The story of Indian Spices is an ever-changing history of lands discovered or destroyed, favors sought or offered, treaties signed or broken, wars won or lost, and kingdoms built or brought down. From ancient times, the monsoon soaked rain forests of Kerala, home to several spices, became a prime destination for many explorers.
Nomadic Arabs and ancient Phoenicians were among the first who came to Kerala for trade. The Arabs gained control of the lucrative spice trade by 600 B.C. Spice trade and commerce between China and south India by sea began as early as 2nd century B.C. During the reign of King Ptolemy VII, about 120 to 116 B C, a Greek sailor learned to navigate his ship toward India’s tropical coast, and thus began the age of Roman trade. Our trade with the Romans was extensive and lasted for several centuries. After the fall of the Roman Empire, the Arabs regained control again. During the latter half of 15th century, the royalties of Spain and Portugal financed dozens of expeditions in search of a sea route to the spice coast of India. The Dutch and the British followed them. Spice trade was as profitable an undertaking as it was complex.
In 1498, Portugal’s fortunes rose when Vaso da Gama rounded Africa’s Cape of Good Hope and reached the southwestern shores of India. As they landed on the shores of Kerala, the men shouted "for Christ and spices!" They had arrived at the very heart of spice country.
Vaso da Gama’s rival, Columbus, went in the opposite direction, via the west, in search of pepper. And when he landed in the then unknown Americas, his enthusiasm to convince his king, as well as himself, that he has succeeded in his mission led him to name the natives Indians and their chili peppers “red pepper”; two unintended mistakes that have confused people to this day.
Today Indian Spices hold the same spell. An unmistakable feature of Indian cooking is the endless possibilities available for flavoring. Spices differentiate one dish from another and they define flavors and intensify tastes. The characters of most spices are adaptable, it depends on when during the cooking process they are added, and how they are integrated in a dish. I invite you to explore this spice box, symbol of our culture and heritage.