top of page

History of Spices

Spices have been used since at least the paleolithic to improve the flavor of food and drink. Their use was determined by geography and affluence. The opening of the 'New World' to Europe introduced many more spices to the Western world and strongly influenced cooking styles and recipes from that era until the present.

History of Spices

Prehistoric times (circa 50,000 BC):

Early humans likely used herbs and spices found in their local environment to flavor their food. Archaeological evidence suggests that they used various plants, seeds, and roots for flavoring and medicinal purposes (Dwyer & Quitmyer, 2015).

Ancient Egyptian diets (circa 3100 - 332 BC):

The Egyptians used a variety of spices and herbs, such as cumin, coriander, cinnamon, and garlic, in their food. They also used spices for embalming, religious rituals, and medicinal purposes. The Egyptians were among the first to establish trade routes for spices (Dalby, 2000).

Ancient Greek diets (circa 800 - 146 BC):

The Greeks valued a variety of spices, such as saffron, cinnamon, and pepper, for their culinary and medicinal properties. Spices were often imported from the East and considered luxury items. The Greeks believed in the concept of the "four humors," which influenced their use of spices to balance bodily functions (Smith, 2013).

Ancient Roman diets (circa 753 BC - 476 AD):

The Romans were known for their love of spices and used a wide variety of them, including pepper, cumin, and coriander, to flavor their dishes. They also used various herbs, such as oregano, basil, and rosemary. Roman cookbooks, like "Apicius," contain numerous recipes that feature spices, showcasing their importance in Roman cuisine (Giacosa, 1994).

Middle Ages (circa 500 - 1500 AD):

Spices became even more popular during the Middle Ages, especially among the wealthy. They were considered a sign of wealth and were used to create elaborate dishes. The European spice trade expanded, with traders traveling to the East to obtain valuable spices, such as cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon, and ginger. Spices were also used for medicinal purposes and as preservatives (Woolgar, 2006).

Renaissance diets (circa 1300 - 1600):

The use of spices continued to be popular during the Renaissance. However, there was a shift in focus towards using more locally available herbs and spices, as well as the introduction of new ingredients from the New World, such as chili peppers, tomatoes, and potatoes. The separation of sweet and savory flavors, as popularized by German physicians, began to influence European culinary traditions during this time (Albala, 2002).

18th-19th centuries:

The Industrial Revolution and the expansion of global trade networks led to a wider availability of spices at more affordable prices. This period saw the popularization of spice blends, such as curry powder and garam masala, which were used to create new and exotic dishes. The emergence of modern chemistry also allowed for the creation of artificial flavorings (Mintz, 1985).

20th century to present:

Spices and flavorings have become widely available and are used in various cuisines around the world. The globalization of food culture has led to the fusion of flavors and the use of spices from different regions in new and innovative ways. Consumers today have access to a vast array of spices and flavorings, allowing for a rich and diverse culinary experience (Freedman, 2014).


Albala, K. (2002). Eating Right in the Renaissance. University of California Press.

Dalby, A. (2000). Dangerous Tastes: The Story of Spices. University of California Press.

Dwyer, J. T., & Quitmyer, I. R. (2015). Prehistoric Use of Spices: Archaeological and Chemical Perspectives. In P. J. Toussaint-Samat M. (Ed.), A History of Food (pp. 43-56). Wiley-Blackwell.

Freedman, P. (2014). Out of the East: Spices and the Medieval Imagination. Yale University Press.

Giacosa, I. L. (1994). A Taste of Ancient Rome. University of Chicago Press.

Mintz, S. W. (1985). Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. Viking.

Smith, A. F. (2013). Savoring Gotham: A Food Lover's Companion to New York City. Oxford University Press.

Woolgar, C. M. (2006). The Great Household in Late Medieval England. Yale University Press.

In recent decades, the accessibility and affordability of spices have continued to grow, allowing for a greater exploration of flavors in modern cuisine. The increasing popularity of global and fusion cuisines has led to the integration of spices from various regions, resulting in innovative dishes that combine traditional and contemporary flavors.

Furthermore, there has been a resurgence of interest in the use of local and regional spices and herbs, with many chefs and home cooks focusing on sourcing ingredients from local producers and foraging for wild plants. This trend has led to a renewed appreciation for the unique flavors and culinary traditions of different regions and cultures.

In addition to their culinary applications, there is also growing recognition of the potential health benefits of spices. Scientific research has highlighted the antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antimicrobial properties of many spices, which can contribute to a healthy diet and overall well-being (Aggarwal & Yost, 2011).

With the continued globalization of food culture and increasing awareness of the health benefits of spices, it is likely that the use of spices and flavorings will continue to evolve and expand, enriching the culinary experiences of people around the world.


Aggarwal, B. B., & Yost, D. (2011). Healing Spices: How to Use 50 Everyday and Exotic Spices to Boost Health and Beat Disease. Sterling Publishing.

Toussaint-Samat, M. (2009). A History of Food. Wiley-Blackwell.


bottom of page