Tag : history
Tag : history
previous saturday spices
Running out of vanilla for a baker is the equivalent of running out of garlic for a cook. Or olive oil.
Or for those of you who still think I’m off my rocker, it’s the equivalent of your car running out of gas when the two nearest gas stations are both over 40 miles away (my car warns me when I have 40 miles left. Praise the Cube.)
Vanilla is the everything in baking. We use the term diminutively because it is so ubiquitous that, compared to most other sweet flavors, it is the least exotic thing we can think of.
This is why, when I ran out of vanilla extract a month ago, I went to THREE different stores (I would have made it five if I had known that the other two carried vanilla, though in retrospect it would not have made a lick of difference), to compare not only prices, but types of vanilla on offer, as well as sizes. Then I made a note on my phone, listing types of vanilla and stores in order of where I could get the most vanilla for the best price, without compromising quality.
I am that obsessive these days. Also, I’m budgeting.
Turns out, I can get a 32-ounce bottle of vanilla bean paste (it’s syrup made from the beans and the extract) at a specialty kitchen store that will last two years (translation: two months) and save about $0.30 per ounce. That’s 16 times the usual bottle size.
Most people probably wouldn’t go for such a large bottle. But my name is not Most People. It’s not even Most.
why is something liquid-y like vanilla being included in “saturday spice?”
I won’t go into detail in this post about the history of the word “spice,” but 1) my goal with this series was to explore the history of what we use to make our food, whether it’s the spicy buds and barks of South Asia, or the sweet, creamy beans from Mexico, and 2) I wanted to take a short vacation from sailing between India and Indonesia, so now we’re in Mexico.
[vanilla, vanilla planifolia/fragrans/tahitensis]
Vanilla beans come from an orchid native to central America, vanilla planifolia, which flowers only for one day and must either be pollinated by bee or hand, making cultivation of the plant labor intensive, and therefore making the pure vanilla beans among the most expensive spices in the world.
little sheath orchid
Fun fact, the word “vanilla” comes from the same Latin word that produced “vagina.” I wonder why…
When the Spanish invaded Mexico, they named the plant vainilla, “little pod,” a diminutive form of vaina, meaning “sheath.” The latter comes from Latin vagina, which meant “sheath or hull of a plant.”
to the invaders, with love from the natives…not
The orchid, the only fruit-producing member of its floral family, was first discovered and cultivated by the Totonacs, native central/south Americans, who were later conquered by the Aztecs, and used medicinally. The natives relinquished control not only of their nation but also the vanilla to the Aztecs, but when Hernán Cortés arrived in the 16th century, it was then given up to the Spanish conquistadors.
It was the Aztecs who first used the bean for culinary purposes. Cortés saw them adding vanilla, called tlilxochitl in the native language, to their xocolatl (chocolate, also indigenous to the region), and in 1518, he brought the beans back to Europe. Unfortunately, for the crime of executing their emperor, Moctezuma, the Aztecs refused to teach the conquistadors how to cultivate the bean (among other things they probably refused to do, I’m sure.)
Because of the difficult cultivation methods and a symbiotic relationship between the orchid and the Melipona bee, for 300 years after Cortés, Spain held a monopoly on vanilla production and the beans couldn’t grow anywhere else in the world.
But all that changed when the fire nation attacked…I mean when a slave discovered how to pollinate the plant in Africa…
the slave who taught us how to pollinate vanilla
Kids are so bright. We have a 12-year-old slave, Edmond Albius, living on the French-owned island of Réunion, to thank for the vanilla we consume today.
Réunion is one of the five Bourbon Islands, east of the southern tip of Africa. The other four are Madagascar, Mauritius, Comoro, and Seychelles. When you see “Madagascar Bourbon” vanilla, it’s named after this region (as opposed to Mexican or Tahitian vanilla), and has nothing to do with the liquor.
In 1793, a plant had been smuggled from Mexico to Réunion, but without the Melipona bee, the beans of the plant suffered. In 1841, Edmond Albius discovered a method of hand-pollinating the orchid so that the beans grew in abundance, and shortly thereafter, plants were carried to Madagascar, where farmers learned how to space the flowers out to promote the growth of high quality beans.
Now the beans are grown all over the world, each region producing vanilla with different qualities (Tahitian vanilla, Madagascar bourbon vanilla, etc.), with Madagascar producing the highest quality and most consistent bean, and 75% of the world’s crop, and Mexico exporting only a small percentage of the global product.
Oh, how the tides have shifted to another beach house.
how do i use vanilla?
vegan snickerdoodles | | gluten-free brownies | | blondie bars | | ginger turmeric sugar cookies | | lemon sugar cookies | | basic sugar cookies | | vegan spiced banana nut muffins | | lemon whole wheat muffins | | cardamom brownies | | cardamom shortbread | | spiced, salted chocolate chocolate chip cookies
crème brulée | | custard cream | | choux pastries | | chocolate chip cookies | | vanilla ice cream | | vanilla café au lait | | vanilla cupcakes | | buttercream frosting | | vanilla olive oil cake | | linzer cookies | | seafood marinades | | scones | | French toast | | pancakes | | gelato | | soda
Later, we’ll look at regional varieties, the science of the plant, and its journey from Mexico to Africa, north to Europe, then back west to the United States. And perhaps in a few years, I’ll have learned how to make extract from the beans.
¡Hasta luego, mis amigos!
Chow, Kat. “When Vanilla was Brown and How We Came to See it as White.” NPR.org. 2014 Mar. 23.
Earthy Delights. A Brief History of Vanilla.
Rupp, Rebecca. “The History of Vanilla.” National Geographic: The Plate. 2014 Oct. 23.
Ruud, Kirsten. “A Brief History of Vanilla.” 2009 Apr. 14. Vanilla Planifolia: A Food of the Gods, Now and Forever.
Schneider, Caitlin. “The Flavorful History of Vanilla.” 2015 Oct. 6. mental_floss.
Vanilla’s Origins. Nielsen-Massey Vanillas.
ginger health benefits
the bourbon islands
previous saturday spices:
[ginger, zingiber officinale, india/china]
Let’s get back on this boat and sail a little north to our next destination: China!
But first I need to take a potty break in India. So typical, stopping the entire carpool half an hour after setting out from the last potty break.
Ginger is most often associated with China, and for good reason, but based on examining the large amount of genetic variation among ginger species on the Indian subcontinent, it is assumed that the root is native to this area. Perhaps some species of ginger are indigenous to China, or maybe the Chinese were the first to get to the root.
The reason we most associate ginger with China is that they wrote about it first. The first known mention of ginger, dried or whole, in China showed up approximately 4,000 years ago, while Indian texts started mentioning the spice only 2,300 years ago. For the sake of simplicity and fairness, let’s assume ginger is native to both India AND China.
To be honest, though, it doesn’t even matter: ginger no longer grows in the wild, and is now cultivated all over the world. Furthermore, the root has been propagated from trimmings for so long that it can’t produce seeds anymore.
Arab traders, for a long time the rulers of the eastern spice trade, brought ginger from east Asia to Roman Alexandria, planting rhizomes all along the way. Fun fact, people from the Arabian peninsula not only helped spread ginger around the world, but they were also the first to bring coffee from Ethiopia east to Yemen. Those of us who love coffee and gingerbread (and really anything using eastern spices) owe a lot to the Arabian peninsula.
When Rome fell in the first half of the first millenium C.E., Gallic and Gothic nations helped proliferate some spices (and another fun fact: the reason we still use the word “spice” to refer to the species of ancient Rome is because the Goths had no appropriate word of their own, and adopted from Latin), but unfortunately, ginger was not one of them. For half a millenium, the root was lost to Europe.
Right when Y1K struck, making all those medieval computers go bonkers, Europe rediscovered ginger, and by the 14th century, the only spice more valuable was black pepper (which has been among the most popular spices since the trade first started.)
The Portuguese, who, thanks to Vasco de Gama, took over the spice trade in the middle of the second millenium, introduced ginger to west Africa, while Spain carried it over to the Americas later.
but where did those little luscious human-shaped cookies come from?
Queen Elizabeth I (1533 – 1603) is credited with the invention of gingerbread cookies.
Also, you can thank Queen Isabella of Portugal for helping bring spices to North America (while also cursing European royalty for the damage they did to the Native Americans), and Marie Antoinette for the invention of croissants.
what can i make with ginger?
vegan spiced banana nut muffins | | balinese ginger tea | | ginger turmeric cookies | | cardamom molasses cookies | | apple chai-der pie | | gluten-free sweet potato muffins | | black tea butter cookies
crystallized ginger | | fried rice, stir-fried noodles (mie goreng, etc.) | | pickled ginger for sushi | | gingerbread | | ginger pork | | ginger syrup (for lattes or cocktails) | | ginger ale or ginger beer | | ginger cupcakes | | Japanese pork dumplings | | Chinese chicken rice porridge, congee
Later, we’ll take a look at uses and health benefits of the root.
Get pumped, y’all.
“Ginger History.” www.InDepthInfo.com.
Hubpages. “The History of Ginger: From India to the New World.” 2010 Feb 16.
Kaminsky, Steffany. “The History and Use of Ginger.” 2010 Jan 21. examiner.com.
“Origin and History of Ginger, Traditional and Current Uses.” 2015 Sep 20. MDidea.com.
Turner, Jack. Spice: The History of a Temptation. 2005 Aug 9. pub. Vintage.
ginger: health benefits
previous monthly muffins:
It’s easy to say that muffins were “invented,” but in fact, they weren’t. Bread was invented. When and how bread came to be is an entirely different blog post.
Bread is a universal food, and everything from doughnuts to muffins to biscuits to that childish “bread dough” I used to make by soaking a hunk of bread in my wet mouth, those are all variations on the world’s oldest baked good. Even beer comes from bread, an accidental discovery in ancient Mesopotamia when John in marketing mis-calculated how much flour they needed and ended up hammered on the conference room floor.
But how did American* muffins come to be?
*American and English muffins are different. One is yeasted and cooked on a griddle, and the other is superior in every aspect. That one is made of batter, then baked in the oven in cupcake pans.
As far as the etymology goes, “muffin” began appearing in print in the early 1700s (1703) and recipes showed up half a century later (1747.) Some sources say the word comes from French moufflet, meaning “soft” in reference to bread, while others say it comes from a German word muffe, meaning “cake.”
Hannah Glasse is credited with the recipe in her cookbook, The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy. Although the American and British breads are now completely different, a look at culinary history tells us this was not always the case. At some point between the 1800s and now, American muffins became more cake-like, sweeter, and deeper. Old American culinary sources describe muffins as small cakes**, or poundcakes baked immediately in “snowball cups.” At first, American muffins were relatively uniform: flour, rye, or bran, with apples, dates, raisins, and/or nuts. In the late 1900s, only a few decades ago, we went muffin crazy: they blew up in size and people started adding all kinds of new flavors (I guess I’m 45 years late to this party.) Modern American muffins, so ubiquitous a pastry, were the cronuts of the late 20th century.
Think about that the next time you throw your cronut against the wall to see if it makes the poof sound.
**Maybe the subject of a future Monthly Muffin, but there are vast differences between cake/cupcakes and muffins now. More on that later this year.
American and English muffins are like chimpanzees and orangutans: they come from the same ancestor but are now as different as chimpanzees and orangutans…or as American muffins and yeasted biscuits.
Olver, Lynne. Food Timeline FAQs. 3 January 2015.
previous saturday spices:
[cloves, eugenia caryophyllis/syzgium aromaticum, the nail spice]
The word “clove” comes from the Latin clavus, meaning “nail” on account of their being shaped like nails. The spice is the dried, unopened bud of an evergreen, Syzgium Aromaticum.
Cloves, like cardamom, are a native of the Spice Islands (Molucca Islands/Malaka Islands) in Indonesia, east of Sulawesi, west of New Guinea, and north of Timor. The spice has played a major role in world history since before the birth of Christ. From the 4th to the 15th century, common era, the Arab world controlled the spice trade, until the Portuguese sailed all the way to Indonesia in 1514 CE and established a monopoly. During the 8th century, spices were commonly traded throughout Europe and Italy, the port of entry, profited from the industry.
In the early 17th century, the Dutch landed in the Molucca Islands and established their own monopoly alongside the Portuguese. Together, they ruled over the spice trade until the 18th century, when spices were being grown all over the world, prices were lowered as a result, and people at all levels of society had access to the materials.
In order to maintain their control over the trees, the Dutch burned any clove trees planted outside their dominion, upsetting the locals. It was a tradition in Indonesia to plant a clove tree for the birth of a child, linking the life of the tree to the fate of the child, and the destruction of these trees by the Dutch was a great offense to the children to whose lives they were tied. People revolted, inciting bloody war over the clove trees.
While the Dutch and Portuguese held reign over the spice trees, cloves and other spices were worth their weight in gold, but by the time Magellan reached them, prices had dropped dramatically and the monopolies had dissolved. Now, cloves are grown in Zanzibar, Tanzania, Mauritius, Ternate, Tidore, and around Indonesia. In fact, Tanzania now produces 80% of the world’s supply of cloves.
how cloves are used
Cloves have significant medicinal value, as well as long-standing culinary use. The buds contain eugenol, a natural anesthetic, and salicylic acid. As a result, they have served to relieve toothaches, nausea, indigestion, coughs, and other medical ailments. In food, they’re a key ingredient in meat glazes, soup stocks, spice mixes, Worcestershire sauce, gingerbread, spiced pastries, and winter beverages, as well as the base for Indonesian clove cigarettes, kreteks.
As I have learned from first-hand experience, the flavor of the bud is powerful, so use it sparingly. If you’re using 1 teaspoon of cinnamon, for example, consider only using 1/8 or 1/4 teaspoon of cloves, unless you like the fuzzy numb feeling on your tongue.
what can i make with cloves?
Cloves pack a punch, so beware how much of the spice you use. A small pinch is enough to give you a full flavor experience. Here are two of my recipes that use the spice:
gingersnaps | | glazed ham | | indian curry | | eggnog | | pumpkin pie | | spiced apple cider | | mulled wine | | chai | | cincinnati chili | | soup stock
ACH Food Companies. “Spice Encyclopedia: Cloves.” Spice Advice.
Bentley, Robert and Henry Trimen. Medicinal Plants. UCLA History and Special Collections. London, Churchill, 1880.
Discover Indonesia Online. “Maluku: History of Maluku.” indahnesia.com. (20 May 2011.)
Gladen, Cynthia. “Cloves.” University of Minnesota Libraries.
Rayment, W.J. “History of Cloves.” InDepthInfo.
upcoming saturday spices:
Categories: saturday spice
Six years ago, my local favorite coffeeshop back home tried as its summer specialty to make a caramel cardamom iced latte. Six years ago, I wasn’t yet a fan of the spice, so I bought the latte out of curiosity (now will someone please pay me for my gustatory curiosity???) and suffered through it. Over the years, I’ve developed a taste for cardamom and now I can’t get enough, as anyone who has ever looked at this blog can affirm.
My favorite use of cardamom: in tomato curry. Swoon.
[cardamom, elettaria cardamomum, india]
Known as “Queen of Spices,” and second only to black pepper, “King of Spices,” cardamom has an extensive history and a very, very high value (don’t I know it.)
Originally native to India, cardamom was introduced to the rest of the world thousands of years ago by traders, who carried it from India to Babylon, Egypt, Greece, and Rome. Much later, the Vikings discovered the spice in Constantinople/Byzantine when that was the capital of the spice trade, and claimed it for use in their rich, buttery pastries (cardamom is fat-soluble, so the flavor intensifies in butter) (3.)
Cardamom, known in the scientific community as Elettaria Cardamomum, is a relative of ginger, and it grows in lush tropical rainforests. After India, the largest producer of cardamom is Guatemala, where the spice is produced solely for export. Harvest is done from October through December, before the pods of the plant ripen so they don’t split open too early and begin to lose flavor.
After saffron and vanilla, cardamom is the third most expensive spice in the world (and the most expensive in my cabinet. I vow never to buy a jar of saffron because I enjoy all of my arms and legs.) Because of its high price, the spice is often adulterated or substituted with products of lesser quality, such as Siam cardamom, Nepal cardamom, winged Java cardamom, or a something known as “bastard” cardamom. (1)
why is it so expensive?
Because it’s harvested by hand (3), and anyone who’s been outside from October through December knows it is not a pleasant time to be harvesting anything but snot-cicles from their nose. Fortunately, it’s also a very strong spice and you only need a small amount.
In ancient Egypt, people chewed the buds to clean their teeth, while in Greece and Rome, only the wealthiest could afford cardamom-infused perfume. I’m very much content using a toothbrush to clean my teeth, and YSL as my cologne, but cardamom is also good for digestion (it certainly helped me digest the cardamom brownies.) (1)
there are two main strains of the spice:
Green and black, with some other local varieties in other countries. Green cardamom, or “true cardamom” (elettaria cardamomum), comes from southwest India and is also grown in Guatemala, Tanzania, Sri Lanka, and Costa Rica. This is the type used most often in powder form for baking, and it’s also the most highly-valued of the cardamom family. Black cardamom (amomum subulatum), is native to Nepal, Bhutan, India, and China. It has a bolder flavor than its green counterpart, so it’s more fitting for meat rubs and stews, rather than in delicate pastries. Black cardamom is used whole, then discarded (3), while green cardamom can be used as whole pods, split pods, whole seeds, or ground. The flavor disappears rapidly so it’s best purchased whole and used quickly, if you can afford it. (1)
In Scandinavia, you can find cardamom in sweets and meatballs (mmmmmmmmeatballs), and a liquor called akvavit. (1)
what can I make with this so-called “queen of spices”?
Stumped on where to start? That sucks for you.
I’m kidding. Every chance I get, I use cardamom in my own baking so here are all the recipes I’ve posted on this blog that use the spice:
In fact, a few of my upcoming recipes also feature cardamom. It’s not only Queen of the Spices, but it’s a popular holiday spice, as well.
upcoming saturday spices: