From simpler spices such as black peppercorns and chilli powder to more acquired tastes such as cumin and nutmeg, spices hold such a prominent place in all of our food. But they weren’t always so readily available as they are today. Beginning roughly 4000 years ago, the famous spice trade was the largest industry in the world, with spices travelling across the globe from middle eastern merchants to eastern Asia and Europe. During these times, the rarity of spices was perpetuated by the tall tales told by their sellers. These crafty merchants would tell stories of encounters with great, terrifying beasts and risking life and limb to get these spices to the people. Of course, these tales were so outlandish that they added to the mystery and value of these incredible ingredients. After all, if a person is to go to such lengths for a simple spice, then it must be valuable, right? Nutmeg for example, during its prime, was so rare and sought after that it’s value outweighed that of solid gold.
Over time, many empires rose and fell from being the top spice traders, but in the 13th century, it was Venice that became synonymous with spice trading in Europe, and quickly became very wealthy off the back of this resource. The western world had decided that enough was enough and sought to revolutionise the acquisition of spices, making them more readily available for the middle classes. Explorers set out from countries such as Britain and Portugal, and the latter ultimately discovered a sea route, circumventing the African continent, towards the Indonesian Spice Islands. Many empires fought over these precious resources between the 15th and 17th century, until people began to discover ways to transfer certain spice plants to more readily accessible parts of the world.
And now, you can buy 50g of nutmeg for about £1. But that’s what happens when secrets are spilled. The value of spices plummeted over the years as they became so abundant.
Our favourite spices may have lost their rarity, but that doesn’t mean we need to forget the lengths our ancestors went to just to enjoy these amazing flavours. We should not forget how privileged we are to enhance our foods the way that we do, and the acquisition of these herbs and spices from far and wide have given us so much access to some of the world’s finest cuisine. Leicester itself is home to an abundance of Indian restaurants and takeaways, utilising so many wonderful combinations of flavours, and is arguably home to some of the best Indian food in the world.
The Leicester Curry Awards are here to source the best Indian Restaurants in Leicester, and have been doing so since 2017. This prestigious award needs your input too.
So, which Indian restaurant or takeaway in Leicester do you feel honours the history of the spice trade? You can nominate your favourite at the link below!
Published on 17th January 2020