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  • Aug 21, 2014
  • Updated: 7:55pm

Spice: The History of a Temptation

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 17 April, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 17 April, 2005, 12:00am

Spice: The History of a Temptation

by Jack Turner

Harper Perennial $135

Stories about commodities have sparked an odd publishing trend, but they do allow authors to combine history, economics and cultural interaction. Jack Turner, whose metier is international relations, offers the fascinating history of five spices: pepper, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves. He dismisses the myth that eastern spices were prized in the west because they made bad food edible. Rather, it was a matter of seduction. Something scarce, and expensive, can carry considerable power. Turner examines the spiritual and medical value attached to spice, its role as a status symbol and aphrodisiac, how it influenced social behaviour and inspired exploration. He maps Columbus, da Gama and Magellan as Europe engages in 'the spice race', and is passionate about the role of spice in myth, literature, archaeology, religion and medicine. The west lost its sense of paradise as spice lost its allure, he says. Turner asks: Was cinnamon the forerunner of Viagra? Research suggests a physiological link to more abundant and more motile sperm, and heightened pleasure for both parties. Apparently, just the smell of donuts has a powerful effect.


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