Interesting paper on spice trade and use

Allen W Thrasher athr at LOC.GOV
Fri Jan 4 22:34:56 UTC 2002

Some may find of interest an online article on how much spices have cost
in the West at various times, whether they were a necessity or a luxury,
whether they were really used to preserve food or to make spoiled or
salted meat palatable as often assumed, and the like:

"The Consumption of Spices and Their Costs in Late-Medieval and
Early-Modern Europe: Luxuries or Necessities?" by Professor John H.
Munro, University of Toronto.

Prof. Munro thinks the spices were primarily for taste and medicinal
purposes, not for the above oft-cited ones, and compares specific
medieval  recipes to contemporary Indian ones, noting the spices are
largely the same (with the exception of chilies which are post-Columbian
in Eurasia).

He notes a change of tastes and cooking methods in Europe toward much
reduced use of these spices in the 17th c.  This in turn may link up
with another interesting article:  "Birth of the Modern Diet," by Rachel
Laudan, Scientific American. 283, no. 2, (2000):  p. 76ff (6 pages).
She attributes the change in Early Modern cooking to a shift from
Galenic humoral chemistry and medicine to Paracelsian, and also remarks
that dishes before the change would seem very like Indian ones, and be
based on related theories.  Unfortunately Laudan's article is not
available at SciAm's site.

Allen Thrasher

Allen W. Thrasher, Ph.D.

Senior Reference Librarian       101 Independence Ave., SE
Southern Asia Section               LJ-150
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Email: athr at

The opinions expressed do not necessarily represent those of the
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