Asian Native Products; Spices

The Historical Background of Asian Native Products, Spices

Herbs vs Spices

Many people mistakenly treat spices and herbs as alike in similar ways. However, it’s important to recognize their differences. Herbs encompass the plant’s verdant, leafy components, like rosemary, basil, thyme, sage, oregano, and parsley. On the other hand, spices comprise the root, fruit, seed, stem, bark, or flower of trees or plants, such as ginger, turmeric, black pepper, cinnamon, and star anise. This distinction between spices and herbs has a historical basis. Herbs, derived from European gardens, woodlands, and hedgerows, come at a lower cost. In contrast, spices are from Asia although their origin is still argued, they were pivotal trade commodities in the ancient world. They were once tended by apothecaries in limited quantities at exorbitant prices, setting them apart from the commonplace produce like cabbages and fish in medieval food markets.

The Journey of Spices

Since 3500 BC, Egyptians have been harnessing spices for a multitude of purposes. They employed spices to elevate the taste of food, incorporate them into cosmetics, and even for preserving deceased bodies. Over time, the practice of using spices spread throughout the Middle East and Eastern Mediterranean before making its way to Europe. Arab merchants and intermediaries played a pivotal role in facilitating the spice trade between the East and West. However, European traders later uncovered trade routes to spice-producing nations like India. This discovery marked a significant shift in the dynamics of the spice trade.

In Asia, several other countries contribute to spice production, including India, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, and China. Sri Lanka, also known as Ceylon, stands as the birthplace of cinnamon. This exquisite spice is cultivated exclusively along the coastal plains to the south of the capital city, Colombo. Ginger and turmeric marked the initial spices exported from the ancient southern regions of China and India. Cloves find their origins in Indonesia, thriving solely across five volcanic islands, including the renowned Spice Islands (Maluku), Tidore, Ternate, and the eastern part of the northern Sulawesi range. Anise, a spice steeped in history dating back to ancient times, belongs to the same botanical family as caraway, cumin, dill, and fennel. This aromatic delight finds its roots in the Middle East.

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