These new ideas about Middle Ages food were brought back by the Crusaders and new foods and spices were introduced to the European menu. Up to this point the staple diet consisted of foods that were home grown or occasionally imported from Europe.
Spices in the Middle Ages - Trade Centres
The spices introduced during the Middle Ages came from the Eastern lands which the Crusaders travelled through to reach Jerusalem. Commerce changed to include different products, including spices from Cairo and Alexandria in Egypt, Damascus in Syria, Baghdad & Mosul in Iraq and other great cities which were important trading centre because of their strategic location, astride the trade routes to India, Persia and the Mediterranean. The spices were then carried across the Mediterranean to the Italian seaports to the major towns and cities of Europe.
Spices in the Middle Ages - List of Spices
There is no clear distinction between herbs and spices. Herbs are usually derived from leaves or seeds) and Spices are usually derived from flowers, fruits, or bark of tropical-origin plants. The spices introduced during the Middle Ages included those detailed on the following list. All of these spices were imported to Europe:
- Pepper - The most sought after spice. Black pepper was the most expensive. Imported from Asia and later Africa.
- Cinnamon - A Spice made from bark of the Cinnamomum zeylanicum
- Cloves - Cloves were indigenous to the Moluccas, or Spice Islands, of Indonesia
- Nutmeg - Spice made from seeds also indigenous to the Moluccas, or Spice Islands, of Indonesia
- Ginger - Ginger was a spice also known as 'Grains of Paradise', also called Atare Pepper, was used as a substitute for the more expensive black pepper during the 1300 and 1400's
- Saffron - The dried aromatic stigmas of this plant, was used to color foods and as a cooking spice and dyes
- Cardamon (aka Cardamom ) was a spice made from the whole or ground dried fruit a plant of the ginger family, indigenous to India and Sri Lanka
- Coriander - A Spice made from seeds and leaves and a relative of the parsley family
- Cumin - Spice made from the dried fruit of a plant in the parsley family
- Garlic - A spice mported by the Romans
- Turmeric - Spice made from a root, related to ginger and has a vivid yellow-orange color
- Mace - A spice made from the dried fleshy covering of the nutmeg seed
- Anise - A liquorice flavored plant whose seeds and leaves are used to spice a variety of dishes
- Caraway - Caraway or Persian cumin are the small, crescent-shaped dried seeds from a herb
- Mustard - A spice with a pungent flavor, either used as seeds or ground
Uses of Spices in the Middle Ages
Joining the Crusades meant that people during the Middle Ages experienced extensive travel and a change in culture started to emerge when they returned to their homes. Travel certainly broadened the mind of the Crusaders who developed a new and unprecedented interest in beautiful objects and elegant manners. The importation of spices resulted in a highly spiced cuisine for the nobility and spices were seen as a sign of wealth. The higher the rank of a household, the greater its use of spices. Spices were not only extensively used in the preparation of food but they were also passed around on a 'spice platter'. Guests at banquets took additional spices from the spice platter and added them to their already spiced food. Following a great meal the royalty and nobility of the Middle Ages would say Grace, wash their hands and then drink malmsey or other wines. These drinks were accompanied by another choice of spices which intended to aid digestion. Many of the wines also contained spices! The cost of spices was so great that they were presented as gifts.
Salt in the Middle Ages
Salt was considered so important it was stored in the Tower of London. The Tower of London is a castle which consisted of many towers. One of the towers is called the 'Salt Tower'. The Salt Tower was initially called the Julius Caesar’s Tower and then Baliol's Tower. The tower was given the lasting nickname of the 'Salt Tower' during the Middle Ages when salt was extremely expensive and only afforded by the higher Nobility. Salt was stored in this building. The Medieval Lords sat on the dais at the 'high table' and their commoner servants at lower trestle tables. The salt was placed in the centre of the high table and only those of the appropriate rank had access to it. Those less favoured on the lower tables were "beneath the salt".