Within the development of Europe, one would think that religion and politics played the key roles in shaping the regions, in which they did, but many individuals don’t realize the true impact of the role spices played in the evolution of the economy and expansion of Europe. Food alone represented a vast field of human experience and shaped peoples’ beliefs and values, aesthetics and most importantly their social attitudes toward one another. Spices contributed to these attitudes, providing a potential window for the individual to change their understanding of the political and social life of certain cultures and nations. The main question that the author, Paul Freedman poses within the text is, why did the Europeans and the Romans before them, maintain such a high demand for spices for almost a millennium?
The first few chapters are devoted to the culinary side of the spices, particularly regarding the specific seasonings: pepper, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, nutmeg, and most importantly saffron. Spices were a common good used within households, being used in large amounts not just within food but even drinks; as Freedman put it, “thirteenth to fifteenth centuries, spices appear in 75 percent of the recipes.” . The types of spices used varied with each region; the English preferring cubeb while the French opted for long pepper. The cuisines of both regions in accordance to the wealthier classes both “represented the triumph of virtuosity over simplicity”. The primary sources researched by Freedman were immense, mainly from originating from cookbooks of that era efficiently providing a better understanding of the prominence of spices within dishes and the differing styles.
Although spices were very common, the amount consumed varied by each household, being based on income. Compared to salt, being cheap and common within the cities, spices were not. They tended to be expensive, indicating that they weren’t a social necessity compared to salt, on the other hand was used to preserve foods and or disguise their decaying taste. From this, it can be understood that spices were luxury goods, correlating to the high consumption amongst the bourgeoisie, demonstrating their grander monetary and communal status. The high prices were initiated by the merchants themselves, preventing common folk from buying certain spices as nonchalantly as the upper class achieved.
This was not due to the difficulty of obtaining the certain spices but based on the occurrence that certain merchants were infatuated with profit. Obtaining the spices wasn’t as difficult as one would think even after the collapse of Roman power, since spices continued to find their way from Asia to Europe. Although many merchants priced certain spices based on their rarity. Which was classified in three categories: intrinsic, circumstantial, and artificial. Intrinsic rarity would entail that nature doesn’t produce many of them, growing in certain places under special conditions or climates....