The great voyages of exploration of the 1400s, like those of Columbus, were mainly to find ways to reach sources of spices in Southeast Asia.
The Molucca Islands in Indonesia were known as the Spice Islands because they were the main source of cloves, nutmeg and mace.
Sesame was used by the Ancient Chinese for ink and by the Romans as sandwich spread. Arabs thought it had magical powers. In Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves, Ali says, ‘open sesame’ to magically open a door.
Cinnamon is the inner bark of a laurel tree native to Sri Lanka. It was once more valuable than gold.
The yellow stigmas of the purple saffron crocus make the valuable spice, saffron.
Allspice is the berries of a myrtle tree native to the West Indies. It gets its name because it tastes like a mixture of cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg.
In Ancient Greece and Rome people often paid their taxes in peppercorns.
Cloves are the dried buds of a large evergreen tree that grows in the Moluccas.
From 200 BC, Chinese courtiers sucked cloves to make their breath smell sweet for the Emperor.
Saffron is the yellow stigmas of the purple saffron crocus, used as a dye by Buddhist priests. It is the most costly of all spices. It takes 170,000 flowers to make just 1 kg.
Spices made from fragrant tropical plants have long been used to flavor food.