Why did Europe need Asian spices

A brief history of the spice trade

Spices have been with people for a long, very long time. There is evidence that they were used as early as the Neolithic. Later they would become luxury goods and even trigger wars. A brief outline of the fascinating history of the spice trade.

The earliest knowledge of the use of plants as condiments in Europe dates back to the Neolithic Age. Finds in Neolithic tombs and caves suggest that herbs, for example, were used to flavor dishes.

Excavations in the Middle East discovered that there was a trade in spices several thousand years ago. Some of the spices that were found can only have reached this place of discovery through trade.

The first written evidence comes from Mesopotamia. Three clay tablets from around 1750 BC Were found on which more than 30 cooking recipes were written down. Garlic, caraway seeds and coriander played a major role. But spices were also found in Egyptian graves. At that time they were also used as ingredients for perfumes.

Asian aromatic plants first came to Europe via the Silk Road, which had existed since the Broze period. A sea route to India was discovered in the 1st century AD. From then on, the Roman Empire imported pepper directly. Prices fell and pepper spread throughout the empire.

When Constantinople rose to become a trading metropolis around 330 AD, nutmeg and cloves came to Europe for the first time. With the fall of the Roman Empire, sea trade with India also collapsed and the Silk Road regained importance.

Even then, spices were also seen as medicine. In the Middle Ages, the Benedictines were mainly concerned with spices and their effects. Magical effects were ascribed to them even into the 18th century.

With the crusades (11th-13th centuries), spices became a status symbol for the upper classes. Back then they were so precious that they were treated like jewels.

The prices kept rising. In the 15th century alone, the price of pepper rose thirty-fold on the way from India to Venice, the center of the spice trade at the time. In order to import spices cheaper, new routes and trade routes to India were sought. It was the time of great explorers like Columbus or da Gama.

Little by little, with the discovery of America, there was a revolution in taste in the ancient world. When Vasco da Gama discovered the sea route to India, a race for spices, money and power began.

Portugal became a world power overnight with da Gama's discovery as it soon took control of most of the regions that produced spices. The Dutch then claimed this place in the sun for themselves. They were entitled to every means to maintain and expand their power. They drove out the Portuguese, enslaved and mistreated the locals, and mercilessly drove up prices. They even destroyed their own goods to reduce supply and make more profit. The Dutch stayed at the top until the 18th century.

Then their monopoly collapsed. In 1770 a French official managed in an adventurous way to smuggle nutmeg and clove seedlings out of the area of ​​the Spice Islands and to cultivate them in the French colonies. At the same time, the Dutch harmed themselves through wars, corruption and debt. Spices were globalized and grown in more and more regions where the plants were not originally native. Soon the vanilla monopoly of the Spaniards also collapsed.

There was a drop in prices. In the 19th century, many people in Europe could already afford exotic spices; they became good for everyone.