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Brand Ambassadors of Taste

Stuti Kuthiala

By Hugh and Colleen Gantzer
Niyogi Books and Spices Board India, New Delhi, 2014, pp. 268, Rs. 1500.00


Over centuries, maharajas and magicians, palaces and palanquins, elephants and erotica, dynasties and deserts, temples and tigers, poetry and poverty, snake charmers and spices—all have been instantly associated with India and have been the enduring reference points for this country. However, it is the last entry on the list alone that has made a lasting, and still evolving, impact on other cultures and ‘invaded’ kitchens across the globe. On a more diplomatic note, it can be said that spices act as ambassadors and forge bonds of taste and texture across borders.  It would appear that mankind’s recent history would not have been the same had it not been for the discovery and distribution of these innocuous products. Deceptive in their value and wealth, spices were at one time the driving force of maritime trade and the cause of many an international conflict. Whole continents were discovered by default when explorers set sail and ventured forth to the lands of their origin. Close on the heels of these merchant conquistadors came the religious missionaries and the demographics of the host countries changed forever. Albeit more peaceful and civilized, the spice trade continues to thrive in the world today, reaching newer markets and influencing newer palates every year. Neither highlighted in the world of commerce nor causing shockwaves on the stock market, spices, nevertheless, are an essential commodity and net hefty profits yearly. From rural markets, where they are sold heaped in sacks to gourmet stores, where they are expensively and innovatively packaged, spices have a worldwide demand.  It is but fitting that the authority that is currently responsible for the propagation, productivity and promotion of spices in our country, the Spices Board India, commissioned a coffee table book to unfold the Spicestory. Researched and written by travel writing duo Hugh and Colleen Gantzer, Spicestory seeks to provide an insightful look at these everyday condiments: their origins, migrations, histories, climatic needs, growth patterns, and uses, both culinary and medicinal.  The book begins interestingly from prehistoric times when Neanderthal man first adopted the practice of wrapping the bison meat he hunted and ate, in flavourful leaves and herbs. This records the very first use of herbs and aromatics, which not only made the food more palatable but also helped break down tough tissues for easier digestion. Later, another ancient people, the Egyptians used spices not only to add flavour to their ...

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