Article 27 – Role Of Spices In History, Mythology And Rituals

by / Saturday, 25 August 2018 / Published in Intact Corner

A spice is a seed, fruit, root, bark, or other plant substance primarily used for flavoringcoloring or preserving food. Spices are distinguished from herbs, which are the leaves, flowers, or stems of plants used for flavoring or as a garnish. Many spices have antimicrobial properties. This may explain why spices are more commonly used in warmer climates, which have more infectious diseases, and why the use of spices is prominent in meat, which is particularly susceptible to spoiling. Spices are sometimes used in medicinereligious ritualscosmetics or perfume production, or as a vegetable.


Spices were also valuable as items of exchange and trade. For example, the Bible mentions that in 1000 BC, Queen Sheba visited King Solomon in Jerusalem and offered him “120 measures of gold, many spices, and precious stones.”

Historically, culinary spices and herbs have been used as food preservatives and for their health- enhancing properties. Papyri from Ancient Egypt in1555 BC classified coriander, fennel, juniper, cumin, garlic and thyme as health promoting spices. Records from that time also note that laborers who constructed the Great Pyramid of Cheops consumed onion and garlic as a means to promote health.

Onions, garlic, and shallots became popular condiments in Persia by the 6th century BC. Records from King Cyrus (559-529 BC) noted a wholesale purchase of 395,000 bunches of garlic. Persians also produced essential oils from roses, lilies, coriander, and saffron.

Pepper, as well as other spices and herbs, was commonly used as a monetary source. Eastern Europeans paid 10 pounds of pepper in order to gain access to trading with London merchants. Throughout Europe, peppercorns were accepted as a substitute for money (some landlords would get paid as a “peppercorn rent”. Peppercorns, counted out one by one, were accepted as currency to pay taxes, tolls, and rents (partly because of a coin shortage). Many European towns kept their accounts in pepper. Wealthy brides received pepper as a dowry.


In ancient mythologies, everything is a gift of the Gods. Even the knowledge of food production is thought to occur by divine intervention.

Kautilya’s Arthashastra written in the third century BC mentions many remarks on spices like pepper, fenugreek, coriander, cardamom, ginger and mustard. The Rigveda and the hymns of Yajurveda mention about the use and importance of different types of spices. Atharvaveda remarks about the use of turmeric for treating jaundice and leprosy. Ayurveda describes the use of spices and their importance with various medicinal properties. The Epics Ramayana and Mahabharata also make mention about spices on various occasions. It is even mentioned in the Bible in both the Old and New Testaments and even the Great Prophet Mohammad was said to be an experienced Spice merchant.


Because of its centrality to our lives, food becomes a perfect vehicle for rituals and food rituals become central to many religions. The variety of spices were used for common purposes among the ancient world, and they were also used to create a variety of products designed to enhance or suppress certain sensations. Spices were also associated with certain rituals to perpetuate a superstition, or fulfil a religious obligation, among other things.




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