The National Heritage of Spices

Inspired by the recent online Oxford Food Symposium on herbs and spices, we are delving into the fascinating and world of spices. From podcasts to eBook chapters, we have brought together key material which explores the heritage of popular ingredients, and their social and cultural power to help forge a sense of national identity. From the different spice cultures in India, to the history of the cultivation of opium poppies in West Central Anatolia, traverse the globe and learn more about the history of spices.

A poppy field in Turkey

Ox Tales Podcast: The Opium Poppies of Anatolia

In this Ox Tales podcast from the Oxford Food Symposium, Aylin Öney Tan talks to Anna Sigrithur about the village of Isamailkoy in the Afyon Provence of West Central Anatolia, which is working to continue the cultivation of a traditional crop, the opium poppy. International pressures to crack down on opiates have led to strict regulations in Turkey, making opium poppy production particularly difficult. Click here to listen and find out how the villagers of Isamailkoy are facing these issues and preserving their traditional poppy.

Spice bottles on a shelf

Variations of Spice Culture in India

Like the differing architecture and linguistic features, the North and South of India have separate staple foods, with many variations between their traditions. Cooks from the North may have many dry spices in store, such as cardamom, ginger, turmeric and black pepper, while cooks in the South use few dried spices, and instead rely on fresh ingredients that are purchased day to day. The regional variation is more complex than a simple North – South divide, however; click here to learn more about the culture of food in India, and the many variations between the regions.

Gathering spices in India

National Origins of Spices

It is difficult to identify the place of origin for some spices; throughout history they have been introduced to many habitations worldwide, making it tricky to determine whether a spice is indigenous to the area or not. Historic written sources that mention plants, such as the works of Aristotle, Virgil and Pliny, can be problematic as factual records, emphasised by the contrasting names of spices in Greek or Latin texts. This chapter explores the difficulties of reconstructing the ancient history of spices, and attempts to outline the origin of spices used historically and today.

Spice Alley.

Case Study: Finding “flavors of the Asian metropolis” in Sydney, Australia

In this chapter from Culinary Nationalism in Asia, Jean Duruz builds on issues of migration, place-making and identity, and explores the cultural and gastronomic scene of cities. Focusing particularly on Spice Alley in Australia, a complex of restaurants and other retail spaces, Duruz describes the creation of ‘Asian’ eateries in the Sydney dining scene and how this fits within ideas of Australia’s national imagination. Click here to join Duruz on a trip down Spice Alley as she hunts for Iasksa, a distinctive Nyonya dish.

Market Stand Spices

Spices and Cultural Identity in England

In this chapter from Food and Identity in England, 1540–1640, Paul S. Lloyd describes the cultural implications of spices, which, as a staple synonymous with foreign continents, provided a ‘link with the sophisticated Mediterranean world’. This lifestyle of abundance was a hallmark of cultural identity for the elite classes in contemporary English society. Lloyd explores the use of spices during the fifteenth to seventeenth centuries and provides extensive details on the prices of the various spices.