The Spice Route by John Keay

I first read this book about eleven years ago, but recently found myself revisiting it.

‘..the allure of spices lay precious in their glorious irrelevance ..’

If you’ve ever wondered about what exactly constitutes a spice, where most spices came from and why they were so valuable, then this book will give you a great overview.  Did you know, for example, that mace and nutmeg come from the same plant?  Or that salt (which is a mineral) is alone in adding intrinsic preservative value to food?

I found this book provided a perfect blend of the exotic, the heroic and the mundane.  The story of the journeys which resulted in the discovery of spices, the desire for the rare and the risks associated with transportation make for fascinating reading.  Long before a formal stock market existed, futures were made and lost in this precious trade.  The spice trade is a fascinating juxtaposition of an historical process spanning three millennia, a geographic progression that encircles the world and a trade in commodities that have little intrinsic value.

So, if you have ever wondered about the stories behind those small packets or glass bottles containing  those mysteriously named ingredients that so many of us use in our cooking, you may like to read this book.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith