Core ingredient: Black pepper, the spice that rewrote history
Black pepper was one of the earliest commodities to be traded in the world. It is impossible to talk about black pepper without talking about the historical turn of events around trade, the spice routes that were established as a result of the trade and the beginning of what we call globalization today.
The early Roman Empire got direct access to the Malabar Coast in India and its range of exotic spices after their conquest of Egypt in 30 BC. To give you an idea of how precious black pepper was considered—3,000 pounds of black pepper was demanded along with gold, silver and silken tunics, as a ransom to free Rome besieged by the Huns. In 410 AD, Roman geographer Strabo documented that a fleet of 120 ships was sent on a round trip by the early empire on a one-year trip to China, South-East Asia and India. On their return, they travelled up the Red Sea, and cargo was carried via land to Alexandria (Egypt) and then shipped to Rome. These routes would later become the dominant routes for pepper trade from the Malabar Coast to Europe for more than 1,500 years to come.
The spice routes were the earliest trade routes and people braved treacherous sea voyages in search of precious tradable goods such as spices. Black pepper, termed black gold, was used as currency in the Middle Ages and the term “as dear as pepper" was used for anything very expensive. Portugal and Spain had intense rivalry between them, for control of the trade with the East. In 1494, this was arbitrated by the Pope and the Treaty of Tordesillas was signed, drawing an imaginary north-south line dividing through the Atlantic, which gave all the newly discovered lands to the west of this line to Spain and everything to the east to Portugal.
The prices of pepper were extremely high in the Middle Ages and the trade was completely dominated by the Romans. In the mid-15th century, Portugal was the leading maritime nation in all of Europe. Under the leadership of Prince Henry, the Navigator, all efforts were on to find a sea route to India to break the monopoly of the Romans, get a hold of the exotic spices from the East. Manuel I commissioned Vasco da Gama, the Portuguese explorer, to sail to India. He became the first person to sail from Europe to India, taking the circuitous route around Africa, avoiding the caravan Silk Routes through the Middle East and Central Asia. When da Gama arrived in Calicut, the existing Arab traders who were fluent in Arabic and Spanish asked him what had brought him there. “Christians and spices," he declared. His successful voyage was the start of 450 years of Portuguese colonialism over India. These goods were bought and sold from port to port, all of which formed links in the spice route that extended from Europe to the Far East. The Treaty of Tordesillas allowed Portugal to retain its control over the West African coastal trade and the future sea route to India that was later established by da Gama.
Many of these spices had medicinal values and would grow only in the tropics of the East that made them much sought after in the West. These spices were not just used as food-flavouring agents, but in potions, antidotes for poisons, ointments and some were even burnt as incense.
The Portuguese dominated the spice trade for nearly a century only to be broken by the Dutch, and around the beginning of 1635 by the British who established pepper plantations.
Who would have thought that the humble pepper that sits as a part of the salt-and-pepper shaker on present-day dining tables would have had such an influence over the trade history in the world?
Before the 7th century, pepper vines that would grow in the wild were transplanted in Java and Sumatra. Presently, Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu are the top three pepper-producing states in India. While production has more than doubled between 2008 and 2012 in Karnataka, it has fallen to less than half during the same period in Kerala, with farmers moving towards multi-cropping and faster crops such as cardamom.
Among the 1,000-odd different species in the genus Piper, the other popular ones are long pepper (pippali) and betel leaf. Black pepper grows on flowering vines up to 10m in height, that grow with the support of tall trees such as silver oak or supporting poles. The vines spread easily, wherever the shoots hit the ground. The vines bear fruit from the fourth or fifth year and continue for seven years thereafter.
Once the fruits at the base of the spikes start turning red, the spikes are harvested, allowed to dry and then the pepper fruits stripped off the spikes to get black pepper. The premium Indian varieties of black pepper are Malabar Garbled and Tellicherry Extra Bold.
Long pepper was more popular than black pepper in the ancient times as the former grew in the north-western parts of India, making it easier to access compared with black pepper that grew exclusively down south.
The heat in black pepper comes from the active ingredient piperine, while in chillies it comes from capsaicin. Piperine and the essential oil, together or separately, are used in various products in the food processing industry.
Immature or partly mature peppercorns are used in manufacturing of various green pepper products such as green pepper in brine, oil or vinegar, desiccated green pepper, pickles, pastes, etc.
Black pepper is obtained from the still-unripe green berries (drupes) that are put in hot water briefly and then dried in the sun or using machines, during which the outer coat shrinks and becomes black.
White pepper is obtained from the mature fruit. It is soaked in brine for a week and when the outer skin decomposes, it is peeled off to obtain the inner seed.
Sichuan pepper belongs to a totally different family and is not related to black peppercorns. Similarly, pink peppercorns are also unrelated to the black pepper family.
Black pepper is considered a basic food seasoning in combination with salt, and possibly the only spice placed on the table to add to food at the time of eating. Peugeot, the French company famous for its cars, has been making pepper mills for longer than it has been making cars. Pepper mills can be adjusted to grind pepper to a desired size, whether it’s coarser for steak or a fine powder to garnish a soup.
A steaming hot and spicy pepper rasam (milagu rasam) is the South Indian equivalent of chicken soup and a perfect recipe when the throat is sore and one feels the onset of flu. It effectively clears up the sinuses and relieves flu-like symptoms. Whole and ground pepper are liberally used in many curries and rice dishes, to add flavour and spice. Ground pepper is a part of some of the curry powder formulations. Peppercorn sauce traditionally prepared by reducing cream and addition of black pepper is served with filet mignon, rack of lamb or chicken dishes.
White pepper finds a better fit in white sauces. It is also the choice of pepper for cream soups, mashed potatoes, and Thai and Chinese cuisine.
One of the signature dishes of Mangalorean restaurants such as Trishna (Mumbai) and Mahesh Lunch Home (Mumbai, Pune, Bengaluru, Dubai) is crabs with butter-pepper-garlic, which amply showcases this spice from the south.
The book Ayurvedic Healing Cuisine by Rajesh Johri gives a recipe for black peppercorn tea, which is said to be useful in reducing the mucus in the respiratory system and also aids in reducing fever. To make this tea, boil 15 peppercorns in two cups of water until the water is reduced to half cup. This tea can be sweetened with some raw sugar. Black peppercorn powder with some ghee and honey or raw sugar consumed daily is said to be good to provide relief from cough.
A doctor turned nutritional consultant, culinary trainer, food writer and columnist, who’s learning to grow the foods she likes to eat, Nandita Iyer lives in Bengaluru and is mom to a five-year-old gourmand son.
Pepper was known as Black Gold in the Middle Ages as it used to be worth its weight in gold. In the fifth century, 3,000 pounds of pepper was demanded as ransom by Alaric the Visigoth for sparing Rome. Pepper grew in the hills of southwest India, and demand for the valuable spice made the Malabar coast one of the world's great destinations. Pepper, indispensable to preserving meat, sold in Europe for 600 times its cost in India during the 16th and 17th centuries.
I am black on the outside, clad in a wrinkled cover,
Yet within I bear a burning marrow.
I season delicacies, the banquets of kings, and the luxuries of the table,
Both the sauces and the tenderized meats of the kitchen.
Pepper was transported to Europe overland across Asia on the Silk Road during the middle ages. With the collapse of the Byzantine Empire in the 15th century, all overland routes were controlled by the Ottoman Empire, which limited the passage of European merchants. Conflicts, tariffs, and taxes drove the price of pepper up 30-fold. In response, Spain and Portugal attempted to find a sea route to India, initiating the European Age of Discovery. In 1492 Christopher Columbus accidentally discovered the Americas, landing on islands that he thought were part of India. Columbus knew that the world was round and was convinced that a quicker and easier route to India could be found by sailing west. But Columbus thought the earth was smaller, and ended up 8,000 miles from his intended destination.
Saint Aldhelm, Bishop of Sherborne, England,
In 1497 Vasco Da Gama discovered the first sea route from Europe to the Malabar, sailing from Lisbon around the Cape of Good Hope, and landing at Kappad in North Malabar in May 1498. With the new sea route to the Spice Coast, immense fortunes were made by European spice traders during the 16th and 17th centuries, and the colonization of Asia followed. The US entered the pepper trade at the end of the 18th century, circumventing local monopolies maintained by the Dutch and other European sea-faring powers. Yale University, for instance, owes its existence to the philanthropy of Elihu Yale, whose fortune was made in the spice trade.Pepper engraving, Lansdown Guilding, 1832 Roman era trade route to the Malabar Coast Vasco da Gama lands on the Malabar Coast
On the Spice Trail: History of Pepper
Pepper is, and always has been, the world’s most-traded spice, from antiquity to the present day. Pepper is so ubiquitous that we tend not to even think of it as a spice. Salt and pepper is added to just about every savory dish (and some sweet), but salt is considered a condiment, not a spice. Pepper, on the other hand, is the king of spices, found everywhere but rarely thought of in any detail. Homage should be paid to this mighty spice that inhabits every cuisine (can we think of one that never features pepper?), for it has a far more fascinating history than you might imagine.
Black pepper (Piper nigrum) comes from a flowering vine, and what we think of as peppercorns are actually pieces of fruit that have been dried and can be crushed in our tabletop pepper mills. Different colored peppers are actually variously-aged peppercorns from the same plant: black pepper is the boiled then dried “fruit” of the pepper plant before it has been given a chance to ripen green pepper is the uncooked, dried unripe fruit, and white pepper represents the ripe seeds of the fruit (with the darker skin removed). To impress your friends, you can mention that pepper is produced from the drupes of the pepper plant. No, I’d never hear of “drupes” either before researching this article, but they apparently are the proper word to describe any stone fruit, fleshy on the outside with a hard pit in the center (offer to bake your friends a drupe pie, and see what they say). Black pepper is indigenous to southern India, though these days a third of the world’s pepper comes from Vietnam, by far the largest producer.
What makes pepper “peppery’ is a chemical called piperine, which derives from the Latin, piper, itself a derivative of the ancient Dravidian word, pippali. Pepper has the distinction of being the only spice that is used in a figurative sense. Since the 1840s, someone with “pepper” was said to be spirited and vivacious (you never hear of someone with “saffron” or “turmeric”).
At some point when I was younger, I recall learning that pepper was originally used as a spice to preserve and mask bad tastes, rather than enhance good ones. Prior to refrigeration, mildly (or very) spoiled meat could have its off flavor masked by the application of sufficient pepper. This may have made it palatable (although your intestinal tract might not have been too happy the next morning). The latest research, however, concludes that this theory cannot be backed up, as there are no extant sources that confirm it. The latest scholarship argues that pepper was always a luxury item in short supply, and indeed used as a flavoring agent. It was of sufficient value that some cultures used it, like salt, as currency.
It didn’t only preserve food: black peppercorns were found inside the nostrils of the mummy of Pharaoh Ramses II, and were part of the mummification ritual back around 1200 BC. The spice made its way from India to Greece and was recorded as a luxury item in the 4th century BC. Pliny the Elder, that wondrous fountain of esoteric knowledge of the ancient Roman world, gives us the price of long pepper (more common in the ancient world, and spicier than black pepper) cost “fifteen denarii per pound, while that of white pepper is seven, and of black, four.” He goes on to complain that the pepper trade is a vast expense for Rome, in the pockets of India: “There is no year in which India does not drain the Roman Empire of fifty million sesterces…It is quite surprising that the use of pepper has come so much into fashion, seeing that…pepper has nothing in it that can plead as a recommendation…its only desirable quality being a certain pungency…Who, I wonder, was the first to make trial of it as an article of food?” It’s a fair question, although perhaps its “pungency” was not the negative Pliny seemed to feel it was—in fact, the ancient world developed quite a taste for it. It is featured in Apicius’ ancient Roman cookbook circa the 1st century AD. It was always costly (in Early Modern Holland, the term peperduur arose, meaning “pepper expensive,” or very expensive).
When Alaric, King of the Visigoths, besieged Rome, among his demands to release the city was 3000 pounds of pepper. And lest we think that pepper is not important beyond culinary history, the discovery of the New World was partly down to looking for cheaper pepper. Through the Renaissance, Italy had a monopoly on the European pepper trade and Vasco da Gama’s 1498 voyage to India was an attempt by Portugal to cut out the middle man and open an oceanic spice trade route for themselves.
To finish our surprisingly potent history of pepper, we end with a riddle penned by Saint Aldhelm, the 7th century Bishop of Sherborne in England.
I am black on the outside, clad in a wrinkled cover,
Yet within I bear a burning marrow.
I season delicacies, the banquets of kings, and the luxuries of the table,
Both the sauces and the tenderized meats of the kitchen.
But you will find in me no quality of any worth,
Unless your bowels have been rattled by my gleaming marrow.
You can probably guess the solution to the riddle. When it comes to cooking, I’m all for this “bowel- rattling” powerful spice.
Peppercorn: A Very Brief History
Peppercorn, or “black pepper,” comes from the fruit of the piper nigrum and is one of the founding ingredients of the Western spice trade. So much so that Marco Polo reports the locations in which it is sold and grown, frequently and in great detail. But before this Venetian, we have record of an extensive pepper trade centuries before he ever put pen to paper (or, more accurately, put pen to vellum). Modern excavations put pepper’s origin in Kerala, India. These excavations also show early trade routes popping up between Kerala and countries in the Middle East by at least 1000 BC. In this area of the world, peppercorn was widely used, and was even included in mummification ceremonies, including that of Ramses II, widely considered the Pharaoh of the Exodus. (Of course, most of the spices Egyptians came across ended up stuffed inside mummies.) By 100 BC, peppercorn had traveled east into China, where the wealthy preferred it over their native Sichuan pepper.
Ancient Rome also highly valued piper nigrum, even using it as currency. However, they were also one of the first to use the spice extensively in cooking. Their writers include pepper in nearly every recipe, from adding a pinch in their desserts to adding an entire 2 tablespoons to flavor just four eggs. These over-peppered dishes were used by the elite as a common display of wealth. But pepper’s heyday in Rome was not to last. The long pepper, a genetic cousin of piper nigrum (and also from India), overtook peppercorn’s market value, becoming both the more valuable as well as the pepper of choice–though this would change yet again in 641 AD.
When the Muslims conquered Alexandria, Arab and Venetian merchants formed a monopoly called “The Muslim Wall”. This again drove up peppercorn’s value. But even their high prices failed to dampen the spice’s demand. Middle age recipes, akin to the Romans’, called for offensive amounts of pepper, despite the fact that a pound of peppercorn could buy the freedom of a French surf.
By the 16th and early 17th centuries, pepper’s price had peaked. Even Queen Elizabeth had her sailors sew up their pockets in order to prevent them from pinching peppercorns. And with the march of the 17th century, advancements in navigation and trade helped bring peppercorn to more ports. This would also bring pepper competitors and eventually a saturation in the market. Not because there was less demand, but because strengthening trade routes with India made it easier and easier to get a hold of the once coveted plant. At the same time, more exotic seasonings and even other “peppers” were brought in from the Americas, overshadowing the old peppercorn.
Over the 18th and 19th centuries, trade continued to increase, lowering prices, and allowing more and more people to buy pepper. Because of these advancements, the once ostentatious spice grew less and less expensive. And while in this century there remains a separation between high and low quality, color types (black, white, red, and green), and even brined versus fresh peppercorns, everyone still has a bit of “black gold” in their cupboard. What the French once paid their rent in, today is sold for pennies on the dollar.
Possible Pepper Trade Route - History
There is some controversy about the origin of chillies/capsicums. There is even discrepancy about the botanical classification. Although some experts believe that various species came from Mexico, it is generally accepted that the ancestors of chillies originated in an area of Bolivia and spread through Central and South America in the early days. Evidence suggests that C. annuum originally occurred in northern Latin America and C. chinense in tropical northern Amazonia (Pickersgill 1971). Capsicum pubescens and C. baccatum appear to be more prevalent in lower South America. Thus, at the time of discovery, the former two species were exploited while the latter two species awaited a later discovery and remain largely unexploited outside South America today. It has been suggested that C. frutescens, in its primitive form, may be the ancestor of C. chinense (Eshbaugh et al. 1983).
Chili peppers have been a part of the human diet in the Americas since at least 7500 BC. There is archaeological evidence at sites located in a tropical lowland area of southwestern Ecuador that chili peppers were domesticated more than 6000 years ago, the chilli grains show that peppers were among the oldest domesticated foods in the hemisphere and is one of the first cultivated crops in the Central and South Americas. The team of scientists who made the discovery say the spice must have been transported over the Andes to what is now Ecuador as the chillies only grew naturally to the east of the mountain range. In Panama, chilies were used around 5,600 years ago. Chilies have also been found to have been used at a site occupied 4,000 years ago in the Peruvian Andes, In this case, the chilies were identified as the species C. pubescens. Newer sites in the Bahamas 1,000 years ago and in Venezuela 500 to 1000 years ago also yielded remains of the chilies
Christopher Columbus was one of the first Europeans to encounter Chillies on his first voyage in 1492to the Caribbean and named " red peppers" because of their colour and similarity in taste (though not in appearance) with the Old World peppers of the Piper genus.
Diego Álvarez Chanca, a physician on Columbus' second voyage to the West Indies in 1493, brought the first chilies to Spain, and first wrote about their medicinal qualities in 1494. In 1493, Peter Martyr (Anghiera 1493) wrote that Columbus brought home "pepper more pungent than that from the Caucasus."
Upon their introduction into Europe chillis were grown as botanical curiosities in the gardens of Spanish and Portuguese monasteries. It was the monks who first experimented with the chillis' culinary potential and discovered that their pungency offered a substitute for black peppercorns, which at the time were so costly that they were used as legal currency in some countries
Within 50 years of its discovery, the humble chilli pepper had spread across most of the then known world.
"Interestingly. it was not the Spanish who were responsible for the early diffusion of the chilli plant. It was the Portuguese who were aided by local traders following long-used trade routes, spreading the plants though the Old World with almost unbelievable rapidity. Unfortunately, documentation for the routes in which the chillli peppers followed from the Americas is not plentiful. The fiery new spice was readily accepted by the natives of Africa and India. Then from India, chilli peppers spread to not only along the Portuguese route back around Africa to Europe but also over ancient trade routes that led either to Europe via the Middle East or thru to Asia. if it wasn’t the Portuguese who had carried chilli peppers to Southeast Asia and Japan, the new spice would have been spread perhaps by Arabic, Gujurati, Chinese, Malaysian, Vietnamese, and Javanese traders. In the Szechuan and Hunan provinces in China, foods from the Americas were known there by the middle of the sixteenth century, having reached these regions via caravan routes from the Ganges River through Burma and across western China. "
Despite a European 'discovery' of the Americas, chilli peppers spread throughout Europe in circuitous fashion. Venice was the centre of the spice and Oriental trade of central Europe, from Venice the trade route went to Antwerp and the rest of Europe, although Antwerp also received Far Eastern goods from the Portuguese via India, Africa, and Lisbon. It was along these avenues that chili peppers travelled into much of Europe. They were in Italy by 1535, England before 1538, Germany by 1542, the Balkans before 1569 and Moravia by 1585. But except in the Balkans and Turkey, Europeans did not make much use of chilli peppers until the Napoleonic blockade cut off their supply of spices and they turned to Balkan paprika as a substitute. Prior to that, Europeans had mainly grown capsicums in containers as ornamentals.
A few new spices reached Britain after the end of the Middle Ages. The Spaniards brought back from Central America several members of the capsicum family, which were naturalized in southern Europe. The larger fruits were imported thence into England under the name of Guinea pepper. The smallest, reddest and hottest of the American capsicums, when dried and powdered, produced cayenne pepper, the 'chyan' of English eighteenth century recipe books. Its circuitous route caused it to be transferred to Britain from India in 1538. In 1597, the botanist John Gerard referred to cayenne as "ginnie or Indian pepper" in his herbal, and in his influential herbal of 1652, Nicholas Culpepper wrote that cayenne was "this violent fruit" that was of considerable service to "help digestion, provoke urine, relieve toothache, preserve the teeth from rottenness, comfort a cold stomach, expel the stone from the kidney, and take away dimness of sight." Cayenne appeared in Miller's The Gardener's and Botanist's Dictionary in 1768, proving it was being cultivated in England--at least in home gardens."
CHILE PEPPERS IN COLONIAL AMERICA
Chilli of the annuum species were transferred into what is now the American Southwest--first by birds and then by humankind. Botanists believe that the wild annum variety known as chiltepins spread northward from Mexico through dissemination by birds long before Native Americans domesticated peppers and made them part of their trade goods. These chiltepins still grow wild today in Arizona and in South Texas, where they are known as chilipiquins. According to most accounts, chilli peppers were introduced the second time into what is now known the United States by Calitan General Juan de Onate, who founded Santé Fe in 1609. However, they may have been introduced to the Pueblo Indians of New Mexico by the Antonio Espejo expedition of 1582-83. According to one of the members of the expedition. "They have no chilli, but the native were given some seed to plant." But by 1601, chillis were not on the list of Indian crops, according to colonist Francisco de Valverde..But soon chillis were being grown by Spanish and Indians alike.. We do know that soon after the Spanish arrived, the cultivation of peppers in New Mexico spread rapidly and the pods were grow both in Spanish settlements and native pueblos. During the 1700s, peppers were popping up in other parts of the country. In 1768, according to legend, Minorca settlers in St. Augustine, Florida, introduced the datil pepper, a land race of the Chinese species. Other introductions were also occurring during the eighteenth century. In 1785, George Washington planted two rows of "bird peppers" and one row of cayenne at Mount Vernon, but it is not known how he acquired the seed. Another influential American, Thomas Jefferson, was also growing peppers from seed imported from Mexico. By the early 1800s, commercial seed varieties became available to the American public. In 1806 a botanist named McMahon listed four varieties for sale, and in 1826, another botanist named Thornburn listed "Long' (cayenne), "Tomato-Shaped' (squash), 'Bell' (ox heart), 'Cherry' and 'Bird' (West Indian) peppers as available for gardeners
They were introduced to South Asia in the 1500s From Mexico, at the time the Spanish colony that controlled commerce with Asia, chili peppers spread rapidly into the Philippines and then to India, China, Indonesia, Korea and Japan. They were incorporated into the local cuisines.
An alternate account for the spread of chili peppers is that the Portuguese got the pepper from Spain, and cultivated it in India. The chili pepper figures heavily in the cuisine of the Goan region of India, which was the site of a Portuguese colony. Chili peppers journeyed from India, through Central Asia and Turkey, to Hungary, where it became the national spice in the form of paprika.
from South Asia to China and Southeast Asia is not recorded in much detail, but it is assumed that local, Arab and European traders carried the chiles via traditional trading routes along the coasts and great waterways such as the Ganges
CHILLI PEPPER TRADE ROUTES
Map showing the routes by which chillies travelled from the Americas to Africa and Eurasia. The tale begins with Columbus' voyage of 1495 (green line), but the true spread of chillies occurred concurrent with the Portuguese voyages (red lines) from 1498 to 1549 as they traversed the globe from Africa through Arabia, India, the Spice Islands, China and Japan. Also shown (blue lines) are the ancient overland routes from India to China, the Spice route from Arabia to China and the trade route from Arabia to Central Europe.
Perry, L. et al. 2007. Starch fossils and the domestication and dispersal of chili peppers (Capsicum spp. L.) in the Americas. Science 315: 986–988
BBC News Online. 2007. Chilies heated ancient cuisine. Friday, 16 February..
Cambridge World History of Food, Kenneth F. Kiple & Kriemhild Conee Ornelas [Cambridge University Press:Cambridge], Volume One, 2000 (p. 282).
The Chile Pepper Encyclopedia, Dave DeWitt [William Morrow:New York] 1999 (p. 13-4)
Food in Early Modern Europe, Ken Albala [Greenwood Press:Westport CT] 2003 (p. 32)
Food & Drink in Britain From the Stone Age to the 19th Century, C. Anne Wilson [Academy Chicago:Chicago] 1991 (p. 293)
The Chile Pepper Encyclopedia, Dave DeWitt [William Morrow:New York] 1999 (p. 68-69)
The simple history of salt
Use of salt is as old as an art of cooking is. Humans started harvesting salt in 6000 BC in China.
The history of salt is simple. Animals created trails to salt licks and men followed. Trails developed into roads and settlements were created nearby. When we settled for farming, even more, salt was required to supplement our diet.
Salt became one of the most traded commodities.
Salt’s ability to preserve food was a significant contributor to the development of civilization. Salt eliminated dependence on seasonal food and enable food transportation over long distances.
Until the invention of refrigerators salt was one of the most effective food preservatives.
In ancient times salt was a currency, a reason to start a war and opportunity to get extremely rich. For Romans salt was so valuable, that event soldiers of imperial legions were paid with salt.
The English word for “salary” is derived from the Latin word “salarium”, meaning monthly allowance to buy salt.
Venice built its wealth by trading salt for spices. They would bring salt to Constantinople and exchange it for spices.
Salt solidified or destroyed power of governments. Chinese emperors realized salt can be used as a leverage to control population. In fact, salt was one of the seven necessities of life in China.
French were forced to buy all their salt from royal deposits. The gabelle or salt tax was established in mid 14th century and was abolished only in 1946!
In the American war of Independence American government would often pay soldiers in salt. Thomas Jefferson in his address to Congress mentioned a supposed mountain of salt near the Missouri river as a reason for Lewis and Clarke's expedition.
During the American Civil war, both sides tried to gain control over salt sources. For example, the Union forces fought a 36-hour battle to capture Saltville, Virginia, because of its salt plant.
Age of European Discovery: finding a new route and a New World
The Republic of Venice had become a formidable power, and a key player in the Eastern spice trade. ⎤] Other powers, in an attempt to break the Venetian hold on spice trade, began to build up maritime capability. Ώ] Until the mid-15th century, trade with the east was achieved through the Silk Road, with the Byzantine Empire and the Italian city-states of Venice and Genoa acting as a middle man.
In 1453, however, the Ottoman Empire took control of the sole spice trade route that existed at the time after the fall of Constantinople, and were in a favorable position to charge hefty taxes on merchandise bound for the west. The Western Europeans, not wanting to be dependent on an expansionist, non-Christian power for the lucrative commerce with the east, set out to find an alternate sea route around Africa.Template:Citation needed
The first country to attempt to circumnavigate Africa was Portugal, which had, since the early 15th century, begun to explore northern Africa under Henry the Navigator. Emboldened by these early successes and eyeing a lucrative monopoly on a possible sea route to the Indies the Portuguese first crossed the Cape of Good Hope in 1488 on an expedition led by Bartolomeu Dias. ⎥] Just nine years later in 1497 on the orders of Manuel I of Portugal, four vessels under the command of navigator Vasco da Gama rounded the Cape of Good Hope, continuing to the eastern coast of Africa to Malindi to sail across the Indian Ocean to Calicut, on the Malabar Coast in Kerala. Γ] in South India – the capital of the local Zamorin rulers. The wealth of the Indies was now open for the Europeans to explore the Portuguese Empire was the earliest European seaborne empire to grow from the spice trade. Γ]
In 1511, Afonso de Albuquerque conquered Malacca for Portugal, then the center of Asian trade. East of Malacca, Albuquerque sent several diplomatic and exploratory missions, including to the Moluccas. Getting to know the secret location of the Spice Islands, mainly the Banda Islands, then the world source of nutmeg, he sent an expedition led by António de Abreu to Banda, where they were the first Europeans to arrive in early 1512. ⎦] Abreu's expedition reached Buru, Ambon and Seram Islands, and then Banda.
From 1507 to 1515 Albuquerque tried to completely block Arab and other traditional routes that stretched from the shores of Western Pacific to the Mediterranean sea, through the conquest of strategic bases in the Persian Gulf and at the entry of the Red Sea.
By the early 16th century the Portuguese had complete control of the African sea route, which extended through a long network of routes that linked three oceans, from the Moluccas (the Spice Islands) in the Pacific Ocean limits, through Malacca, Kerala and Sri Lanka, to Lisbon in Portugal (Europe).
The Crown of Castile had organized the expedition of Christopher Columbus to compete with Portugal for the spice trade with Asia, but when Columbus landed on the island of Hispaniola (what is now Haiti) instead of in the Indies the search for a route to Asia was postponed until a few years later. After Vasco Núñez de Balboa crossed the Isthmus of Panama in 1513, the Spanish Crown prepared a westward voyage with Ferdinand Magellan, in order to reach Asia from Spain across the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. On 21 October 1520, his expedition crossed the Strait of Magellan in the southern tip of South America, opening the Pacific to European exploration. On 16 March 1521, the ships reached the Philippines and soon after the Spice Islands, ultimately resulting decades later, in the Manila Galleon trade, the first westward spice trade route to Asia. After Magellan's death in the Philippines, navigator Juan Sebastian Elcano took command of the expedition and drove it across the Indian Ocean and back to Spain, where they arrived in 1522 aboard the last remaining ship: the Victoria. For the next two and half centuries, Spain controlled a vast trade network that linked three continents: Asia, the Americas and Europe. A global spice route had been created: from Manila in the Philippines (Asia) to Seville in Spain (Europe), via Acapulco in Mexico (North America).
The pepper plant
The pepper plant is a perennial woody vine growing to four metres in height on supporting trees, poles, or trellises. It is a spreading vine, rooting readily where trailing stems touch the ground. The leaves are alternate, entire, five to ten centimetres long and three to six centimetres broad. The flowers are small, produced on pendulous spikes four to eight centimetres long at the leaf nodes, the spikes lengthening to seven to 15 centimetres as the fruit matures.
Black pepper is grown in soil that is neither too dry nor susceptible to flooding, is moist, well-drained and rich in organic matter. The plants are propagated by cuttings about 40 to 50 centimetres long, tied up to neighbouring trees or climbing frames at distances of about two metres apart trees with rough bark are favoured over those with smooth bark, as the pepper plants climb rough bark more readily. Competing plants are cleared away, leaving only sufficient trees to provide shade and permit free ventilation. The roots are covered in leaf mulch and manure, and the shoots are trimmed twice a year. On dry soils the young plants require watering every other day during the dry season for the first three years. The plants bear fruit from the fourth or fifth year, and typically continue to bear fruit for seven years. The cuttings are usually cultivars, selected both for yield and quality of fruit.
A single stem will bear 20 to 30 fruiting spikes. The harvest begins as soon as one or two berries at the base of the spikes begin to turn red, and before the fruit is mature, but when full grown and still hard if allowed to ripen, the berries lose pungency, and ultimately fall off and are lost. The spikes are collected and spread out to dry in the sun, then the peppercorns are stripped off the spikes.
Peppercorns are, by monetary value, the most widely traded spice in the world, accounting for 20 percent of all spice imports in 2002. The price of pepper can be volatile, and this figure fluctuates a great deal year to year for example, pepper made up 39 percent of all spice imports in 1998.  By weight, slightly more chilli peppers are traded worldwide than peppercorns. The International Pepper Exchange is located in Kochi, India.
Vietnam has recently become the world's largest producer and exporter of pepper (85,000 long tons in 2003). Other major producers include Indonesia (67,000 tons), India (65,000 tons), Brazil (35,000 tons), Malaysia (22,000 tons), Sri Lanka (12,750 tons), Thailand, and China. Vietnam dominates the export market, using almost none of its production domestically. In 2003, Vietnam exported 82,000 tons of pepper, Indonesia 57,000 tons, Brazil 37,940 tons, Malaysia 18,500 tons, and India 17,200 tons.