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Pepper: A History of the World's Most Influential Spice

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  • Posted June 11, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    Pep­per: A His­tory of the World¿s Most Influ­en­tial Spice by M

    Pep­per: A His­tory of the World’s Most Influ­en­tial Spice by Mar­jorie Shaf­fer is a non-fiction book trac­ing his­tory through the trade of black pep­per. Ms. Shaf­fer is a busi­ness reporter and sci­ence writer.

    This is an inter­est­ing book about this culi­nary delight. The book jour­neys through the ages and the com­pe­ti­tion between the Dutch, Eng­lish and Por­tuguese mer­chants. A nod towards the end of the book to 19th Cen­tury Amer­i­can pep­per traders ties up the his­tory nicely.

    The most inter­est­ing part of the book was the use of pep­per for med­i­c­i­nal pur­poses. I am not a big believer in med­ica­tion, not that I have any­thing against tak­ing med­ica­tion, I just think we take too much of it and with­out any pre­cau­tions. When needed to I will take med­ica­tion but I don’t want to be a guinea pig for big-pharma nor do I want to intro­duce harm­ful chem­i­cals to my body instead of nat­ural alter­na­tives. Pep­per, it seems, has been used as almost a “cure all” for many dis­eases, over the years that knowl­edge was lost but now sci­en­tists are start­ing to dis­cover that maybe there is some­thing to it after all.

    Pep­per, at the time, was a very valu­able com­mod­ity, more than gold or sil­ver. In 1498, Por­tuguese explorer Vasco de Gama man­aged to get around the Cape of Good Hope and opened up the sear routes to China and India. Unknow­ingly, de Gama made it pos­si­ble for the super-powers at the time to estab­lish colonies.

    Sea fair­ing was a dan­ger­ous occu­pa­tion and the book doesn’t mince words. The his­tory of this pun­gent spice is rid­dled with pirates, wealth and greed. Char­ac­ters of all types grace the pages of his­tory, from William Dampier, an Eng­lish pirate who protested the treat­ment of natives, to Jan Pieter­szoon Coen, a bru­tal governor.

    Those look­ing for recipes or culi­nary uses for black pep­per are sure to be dis­ap­pointed, those look­ing for a frank, hon­est look at his­tory of trade and empire build­ing. The author uses first-person accounts from jour­nals and ship logs to make inter­est­ing points and bring his­tory to life.

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