Allspice

During his explorations of the West Indies, Columbus named many things, often, it would appear, incorrectly. He seems to have confused allspice with black pepper, although they do look quite similar. He named capsicums ‘peppers’ also, and any native inhabitant he came across he seems to have simply called ‘Indian’. WHERE IS IT FROM? There…

Cardamom

Like so many of the spices we use today, cardamom has been used in food and medicine around the world for millennia. The Roman collection of recipes, the Apicius, compiled in the 4th or 5th century C.E., recommends cardamom as a aid in digestion after heavy meals, and as a cure for overindulgence after heavy…

Fenugreek

According to Pliny the Elder, fenugreek can be used in at least 31 health remedies, including getting rid of dandruff, removing ringworm, and even to cure ‘the rank odours of the armpits’. But, having said that, it can add some pretty good flavours to food too! WHERE IS IT FROM? Fenugreek, (rigonella foenum-graecum) known in…

Ginger

King Mithridates of Pontus, back in the first century B.C.E. created an amazing universal antidote that he drank daily to protect him against all poisons. Ginger was one of the spices that featured in his Mithridaticum, which, naturally, he tested on condemned prisoners first. He must have been successful because, when he wanted to end…

Cloves

In 1519 when Magellan left Seville to find a route to the Spice Islands, he set out with 5 ships and more than 250 men. Three years later, after circumnavigating the globe, only one ship carrying 18 men made it back to Spain. Magellan himself was not among them, having been killed in the Philippines…

Cinnamon

According to Herodotus, the Greek ‘father of history’, Cinnamon grows in shallow lakes, protected by Cinnamologus, a giant, fierce winged creature that screeches horribly and pecks out the eyes of those seeking to harvest the tree. Brave Arabic cinnamon gatherers would trick the birds by leaving large pieces of meat around, which, when carried back…

Cumin

Around four thousand years ago someone in ancient Babylonia recorded for posterity a recipe that included cumin in the preparation of leftover lamb. This ancient Sumerian tablet was the world’s first cookbook, listing no fewer than 25 recipes, 21 meat and 4 vegetarian. Cumin has clearly been used in cooking for millennia, and it’s good…

Coriander

In the first century C.E., Pliny the Elder listed no less than twenty-one remedies using coriander, from soothing ‘fluxes of the belly’ to easing the sting of the Amphisbaena, a two-headed, chicken-footed mythical serpent. Mythical creatures aside, coriander does have some other practical uses. WHERE IS CORIANDER FROM? Coriander, Coriandrum sativum, was probably indigenous to…

Pepper

    When the Visigoth Alaric I besieged Rome in 408 C.E., the ransom he demanded to lift the siege included gold, silver, slaves, and 3000 pounds of pepper. Pepper has been eaten and used in medicines since ancient times, and its value was such that it was even used to pay taxes, rents, bribes…

Nutmeg

In 1609, Nathaniel Courthope was sent by the English East India Company to Indonesia to help secure their share of the lucrative spice trade. In particular, to wrest control of the nutmeg trees that grew in the Banda Islands from the Dutch East India Company (V.O.C.). This aromatic spice was so valuable, it eventually won…

Turmeric

Marco Polo, on his epic travels to China and beyond, may have ‘discovered’ the vibrant, yellow-orange spice turmeric, but people had been using it in cooking, dyeing and medicine for a fairly long time before he showed up. WHERE IS TURMERIC FROM? The turmeric spice we know comes from the rhizomes, or underground stems, of…

CHILLI

Christopher Columbus set out to India in 1492 to acquire, among other things, a reliable supply of black pepper for his Spanish paymasters. Along with mistaking America for India, Christopher Columbus mistook chilli peppers for black peppers, which are not related, and carried them back to Spain. Biting into one of them may have made the difference…