Wars have been fought and countries discovered because of treasured spices. Marco Polo’s stories of his trip to China in the late 1200s told of the spice trade in these then unknown lands and brought many Europeans in search of spices. In the 15th to 17th centuries the Spanish, English, Portuguese, and Dutch traders competed in the spice trade from the Far East.
By the 1800s America was involved in the spice trade. America’s first millionaires made their money in the spice trade. Many families in the colonies had their own herb gardens. Herbs and spices were also imported. These were used for cuisine specialties, as preservatives for the food supply, and for special medications. During the 1800s spices contained large amounts of fibrous or woody materials. Better processing techniques have done much to solve this problem. In the early 1900s many salesmen went from door-to-door selling spices; Golden Rule, Watkins, Raleigh, and McNess were some of the well-known brands.
The use of herbs and spices in cooking offers the chance to prepare exotic, gourmet dishes, or cultural meals and a way to cut or save calories and fat in cooking. Diet related diseases (heart disease, cancer, stroke, diabetes, and atherosclerosis) accounted for 66% of all deaths in Virginia in 1994. The cost for treatment of any one of these diseases averages $27,000 per person each year. Using herbs and spices can moderate dietary levels of fat, sugar and sodium. For example, removing a tablespoon of fat removes about 10 grams of fat and 100 calories – an amount which could represent a 10 pound weight loss in a year. The calories in herbs and spices are far less than in breadings, batters, gravies, sauces and fried foods. Cost savings are realized by reducing the number of ingredients in preparation and/or by the possibility of dressing up inexpensive foods for a special meal.
Many people are looking for flavors to substitute for salt or sodium. A teaspoon of salt has 2300 mg sodium – almost the amount recommended as the daily requirement. Many other condiments as well as packaged and processed foods contain around 1000 mg salt. Seasoning salts are regular salt with seasoning. A teaspoon of most herbs and spices contains few calories and little or no sodium. Herbs and spices add zest and flavor to unsalted foods.