Having earned its reputation as the ‘spice bowl of the world’, India and its history of spices goes back many hundreds of years, with tribes from all over the globe invading India and attempting to take advantage of its rich natural wealth. From Assyrians, Babylonians, Romans, Egyptians, Arabians to the Chinese, British and Portuguese, all wanted to gain access to India’s very own crown jewels and most sacred of all treasures; spices.
Found thousands of years ago in the Vedas (Rig Veda, Yajurveda, Samaveda and the Atharvaveda), is the earliest documented record of Indian spices. With information typically passed down through the generations by word of mouth, during the Vedic period, hymns were used to convey messages of all different kinds, and the Rig Veda contains several references to a selection of spices. Black pepper is also referred to in the Yajurveda.
The history of Indian spices:
Spices have long played an important role in strengthening India’s economic condition; as far back as ancient and medieval ages, the trading of spices with other ancient civilizations has helped them thrive and prosper. With the difficulties of preserving food and its flavours all those hundreds and thousands of years ago, spices were in high demand.
Competition among the leading layers in the spice trade was fierce, and the fight eventually led to the colonization of India, with the Portuguese, Dutch, French, Spanish and British all establishing monopoly over certain elements of the spice trade. As a result of the demand for more food to feed growing civilizations, brutal conquests and piracy ensued, which ultimately led to the creation of The British East India Company and the modern spice trade.
How were spices originally transported?
Thousands of years ago, the spice trade was dominated by the Arabs, and spices from countries like China, Indonesia, India and Sri Lanka were transported by land, using donkeys and camels in a caravan. Then, when a sea route to India was discovered, many sea voyages were carried out to obtain the precious spices and ship them back to Europe. Some famous historical names involved in the spice trade include Christopher Columbus, Ferdinand Magellan and Vasco da Gama. Records show that way back in 1498, the Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama discovered Kozhikode on the south west coast of India after completing his travels around Africa, and returned to his native country with a hefty cargo of nutmeg, ginger, cinnamon, cloves and peppercorns.
Where are Indian spices grown?
There are a variety of regions throughout India in which spices continue to be grown to this day, and some of the terrains that they thrive in include mountains, wetlands and marshy woodlands, tropical rainforests, verdant valleys and lush, green fields.
The creation of the Spices Board of India:
To help cope with and better regulate the growing trade in spices, the Spices Board of India was established to administer trading, and several states, such as Kerala, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat became major spice growing hubs.
Used for flavouring food, as medicines, pharmaceuticals, perfumes and cosmetics, Indian spices continue to be sought after and highly prized, and trade in them is as popular now as it ever was.
There are many ways to purchase and sample Indian spices for yourself, or to stock your pantry if you’re running low, and online supermarkets are a great way of doing so from the comfort of your own home.