How spices fueled voyages and trade

Jordan is the country of spices, and they are all sold in bulk and at very cheap prices. For example, you can buy kawsay (a purple spice sprinkled on many Middle Eastern salads). Za’atar is a seasoning used in a large number of dishes in Arabic cuisine and is made up of a combination of some or all of these ingredients: thyme, assorted seeds, oregano, sumac, and sesame.

Spices, especially in the East, have been a distinctive feature not only of gastronomy, but also of culture. But why here? And what is special about spices?

Currently, saffron is the most expensive spice in the world: the retail price for consumers can exceed 6,000 euros per kg in the case of saffron from Iran, and even 40,000 euros per kg for French. This high price is due to the fact that at least 150,000 flowers are required to obtain one kg of saffron. It is not for nothing that saffron is also called “red gold”.

For centuries, spices were some of the most expensive and precious commodities in the world, along with gold, sand, cotton, porcelain, silk, or tea. Spices such as pepper and ginger from India, cinnamon from the island of Ceylon or nutmeg, mace and cloves from the Moluccas.

The reasons why spices were so coveted by people are various, as Lewis Dartnell explains in his book Origins:

These spices were appreciated not only to season food, but also for the aphrodisiac and medicinal properties they were considered to have. The spices came from different species of plants that grow on the tropical top of the region.

Exotic spices such as pepper, nutmeg, mace, and cloves from the Orient were much rarer in Europe, so they were also more valuable in Western markets. In the 16th century, the wars in Europe would have a great impact on the international spice trade and more specifically the Flanders War. During the 17th century, the naval development of the Dutch continued, which was accompanied by a spectacular military development. They also eliminated the obsolete barter system and established a systematic price table.

However, the French botanical delegate in Mauritius, Pierre Poivre, took advantage of the Dutch weakness to import (smuggling) clove roots, nutmeg, pepper and saffron, brought from the Moluccas. Around 1775, thanks to the botanical knowledge of the French, spice plantations began to flourish, beginning the Gallic spice trade. All this produced the end of the monopoly in the 19th century, which led to the progressive and fierce fall in prices throughout Europe.

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