History of Condiments II

Back to finish our cool condiment history series. I’ve promised to talk about Portugal and Hungarian chili and I will keep my word. By the way if you missed the first part you can find it here .
In the Middle Ages condiments became so notorious and powerful that counterfeit started. If we think about counterfeiting like something representative for our era than we should think again. So merchandisers started to cheat with imitated condiments because of their huge profit potential and also because of a fast growing marketplace. And it’s not that this was ignored by authorities, on the contrary – but who saw first the money and not the consequences didn’t care too much just when was too late. False marketers were even burnt alive with their counterfeited goods so the risk was high.
We talked about the rutes between Asia and Europe which was growing constantly and in this period Mongolia was a real power having control on China. But when this control was lost during Ming dynasty, the traditional connections between Europe and China were lost. In case of need the merchants changed their targets to Beirut, Tripoli and Alexandria. Europeans became more and more adventurous with their daily progress in navigation so they arrived through Gibraltar to Portugal, north of Spain and France. Later on also to London, Bruges and Antwerp. All this areas become over night big centers for condiments.
So what did Portugal in all this already competitive world ?
Took the challenge and navigated in different direction, like South going to Africa, where the portugals found the exotic African condiments which they imported for the first time to Europeans. And more after Vasco the Gama, the famous portuguese navigator, returned from India in 1499 full of goods (condiments of course) the Italian and especially Venice power was officially destroyed . Since that day all the prices of condiments in Europe were determined in Lisbon. The most popular imported condiments were: pepper, cinnamon, ginger, clove and nutmeg. The cinnamon imported from Ceylon (today known Sri Lanka) could finance all their expeditions and Portugal set up a monopoly on the cinnamon.

Paprika and Hungary ?
Well, paprika was discovered by Spanish people. They couldn’t just sit back and see their neighbor success without actions. So they started to invest heavily in navigation for commerce purposes. Isabella I of Spain and King Ferdinand II gave to Christopher Columbus (known in South America like Cristobal Colon after being renamed by his Spanish fellows) 3 well equipped ships in order to find a maritime route to India through West. Columbus intended India but instead he discovered The New World – so even better for his later celebrity status. And of course America showed his generous reward by new cool condiments nowhere else discovered yet. Sure, after this Spain financed more developed expeditions to take advantage of this new treasure and bring it to Europeans. In the second expedition of Columbus a dutch company accompanied him, they came back with many new goods in 1494. Amazingly for them in the new world the red pepper had no fruits and vanilla was something completely new. Paprika and the chili plants just conquered Europeans. First paprika (the Spanish pepper) was considered more an exotic ornamental plant. Needed 100 years for things to change when Spain realized its other use and started to cultivate and export it. So paprika landed one day in Hungary where he found his roots and become "the national spice of Hungary".
Let’s see what more happened. Spain and Portugal realized that they can work well together and consolidate their super power so they’ve split the market: Spain managed the West and Portugal East. And Holland wanted also his part of the pie so extended hiw arms to the Extreme Orient, with good results.

Sad memories
The colonization and exploitation concerning natives in the new world brings shadow on the history of condiments. All this finally ended just when World War II ended in 1945.
Same with the Holland new monopoly on Moluce island which was taken from Portugal.
Portugal had in this islands the full monopoly on nutmegs and clove. Holland saw the opportunity and used this monopoly on Europe with 200 % profit returns. But they could grow the 2 trees just in 2 of the islands (Ambon and Banda) so they took fully advantage of that cutting all the other trees. Same way they behaved with locals, executing them for cultivating illegal trees on their own or stealing them. Later they became more tolerant though. Anyway they couldn’t prevent stealing completely since the French succeeded to stole a couple of shrubs of both kind and plant them in Madagascar, Mauritius and Reunion. So monopoly on them just died. After 10 years since this happened the Holland company declared bankruptcy with some English help when London became the most important center for condiments coming from Sri Lanka and India, using like main condiment – the cinnamon.

Weird thing happened during the 19th century
Condiments and aromatic herbs just lost their popularity suddenly without any good reason in Europe. Some of them were even completely forgotten. One of the explanation could be that people reached another level of appetite for new things and new tastes, so maybe they just became bored. This could explain the popularity of any relatively new products like: cacao, coffee, sugar. Between the veggies was installed the potato era and also rice, tomato and Brussels sprouts.

When condiments popularity came back ?
After World War II, when they changed their appearance being delivered in boxes and preserving bottles. This attracted the modern ladies of the house. And since journeys became an attractive habit of those who could afford it, the fascination for different kitchens and tastes become again a trendy must.

Cheers …

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