Dangerous Tastes: The Story of Spices
Spices and aromatics—the powerful, pleasurable, sensual ingredients used in foods, drinks, scented oils, perfumes, cosmetics, and drugs—have long been some of the most sought-after substances in the course of human history. In various forms, spices have served as appetizers, digestives, antiseptics, therapeutics, tonics, and aphrodisiacs. Dangerous Tastes explores the captivating history of spices and aromatics: the fascination that they have aroused in us, and the roads and seaways by which trade in spices has gradually grown. Andrew Dalby, who has gathered information from sources in many languages, explores each spice, interweaving its general history with the story of its discovery and various uses.
Dalby concentrates on traditional spices that are still part of world trade: cinnamon, cloves, ginger, pepper, saffron, and chili. He also discusses aromatics that are now little used in food but still belong to the spice trade and to traditional medicine: frankincense, myrrh, aloes-wood, balsam of Mecca. In addition, Dalby considers spices that were once important but that now are almost forgotten: long pepper, cubebs, grains of Paradise.
Dangerous Tastes relates how the Aztecs, who enjoyed drinking hot chocolate flavored with chili and vanilla, sometimes added annatto (a red dye) to the drink. This not only contributed to the flavor but colored the drinker's mouth red, a reminder that drinking cacao was, in Aztec thought, parallel with drinking blood. In the section on ambergris, Dalby tells how different cultures explained the origin of this substance: Arabs and Persians variously thought of it as solidified sea spray, a resin that sprung from the depths of the sea, or a fungus that grows on the sea bed as truffles grow on the roots of trees. Some Chinese believed it was the spittle of sleeping dragons. Dalby has assembled a wealth of absorbing information into a fertile human history that spreads outward with the expansion of human knowledge of spices worldwide.
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Africa aloeswood ambergris Amomum ancient anise Arab aromatic asafoetida Asia Aztec balsam of Mecca black pepper called camphor cane Capsicum cardamom cassia century BC chillies China chocolate cinnamon cloves coast colour Columbus cookery coriander Cosmas cuisine cumin Dioscorides dried early East eastern Egypt English Europe European exotic flavour flowers frankincense French fruit galanga García de Orta ginger ginseng grow gum benzoin honey Inca incense India Indian Ocean ingredient island king known later leaf long pepper Malacca Malay mastic medicine medieval Mediterranean merchants modern musk myrrh nard native nutmeg perfumes Periplus Persian plant Pliny port Portuguese putchuk recipe resin Roman Empire root route saffron sandalwood sauce scent seed silphium south-east Spanish species spice trade spices and aromatics spikenard Sri Lanka storax sugar Sumatra sweet taste tejpat texts Theophrastus translation tree uchu West wild wine writes Zedoary Zhao Rugua Zhou Daguan