Airdate: Aug 22, 2001
Scientist: Prof Paul W. Sherman
Spices & Microorganisms: Spice Trade
The economics of the historical spice trade may have had scientific origins.
ambience: Spice market, Istanbul, Turkey
We're listening to the sounds of a spice market in Istanbul. In the golden age of exploration, spices were considered the most prized cargo, more useful than gold or jewels, they could help prevent disease, make food taste better, and last longer. I'm Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet. Researchers have been looking into the ways that different cultures over the years have used spices, and how they combat parasites and food-borne diseases. Paul Sherman is a professor at Cornell University.
"The spice trade has gone on for thousands of years. Some of our most famous sea farers - Columbus, Cabral, de Gama, Marco Polo - were willing to sail off the edge of the known Earth, at that time, to find spices. So these substances have been valuable for a long, long time. I believe that the reason that this is the case is that people very quickly learned from watching each other - things that are good to do, especially in regard to food. And I believe that the people who used spices effectively were healthier because they were less likely to be subjected to food-borne illness, parasites, and pathogens in the food itself. So the spice trade is showing us the value of these spices over a long period of time. And, people in the hotter climates were the ones that sought the spices, especially, from these foreign lands. They were seeking pharmaceuticals, in essence, to enable them to be healthier - to eat healthier. They felt better after they used the right spices. New and more powerful spices are always being sought. Hence, the spice trade continues, and continues on even to today."
Pulse of the Planet is presented by the National Science Foundation. I'm Jim Metzner.