Dangerous Tastes: The Story of Spices / Edition 1

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Spices and aromatics are woven into human history. Since antiquity they have taken pride of place in the markets of the world for their irresistible contribution to food, drink, health, perfume, sex, religion, magic, and ritual. Hunger for spices lies behind some of the great explorations and has led to wealth, conquest, and even genocide.

Aromatics are among the earliest commodities of prehistoric trade, and evidence of spices and perfumed oils has been found at numerous archaeological sites. Interest in their application to diet and pharmaceutics, expressed by classical writers and developed by medieval Islam, has continued in many traditional societies, and modern medicine has begun to agree.

It was in search of Eastern spices and drugs that the Portuguese opened up the sea route to India and the East Indies. Columbus sailed westward in search of another route to the Indies and discovered a New World with aromatics of its own. Colonial powers fought, enslaved, and killed to control this rich trade.

Dangerous Tastes offers a fresh perspective on these exotic substances and the roles they have played over the centuries. The author shows how each region became part of a worldwide network of trade -- with local consequences ranging from disaster to triumph.

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Editorial Reviews

Pasadena Star-News
Filled with folklore and historical facts, you will never again regard cocoa as just that yummy milk flavoring, or cinnamon as only that tasty red—brown spice you sprinkle on apple sauce.
Alan Davidson
Delightful and complex. When Dalby blends the spices, the result is unique and irresistible.
Readers are treated to a tantalizing tour of nature's most flavorful, aromatic fruits in this colorful history of spices and aromatics and their diverse uses.
Associated Press
Covers a great deal of ground geographically as well as historically.
Ruminator Review
Dalby follows the trade routes of spices and shows how a taste for the spicy is intermingled with the thrill and risk of traveling to unknown places. But the history of spices reveals a different kind of danger as well, since it shows our greed and brutality in exploiting others so that we may please our own palates.
Pasadena Star News
Filled with folklore and historical facts, you will never again regard cocoa as just that yummy milk flavoring, or cinnamon as only that tasty red-brown spice you sprinkle on apple sauce.
Wall Street Journal
Will set you straight on myrrh, frankincense, zedoary—what they are, where they came from, and what the first people who tasted them thought about them.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780520236745
  • Publisher: University of California Press
  • Publication date: 10/31/2002
  • Series: California Studies in Food and Culture Series
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 184
  • Sales rank: 1,282,034
  • Product dimensions: 6.75 (w) x 9.50 (h) x 0.63 (d)

Meet the Author

Andrew Dalby is a historian and linguist and has written for numerous food history and classics journals. Among his books are Empire of Pleasures: Luxury and
Indulgence in the Roman World
(2000), The Classical Cookbook (with Sally Grainger, 1996), and Siren Feasts: A History of Food and Gastronomy in Greece (1996).

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Read an Excerpt

Coriander or Cilantro

The excavators of Frankhthi cave, near Portokheli in southern Greece, a site that was inhabited for many thousands of years in prehistoric times, found a tiny coriander fruit in a layer dated to the seventh millennium BC. If this was really something that the ancient cave-dwellers might have used—and not a red herring, dropped by one of the excavators—it makes coriander one of the very oldest spices in human use, quite as old as the ginger and sugar cane whose prehistory is traced above.

Coriandrum sativum is certainly native to Greece and the eastern Mediterranean. It was familiar in Egypt in 1352 BC, for it is one of the foodstuffs found in Tutankhamen's tomb. As korianna its small dry fruits were listed in the Linear B tablets, in Greece around 1300 BC. Coriander played a major role in ancient Greek and in Roman cuisine, and has never ceased to be popular around the Mediterranean.

Its popularity has spread far eastwards and westwards. We have already seen that it was introduced to India, probably at the time when the old Persian Empire stretched to the Indus valley. It advanced from there to south-east Asia, to the extent that coriander now seems a typical Indian spice and a typical south-east Asian herb. By way of Persia, coriander was also introduced to China. Later Chinese tradition suggested that this happened at the moment when Zhang Qian opened up the silk road, in fact that he personally brought coriander back with him in 125 BC. This is unlikely, not only historically—he had other things on his mind than coriander during his year-long imprisonment among the Huns and his lucky escape—but also because the earliest mention of coriander in Chinese texts is dated to the sixth century AD. In due course the Spaniards planted coriander in their American colonies: cilantro, as it is better known in America, is now one of the typical flavours of Mexican cuisine.

It is an extremely versatile aromatic. Its leaves, garnishing meat dishes and stews, give an unmistakable pungent aroma—'soapy', perhaps, to those who cannot get the taste for it. Its spicy roots are specially useful in Thai cooking. Its tiny black fruits (often called 'seeds') are the most powerful part, described as 'cooling' by traditional pharmacologists in spite of their spicy heat.

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Table of Contents

Preface 7
The phoenix's nest 10
Silphium 17
Exports from Paradise 20
Ginger 21
Sugar 26
Sandalwood 29
Balsam of Mecca 33
Cinnamon 36
Tejpat 41
Musk 46
The Spice Islands 49
Cloves 50
Nutmeg and mace 53
Cubebs 55
Camphor 57
Gum benzoin 60
The aromatic shore 64
Ambergris 65
Aloeswood 68
The cinnamon mountains 73
Chinese pepper 75
Galanga 78
Rhubarb and licorice 79
Ginseng and star anise 80
The land of pepper 83
Putchuk or costus 85
Spikenard 86
Long pepper 89
Black pepper 90
Turmeric 95
Red sanders 96
Zedoary and zerumbet 100
Amomum and cardamom 102
The rarest of spices 107
Gum guggul 109
Asafoetida or hing 110
Frankincense 114
Myrrh 117
Cargoes of complacence 123
Coriander or cilantro 126
Cumin, caraway, anise, ajowan and nigella 127
Mustard 133
Poppy 134
Mastic 136
Storax 137
Saffron 138
'I have found cinnamon!' 140
Uchu, rocoto and ulupica 141
Pink peppercorns 142
Coca 142
Chocolate 144
Vanilla 147
Chilli 148
Tabasco pepper and Scotch bonnet 151
Canella 152
Balsam of Peru 153
In quest of spicery 155
Source texts 159
Further reading 162
Glossary of spice names 165
Notes 171
Index 178
Illustration references 184
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