The Ecology of Humans (57) Spices


A spice is some portion of a plant primarily employed for flavoring, coloring, or preserving food. A spice is often pungent or aromatic.

Several spices were among the earliest cultivated plants. This illustrates how people in prehistory understood nutritional value – something that has been largely lost by most people in modern civilization.

The 4 most expensive spices by weight are: saffron, vanilla, cardamom, and Ceylon cinnamon (not the more common Chinese cinnamon (cassia) that is so familiar).

Though it is likely spices have been used in cooking for well over 250,000 years, the earliest certain evidence of their service comes from a pot of stew made in Demark 6,100 years ago, where the cook put in some garlic mustard seed and failed to clean the pot enough to thwart later anthropologists. Various sites around the world show salt being extracted around that time, ostensibly for use with food.

The spice trade sewed different peoples together throughout the Mediterranean and nearby lands. Spices were a high-value commodity along the Silk Road, where East met West over 2,000 years ago.

The ancient Egyptians were well acquainted with a variety of spices: salt, cumin, anise, marjoram, cassia, and other exotic substances, some from trade with India. The preservative power of salt was used in making mummies.

The French never forgot the lesson. To enforce the law against suicide, a 1670 revision to the criminal code decreed that the bodies of suicides be salted, brought before a judge for conviction, and put on public display. Notorious criminals that expired in the miserable French prisons of the day would be salted and brought to trial.