants in transporting spices was high, but so was the reward and Turner describes spice merchants as the Rockerfellers of their day! -Genova was heavily built up by the Spice trade and its main cathedral San Lorenzo was built from spice trade wealth -Price ceilings on the cost of pepper were introduced by Parliament to combat the rapacious greed of merchants; most seafaring men carried around a small bag of pepper on their person (having exhumed their bodies later, we now know this)

  10. 5 out of 5

    K.

    3.5 stars. A fascinating if slightly wordy history of the use of spices from the ancient world to the eighteenth century. The book is broken up really nicely - it starts out with a discussion of the European expeditions to the east Indies and the establishment of the Dutch East India Company. The remainder of the book is divided into three sections: Palate, Body, and Spirit. The first focuses on the use of spices in food, from the Roman Empire through Medieval Europe. The second examines the use 3.5 stars. A fascinating if slightly wordy history of the use of spices from the ancient world to the eighteenth century. The book is broken up really nicely - it starts out with a discussion of the European expeditions to the east Indies and the establishment of the Dutch East India Company. The remainder of the book is divided into three sections: Palate, Body, and Spirit. The first focuses on the use of spices in food, from the Roman Empire through Medieval Europe. The second examines the use of spices as medicine, as perfume and as sex aids (got issues keeping it up? Rub some pepper on your dick and shove a lump of ginger up your arse!), primarily in Medieval times. There's also some discussion of the Middle East's use of spices in a Body sense at the same time. The final section examines the use of spices in religion over time, from covering the smell of rotting offerings in ancient times to the use of spices in the incense that's used in churches today. The book wraps up with the fall of the spice trade when the hold of the Dutch East India Company was finally broken by some sneaky Frenchmen nicking a bunch of clove and nutmeg saplings and planting them in various French colonies, and how today Indonesia - once the source of the vast majority of the world's spices - is now an importer rather than an exporter. If you're looking for a book that involves a strict chronology of the spice trade over the years, this isn't the book for you. It's about the USE of spices more than it's about the procuring of those spices. And it was pretty damned fascinating.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Amanda

    This was more like a 2.5. Turner writes well, but writes immensely long chapters. Reads much like a history thesis gone on, and on, and on, it is so comprehensive and rooted in primary sources. His thesis was a little odd, too, and I don't quite think he succeeded in parsing the desire that drove most of Western Europe spice-crazy, as he intended to do. But he was close. Dense and interesting, but long.

  12. 5 out of 5

    erik

    I loved the first half of the book, which was focused on exploration and the spice trade. The second half seemed to drag on and on with tales and details that were less compelling to me. I often find this to be the case in this type of nonfiction, so there's a good chance that my attention span is to blame, not the author.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Christina!

    I stopped trying to follow the narrative or make sense of the timeline of this book about 50 pages in. There is SO MUCH information crammed in here, in - to me - such a disjointed fashion. There are a ton of fun anecdotes, crazy historical characters, and the legacies of the spices themselves that are fascinating...just let it all wash over you and don't try to make sense of it.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Nancy

    Probably not going to finish this book. It's an interesting disorganized collection of notes on spices and whatever else the author decided to throw into the kitchen sink. It might be a good resource for someone who is interesting in writing an engaging account of the history of spices.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Bookmarks Magazine

    Critics agree that Turner knows his spices. In this first book, he proves himself a skillful researcher, as comfortable with medieval resources as he is with electronic ones. For many, Turner's wide knowledge and his flair for the anecdote

  16. 5 out of 5

    Jenifer Perry

    Fascinating history of spices. I had to stop reading about 2/3 of the way through because I just wanted to eat peppercorns every time I picked up the book.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Marie Flanigan

    Fascinating subject, uneven writing. Parts of this book are very readable and super interesting. Other parts lag and get bogged down, which is too bad because it's a riveting topic.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Sajith Kumar

    From time immemorial man went in search of taste. Appeal to the palate was his prime motive in scouring the face of the planet and coming up with spices that attribute a strong flavor to food. The origins of spices are shrouded in mystery, but equally amazing is its discovery. Even before navigational aids and maps came along, ancient man found out that pepper grows only on the Malabar Coast of India, cinnamon in Sri Lanka alone and nutmeg on the Tidor and Tarnate islands of the Indonesian archi From time immemorial man went in search of taste. Appeal to the palate was his prime motive in scouring the face of the planet and coming up with spices that attribute a strong flavor to food. The origins of spices are shrouded in mystery, but equally amazing is its discovery. Even before navigational aids and maps came along, ancient man found out that pepper grows only on the Malabar Coast of India, cinnamon in Sri Lanka alone and nutmeg on the Tidor and Tarnate islands of the Indonesian archipelago. They collected it from there and sold it in an international market that never seemed satiated. Global trade was an established phenomenon even before national boundaries solidified. Spices were widely used in ancient Egypt and Greece, where they were used for flavouring food even though not possessing any nutritional value, for medicinal purposes, as aphrodisiacs and for flaunting one’s wealth in view of its astronomical prices. Spices were sold for the end user at a multiple of nearly ten times what it was worth in its original home. The huge profit earned by the middlemen was the real reason for the spirit of exploration that gripped Europe at the end of the Middle-Ages. The voyages of Columbus, Vasco da Gama and Magellan changed the course of modern history. Jack Turner, who is an Australian author and a television documentary host, narrates the tale of what spices are, how they came to the prominent position which they occupied till the early modern period and finally, how they lost their relevance in a world increasingly in possession of other exotic varieties of foods that flowed from the New World. Spices seeded the growth of modernity. Europe’s departure from the Middle-Ages to Renaissance is marked by Columbus’ travels in search of a new route to the Spice Islands by going west, as the eastern land route was controlled by hostile Arabs. He discovered America, but mistook it for Asia. A lot of spices, some even resembling the more familiar ones, were found in the new islands, but failure to keep his word on delivering it to the Spanish court eroded his credibility. He was restrained during one of his journeys and returned as a prisoner. King Manuel of Portugal, who was the son-in-law of King Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain, had other ideas of reaching India. Vasco da Gama attempted and succeeded in rounding the Cape of Good Hope and reached India. Within a brief time, he transferred the bitter enmity that existed between the Portuguese and Arabs to the Indian coast as well. With the help of superior naval firepower, the Portuguese became the masters of the Arabian Sea. All traders needed to obtain a passport from them to ply their vessels. The foundations of colonialism that was to transform the world in the next four centuries were being laid. The Dutch and the English followed suit and successfully dislodged the Iberians. They established their trading colonies all along the mysterious archipelago of present day Indonesia, including Tarnate and Tidore islands of the Moluccas, which was the original home of nutmeg and in Bandas where clove originally grew. We usually associate global trading to a modern phenomenon. Readers will be pleasantly surprised to learn that various parts of the globe were in continuous touch since a very early period. Spices from Asia were found in Babylonian and Egyptian remains from the early first millennium BCE. Hippalus found the monsoon winds ideal for navigation, for crossing the sea from Arabia. The spices followed two routes upon reaching the coasts of the Red Sea. One part went downstream through the Nile, reaching Alexandria and from there to Europe. The other part followed caravan routes along the Arabian Desert to reach Constantinople and other Black Sea ports. The trade suffered in the third century CE following the emaciation of the Roman Empire, which was the biggest customer of the spice trade. We read of Pliny’s complaint about the outflow of gold from the empire for a craze which he believed to be superficial. The Arabs stepped into the shoes of the traders once Rome was extinguished. As supply dwindled, spices acquired mysterious overtures and fantastic tales were spun to explain their powers and appeal. By the early second millennium, spice trade picked up again through Arab middlemen. Turner puts in an impressive array of uses for which spices were utilized. Due to its prohibitive cost, poor people couldn’t afford it in their diet. The author’s research into medieval literature and cook books to unearth the varied applications of spices in the culinary pattern of Europe is quite impressive. The book disagrees with the common notion that spices were used to mask the foul taste of slowly decomposing medieval meat which had not seen a refrigerator yet. Meat was a delicacy only the rich could afford and they were not sensitive to the cost. Spices were also used as aphrodisiacs widely. Pre-Christian religions of the West extensively employed it for smoking as incense to fill the divine chamber with fragrance. Christianity at first denounced its use, surmising that it would evoke memories of a non-Christian past in its fresh converts. Later, when Paganism was completely rooted out, the Church didn’t hesitate to readopt them to fulfill those same roles which they had performed for the heathen. Spices’ fall from grace was rather swift, which Turner explains in the epilogue. Many factors contributed to the decline, the most weighty being its loss of prestige and mystery owing to the extension of its cultivation to other tropical colonies of the western powers. Seedlings were smuggled out of the Spice Islands and successfully planted elsewhere. As the supply soared, prices fell and they became commonplace. With the appearance of edible crops from the Americas, the culinary variety of Europe widened and underwent a profound change. American chilli which grew vigorously in Europe as well, served as a replacement of pepper. Other vegetables like potato and tomato conquered fields further ashore. Tobacco and sugar provided other avenues of indulgence. On the medicinal front, invention of scientific procedures and new drugs proved the futility of spices. With the emergence of the nation state, the concept of national cuisine employing material available in the country became predominant. The diet of the aristocracy and the common man merged as ideas about man’s fraternity gained ground. With the advent of the modern era, farming preferences also changed. Modern Indonesia, in which the sole island that harboured cloves till the medieval period, now imports cloves! The book is a delight to read, with witty remarks abounding throughout the text. A good set of photographic plates give a visual feel to the ideas expressed in the book. Caricatures of spice plants drawn by 16th century artists add further depth to Europe’s affinity to spices. Turner has included an extensive list of sources and bibliography for interested readers to undertake further research. A comprehensive index adds to the book’s utility. The book’s diction is superlative, in fact a little too good for some readers who might find it difficult to follow the argument. The author refutes the much widely known fact that spices were widely used in Europe to preserve meat during the long winter months, but don’t offer anything in place of it. Spices’ exotic appeal was the only thing that is being suggested for its extensive usage. A brief mention of the highly volatile chemicals which accords spices its distinct flavor would have added interest to the text besides giving it a solid anchor on science. The book is highly recommended.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Patricia

    WOW. As I started selecting the categories that would apply to this work, I realised how much pungent information is contained within its pages. History, exploration, food, alchemy, sex, adventurers, science, medicine, cooking, culinary history, economics, ships, politics, travel, literature--the list is endless, which confirms the thoughts that came to mind as I read it--the amount of information in this volume is absolutely amazing. It is such a compendium of information about spice (and every WOW. As I started selecting the categories that would apply to this work, I realised how much pungent information is contained within its pages. History, exploration, food, alchemy, sex, adventurers, science, medicine, cooking, culinary history, economics, ships, politics, travel, literature--the list is endless, which confirms the thoughts that came to mind as I read it--the amount of information in this volume is absolutely amazing. It is such a compendium of information about spice (and everything related), that it is going on a bibliography I oversee for museum docents who guide in our Asian Civilisations Museum. Telling stories is integral to being a good museum guide; stories make facts (and artefacts) come alive, and this volume is packed with them. I started making a list and gave up on page 28 of 310. Here are stories of how spices inspired, were used and misused. How Europeans finally found their way to Asian waters. Why the Dutch East Indies Company was founded (Spain swallowed up Portugal and Holland's easy access to spices was lost). Here I found a description of the elusive nard, an exotic plant I had read of but didn't know what it was used for (ancient perfumes and unguents). Anyone interested in early Portuguese explorers will thoroughly enjoy Turner's spice-focused history (Chapter 1, "The Spice Seekers"). References to the likes of Pliny, Tiberius, Helen of Troy, Ovid, Pope Boniface VIII, 'Margaret of Norway', monks, theologians, kings, buccaneers pepper every page. Story follows story, and the recipes and menus.... Furthermore, the notes and bibliography at the end are worth more than their weight in cinnamon (had we lived in the 1500s). Don't overlook them. Some readers may feel that there are sections when the author errs a bit too much on the side of some of the writers of recipes he recounts (when cooks were excessively heavy-handed with their spices) and the details can weigh down the narrative at times, but just flip ahead a few pages and you'll find your appetite whetted again. (And I suspect these are exactly the sections I will need to find and read at a later date.) At any rate, this is a spoiled person's complaint -- too rich the broth! -- for this is a wonderful, entertaining (and dare I say it, educational), volume that I was delighted to find on my favourite bookstore's shelves.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Iset

    I have to say I enjoyed this book a lot more than I thought I would. I picked it up mainly because right now I am attempting to clear out my to-be-read list somewhat and trying to cross off everything that I think will be of lesser interest to me (in comparison to other books on my list). I am a historian, and I do like spices, so I knew I wasn’t picking up something I would dislike, but even so I expected it to be more of a ‘okay let’s get this vaguely interesting read done, shall we’ sort of a I have to say I enjoyed this book a lot more than I thought I would. I picked it up mainly because right now I am attempting to clear out my to-be-read list somewhat and trying to cross off everything that I think will be of lesser interest to me (in comparison to other books on my list). I am a historian, and I do like spices, so I knew I wasn’t picking up something I would dislike, but even so I expected it to be more of a ‘okay let’s get this vaguely interesting read done, shall we’ sort of a book. For which reason I’ve been using it as my daily workout read – just something to distract the mind and pass the time, but not so engrossing that it was a hindrance. Well, it wasn’t a hindrance at all, but I found myself churning through a good chunk of it every day, and always enjoying it. Turner organises the book by theme rather than chronology, so it starts off with an exploration of the race to find the distant origins of spice, before explaining in subsequent sections just why people have been so driven by spice – indicator of social status, myths about medical properties, economic boom, anxieties about decadence, legendary aphrodisiacs, the substance of the gods, not to mention exoticism in cooking. I note that some reviewers found this approach confusing – I did not, although as a historian I admit I have a keen sense of the order of events in history, so I’m rarely thrown by mixing-and-matching like this. The book is surprisingly thoroughly researched too, with the author drawing upon a wealth of sources – and the book actually stops at 79% on kindle, the rest is notes and index. Yet for me it never felt dry reading; the anecdotes are kept lively and entertaining. There’s some great overlooked historical nuggets in here that I never knew about before and just loved; the Emperor Nero’s gold-encrusted peas, for example, or the life of Francisco Serrao, a Portuguese sailor who, when left in charge of an expedition to find and supply spices from the Moluccas back to Portugal, not only succeeded in his task but negotiated an amicable arrangement with the local sultan, married his daughter, and decided to spend the rest of his life out there. Fascinating stuff. All in all, definitely a book I enjoyed. 8 out of 10

  21. 4 out of 5

    Calensûl

    Me ha encantado este libro. Revela una faceta de la historia que pasa completamente desapercibida en los libros de texto, y no sólo eso, sino que lo hace de forma amena, con múltiples ejemplos y divertidas anécdotas. En las partes del libro dedicadas a los usos de las especias en la cocina, la medicina y la religión, estos ejemplos y anécdotas, aunque fascinantes, resultan demasiados y sin estructura. Se habría agradecido una consistencia temporal dentro de cada sección, o una demarcación más cla Me ha encantado este libro. Revela una faceta de la historia que pasa completamente desapercibida en los libros de texto, y no sólo eso, sino que lo hace de forma amena, con múltiples ejemplos y divertidas anécdotas. En las partes del libro dedicadas a los usos de las especias en la cocina, la medicina y la religión, estos ejemplos y anécdotas, aunque fascinantes, resultan demasiados y sin estructura. Se habría agradecido una consistencia temporal dentro de cada sección, o una demarcación más clara de los temas de cada uno de los capítulos dentro de cada sección. Esto no sucede en el primer capítulo y el epílogo, que narran respectivamente el auge y la normalización del comercio global de especias. Estas partes me resultan especialmente llamativas, al haber crecido en España, pues revelan una parte importante de la motivación de los grandes descubridores para hacer sus viajes, que suele quedar oculta bajo las consecuencias, como la violencia, las enfermedades y las nuevas especies. He echado en falta más desarrollo del tema desde el punto de vista asiático. Se habla de las diferentes zonas de Asia desde un punto de vista europeo y el efecto que Europa tuvo allí, y se señalan pocas referencias del uso que se les daba en los lugares de origen. Con todo, una fantástica lectura que anima a aprender. ¡Muchas gracias por leer!

  22. 5 out of 5

    Pablo Hidalgo

    Un ensayo sorprendente en el que de un tema aparentemente carente de interés Jack Turner consigue elaborar un magnífico relato de más de 400 páginas repletas de anécdotas, curiosidades y asombrosos datos históricos de cómo unos productos que hoy día apenas percibimos como algo especial cambiaron el mundo y a sus gentes. Un ensayo sobre vicio y tentación así como de beatitud y pureza; repleto de aromas y sugerentes olores que desbordan y rebosan en cada una de las páginas. Un recorrido sobre la i Un ensayo sorprendente en el que de un tema aparentemente carente de interés Jack Turner consigue elaborar un magnífico relato de más de 400 páginas repletas de anécdotas, curiosidades y asombrosos datos históricos de cómo unos productos que hoy día apenas percibimos como algo especial cambiaron el mundo y a sus gentes. Un ensayo sobre vicio y tentación así como de beatitud y pureza; repleto de aromas y sugerentes olores que desbordan y rebosan en cada una de las páginas. Un recorrido sobre la importancia de las especias en la época de los grandes descubrimientos, cuando fueron el motor de quizá las hazañas más destacables de su tiempo, para posteriormente ofrecernos la imagen que tenían los europeos en tiempos del Imperio Romano y a continuación de cómo fueron idolatradas y repudiadas mil y una veces. Un viaje sensual a través de las semillas y flores de las tan edénicas plantas de Oriente, símbolo en su momento de los olores del Paraíso, remedio para virilizar un pene pequeño en otro.

  23. 4 out of 5

    John Dougall

    Spice is a well researched and well written book on the history of how spice affected the world through the ages covering fact, myth, legend, religion, politics, trade, discovery, eating habits and more. Although the book is easy to read and understand, it also challenged me as I learned new things and prompted me to further research some subject matter that caught my attention. This is the type of work that I enjoy. Packed with useful information and history. I will try working with some aroma Spice is a well researched and well written book on the history of how spice affected the world through the ages covering fact, myth, legend, religion, politics, trade, discovery, eating habits and more. Although the book is easy to read and understand, it also challenged me as I learned new things and prompted me to further research some subject matter that caught my attention. This is the type of work that I enjoy. Packed with useful information and history. I will try working with some aromatics, perfumes and the making of incense with the information from this book. I recommend this book to readers that are interested in spice and how spice shaped the world. This book will certainly take its place in the reference section of my library.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Agustina Adine

    At first I read this for a history assignment, and boy, I'm in love. I actually really like this book, it explains how spices affect many things in history, in each different aspects that the writer, Jack Turner, wrote in each separate chapters. It is kind of confusing to read this sometimes, because it switches context without any segmentation. I see that some people are hating on this book for not explaining the spesific history for each spices, I'm ok with that actually. The thing that this b At first I read this for a history assignment, and boy, I'm in love. I actually really like this book, it explains how spices affect many things in history, in each different aspects that the writer, Jack Turner, wrote in each separate chapters. It is kind of confusing to read this sometimes, because it switches context without any segmentation. I see that some people are hating on this book for not explaining the spesific history for each spices, I'm ok with that actually. The thing that this book is easy to read already makes it has a plus point.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Alfa M.

    KURANG AJAR INI BUKU NGEHE BANGET. Sangat informatif dan, yang terpenting, NGEHE. Kocak, witty, dan penuh elaborasi yang sangat menghibur. Elaborasinya terkesan trivial banget, seolah penting nggak penting, tapi mekanisme elaborasinya sangat runtut. Buku ini tentang sejarah rempah. SECARA HARFIAH, tentang rempah. Kadang bisa bikin ketawa, tapi yang terpenting banyak bagian yang bisa bikin kita semakin paham mengapa rempah pada zaman segitu sangat diagungkan.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Patsy

    An engaging cross continental read about the history of spices from ancient times through the Renaissance. Jack Turner explores the use of spices for "cooking, medicine, worship, and the arts of love."

  27. 4 out of 5

    Anjar Priandoyo

    The third book I read after Taste of conquest; City of Fortune; and Spice. This is detail about spices contrast with other book that give historical point of view from war or people. The best for microhistory of spice so far

  28. 4 out of 5

    Char Freund

    Read as a companion book after reading How We Got to Now for book club. Interesting but just ok. Pro was able to pick up and read short chapter now and then. Con was that it is too much like a research report.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Rafelmenmell

    Libro correcto. Aunque nada memorable.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Judi

    fascinating linkages of why spices held the attention of so many for so long

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