30 November, 2020

Pass Me Some Spice Root

Now, look at your garam masala with new interest and respect. Keay gives us its history.

Jitender Gupta
Pass Me Some Spice Root
John Keay has authored several very readable books about 19th and 20th century travellers, explorers, surveyors and scholars. Here, he recreates the long, exciting history of the spice trade. The utility of spices, Keay tells us, lay in their "glorious irrelevance", their ability to impress and to excite envy. Their mystique lay in their rarity and exoticism and the ignorance of Europeans about their native home. Unlike tea, rubber or oil, whose sources were discovered before they became items of trade, spices were sought and traded long before Europe discovered exactly where they came from. No other trade in history, Keay emphasises, was so coveted, so hotly contested, none had such dramatic impact on world history.

The spice route was actually a cluster of routes, different segments of which came to the fore at various times. It ran across an enormous expanse—increasingly more water than land—in Europe and Southeast Asia. Its story is international, involving the participation of Greeks, Indians, Arabs, Chinese, Malay, Africans, Portuguese, Spaniards, the English and...



To read this piece, and more such stories in India's most exciting and exacting magazine, plus get access to our 25-year archives goldmine, please subscribe.

In this article:

More from Upinder Singh

Latest Magazine

December 07, 2020

other articles from the issue

articles from the previous issue

Other magazine section