Spice Trade Chronicles Introduction
Spices are cool! Spices have built empires, caused wars between countries and religions, and taught many aspiring chefs how to use them to add exotic flavors to their food.
I have compiled a series of “Chronicles” about the unbelievable journey that spices have taken all over our world. Where they come from, who discovered them and stories about them!
Beyond flavor, spices are good for you!
They have the ability to lower blood pressure, blood sugar, improve brain function and memory, and reduce inflammation, check out the power of turmeric. WOW! Herbs and spices add flavor and fragrance to dishes without adding extra fat, sugar, or salt. They provide powerful antioxidants. Use herbs like parsley, sage, rosemary, basil, thyme, and dill to flavor your food.
This brings me to my next topic, food and health.
It is so true, you are what you eat! I know I heard that growing up all the time. The marketing and growth of the food industry has really led to the need for a food revolution here in the US. So much has changed since I was a child!
When we were kids, food was simple. We brought our lunches to school every day, this usually consisted of a sandwich, bologna and cheese, or peanut butter and jelly, sometimes tuna fish, milk, an apple or other fruit, and a homemade cookie. I had a friend who’s mom would make blonde brownies all the time and he would always have this huge slab of blondie for dessert with this lunch. Yum, he made everyone jealous! I finally got the recipe out of her ages ago, I’ll see if I can find it. I think I remember it having an entire package of brown sugar in it! There was no snack in the morning and no snack in the afternoon, but we always had a playground break outside. We could go fishing down the street and catch Cod and Flounder, occasionally a Haddock. We’d pick blueberries and eat them, sour grapes climbing the cliffs next to the beach, and we hardly ever got sick! Nowadays kids are allergic to everything under the sun, and God forbid, they get out in the sun!
Today’s weight loss gurus are pretty much telling you to eat all day to keep up your metabolism and you’ll lose weight.
But in effect, this doesn’t give your body the time to digest all the food and use the nutrients it needs to function! We didn’t carry around a water bottle either, we drank from a bubbler, or the hose, and we survived just fine! I’m convinced, and there is no science behind this, but I think we need more hydration now because we’re not doing anything physical anymore, and the body needs the excess fluid to make the organs function. Your body was designed to tell you what it needs. When was the last time you can truly say you were thirsty? I don’t remember any of us being overweight when we were kids either. We won’t talk about that now, though!
When my kids were growing up throughout the mid 70’s to 80’s, I tried as best I could to adhere to cooking most of our meals at home, and having the outdoor lifestyle. This was about the time processed foods took over and everyone really thought they were awesome. They wer so fast to prepare, and didn’t use a lot of ingredients. Of course, I tried them, but always thought they tasted funny.
We became a techno society.
Fortunately, my kids were born before the age of computers, tablets and cable tv, so the normal was to go outside and get dirty. They climbed rocks and trees, rode bikes, played in the sun and sand, got a cut on their knee or elbow, and grew that much better for it. I’d like to believe they were raised with the knowledge that you have to work for anything that matters, and you don’t get anything for nothing. Nothing is free.
But unfortunately, by the time they were old enough to go off in the woods and pick berries, the blueberries and grapes were pretty much gone. Try to catch a fish for dinner and all you got were skate and crabs. Our society is pissing off Mother Nature. She is retaliating with the storms, fires, and now viruses. Wildlife is suffering, I haven’t seen a pheasant in 50 years! As the old commercial for margarine said, “It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature!” We live in such a throw away society now, even recycling takes too much energy to mush and melt everything up just to remake them again. That’s not working very well.
Waste disposal is another huge difference in the impact on the health of our planet.
There was the day when you would be driving around doing whatever, and you’d smell the local dump burning. This was usually just on weekends, as the dumps would set the garbage on fire and get rid of it. Most people would have this on their list of weekend errands, going to the dump. We’d use paper bags to line our trash cans, and never used plastic, they didn’t exist.
Then society became disposable and started making everything out of plastic because, it was cheaper? easier? I really don’t know why. But anyway, plastic is made from petroleum and therefore really bad for the planet. No wonder we have to dig deep for it. Mother nature kept it underground for a reason! So when people kept burning trash after it was mostly plastic products, (we even wrap that precious trash in plastic bags) it started ruining the ozone layer and thus the beginning of climate change. This hasn’t taken very long to happen either, only about 50 years or so. I’m sure it started before I was born, but this is when it really escalated.
So how did we fix that burning problem?
Stop burning the trash and instead, make “landfills” in our forested lands in every town that still has some space. Then what do we do? We decide to level it off after a pre-prescribed amount of time, which isn’t long enough, because plastic doesn’t decompose, and build houses on it! Oh boy, just what I wanted, to buy a house and live on top of trash. What’s that doing to our health? And just for another side, rats and bats are the carriers of disease, so without burning the excess trash, this is creating food and housing for the germ infested rodents. The natural predators of these species are also diminishing because human are destroying their natural habitats, so the rats are taking over. Thus more disease. And rats and mice flourish in these conditions and they love having babies. Free food and housing!
I grew up in the 60’s and 70’s, most everything was in glass, metal or paper.
We even had wax bags for our sandwiches. Granted, they didn’t keep them as fresh as plastic, but they sure were better for the earth. Then Tupperware came along too, more plastic. Tupperware keeps things fresh longer, therefore your chemical ridden processed food can last way longer than anything you should be putting into your body should be kept!
And my, how the grocery stores have changed! I remember only having a few cereals on the shelf as well as only a handful of crackers. Potato chips weren’t really a thing, or packaged cookies or spaghetti sauce. Now there’s a complete aisle dedicated to everything I just mentioned! All processed food, and no matter how much the manufacturer says it’s healthy, 100% whole grain or whatever, it’s still processed food!
Growing up, my mom cooked and baked pretty much everything that we ate. I am the youngest of five kids, and my mom always let me help her make cookies and pies. She made “pie crust cookies” with the left over dough after trimming the crusts. She didn’t throw very much away. And, Oh how good were the fresh blackberry pies she would make at our camp in Maine after we picked the berries? It was the prize, after sweating in the sun and getting our arms, hands and legs all scratched up from the thorns on the blackberry bushes! A quick dip in the lake took care of it all!
Weekends were for relaxing, church and cooking.
Mom would make huge pots of spaghetti sauce on Sunday chock full of meatballs, hot and sweet sausages, and sometimes she’s even put in breakfast sausages. Dad would make a big pot of baked beans on Saturdays. We’d have versions of pasta and meatballs/sausage all week. It’s funny, nowadays, I get tired of leftovers, even though I always try to recreate them into some thing different, but when we were kids, we didn’t seem to mind. Mom had this recipe for Swedish Meatball Soup that she’d toil over for two days. I’m not sure how Swedish it was, but it was so good, and she’d count the tiny meatballs as she added them to the pot. That final count always ranged about 150. It was a definite labor of love and she was always so proud of it! Fish chowder was always made at home.
Anyway, I’m getting off the subject. Just a final note on processed foods.
My mom was awesome, she’s in my heart everyday. We did have some processed foods now and then. There weren’t really many available though, we had “Kraft Dinner” that’s what mom called it, mac and cheese to everyone else, and it doesn’t taste the same now as it did back then either. Franco American Spaghetti in a can was lunch on weekends sometimes, besides Campbell’s chicken noodle soup. We didn’t really like the tomato soup, tasted canned! We never cared for cold cereal, which was limited only to Corn Flakes, Wheaties, Raisin Bran, Rice Krispies, Alphabets, and maybe Corn Chex. I remember when Lucky Charms came out, we’d just pick out all the marshmallows and then the rest would go stale and we’d throw it out! We much preferred hot oatmeal or eggs and toast. The crackers available were Saltines, Pilot crackers, and soda crackers. I think Ritz came later on, in my house anyway. I never even knew you could buy jarred spaghetti sauce until I went to eat dinner at a friend’s house and that’s what we had. I commented about the taste, it was so different than what I was used to.
So getting back to the subject of spices and health.
When I started my spice journey, I didn’t know all the qualities that spices generate until I started researching where they came from and history on them. That’s where the idea to write about the spice journey came from. I thought it was so interesting! Who knew something so common in our cupboards could hold so many legends and be good to eat too?
Spices have phytochemicals within them which have evolved within each different spice to keep away insect, fungi, parasites and pathogens. Each spice has developed its own legacy of combating these predators. That being said, these same compounds that occur to aid in combating illness in spices and herbs also help the human body to fight the same problems. Garlic, onion, allspice, and oregano have been tested rigorously in their ability to kill many different strains of bacteria. This could very well explain why more spices seem to be used in countries where the climates are the hottest. This is where foods are more apt to go bad faster than in colder climates. Many of spice’s abilities to kill bacteria is enhanced when they are mixed together creating a synergy between them which aids in bioavailablity of the phytonutrients or makes them more readily available to kill off bacteria in the human body such as Botulinum.
So whether or not the ancient cooks knew that this was happening, the spice mixtures throughout the Middle East, Africa and India actually helped to keep people healthy! When you think about it, Curry powder is popular in all the countries where the summer temps rise up to 100F. Besides the spices, they are often used with garlic, onion, ginger which are synergistically able to kill bacteria also. So with all of this combined, it is a true holistic powerhouse for healthy living. Not surprisingly, these phytochemicals’ antioxidant, antimicrobial, and antiviral properties just give you all the more reason to use and consume spices regularly.
So fill up your cabinets with a variety of spices, plant some herbs in your garden or windowsill. You’ll open up a whole new world of flavor and health for you and your loved ones.
In the pages to follow, I have taken you on a journey across Europe, Africa and Asia.
I hope you enjoy your travels and try a few new recipes. Maybe I’ve inspired you to treat your friends and family to a new type of cuisine.
Enjoy your trip!