What were ancient spices used for?
Spices are dried and ground up plant seeds, fruits, root, or bark. Grown for centuries in the Middle and Far East, spices have been used for their antibacterial properties, to flavor foods, and to aid in digestion. In ancient times, spices were used as a way to mask the unpleasant tastes and odors of food, and later to keep food fresh. They were very important commodities. As early as 1000 B.C.E., a handful of cardamom was worth as much as a poor man's yearly wages, and many slaves were bought and sold for a few cups of peppercorns. During the time of the Ancient Greeks, the spice trade flourished between the Mediterranean region and the Far East. Arab merchants brought spices such as cinnamon, cassia, black pepper, and ginger by camel caravan to Europe. During this time, spices were used for cooking, in medicine, and in luxury items such as perfumes, bath oils, and lotions. During the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, European explorers introduced spices to the New World. During the days of American colonization the most popular cooking spices were pepper, cinnamon, vanilla, nutmeg, ginger, cloves, and allspice. Colonial families experimented with exotic spices to flavor dishes, including chili peppers, cardamom, cumin, saffron, and turmeric (which was also used as a food preservative). Today, most spices are grown on large plantations in China, India, the Middle East, South America, and North Africa, where they are often picked by hand.