We continue our global trade mini-series with one of the most distinguishing elements of a cuisine: spice. Where would any regional food culture be without its unique blend of spices? Where would Italian food be without oregano, or Thai food without the bird’s eye chili? Historically, spices are associated with a nation, a region, or perhaps a dish. Yet, in our contemporary world, the average home cook can find the world in their spice rack.
Although we can’t encapsulate the entirety of historic and modern spice trade and its influence in this episode, we consider four unique stories on the histories and implications of flavoring food. We explain the universal adoption and adoration for the chili pepper, and how its violent historic exchange still shrouds many regional foodways. We take a look at the economics of saffron and why it’s so expensive. Then we explore the perception of well-known flavor enhancer, MSG, and why its controversy may be unfounded. Finally, we examine the impetus for current farmer protests igniting in India and what that may mean for the future of global spice trade.
Listen in next week, as we continue our global journey with bites of everything strange, interesting and important in the world of historic and contemporary trade.
Further Reading and Listening:
You can visit the Vanilla, Saffron Imports company website here.
Check out Sarah Lohman’s book, Eight Flavors: The Untold Story of American Cuisine here. Learn more about the sham letter to the New England Journal of Medicine at the origin of MSG’s bad rap here. While you’re at it, check out the FDA’s questions and answers page regarding the facts on MSG as a safe food additive.
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