Though the race to discover the lands of spices is one topic here, the central focus of this entertaining work is on the many uses attributed to spices through history, which extended beyond flavoring to include aphrodisiacs, preservatives, incense for the gods, and medicine. The result is a cultural history that highlights religious mores, notions of health and sexuality, and foodways in the ancient, medieval, and early modern eras, mainly in the West. Turner, who has a doctorate in international relations, lives in Geneva, Switzerland. Annotation ©2004 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR
Turner arranges his history of spices thematically, in a series of lively essays on their role in different aspects of human endeavor, such as exploration (Columbus was looking for cinnamon when he discovered America) and love (a fifteenth-century tract prescribes an ointment of honey and ginger for “Increasing the Dimension of Small Members and Making Them Splendid”). Turner’s sedulous research is manifest on every page, as he follows spices across cultures and eras, with allusions that range from St. Augustine to the Spice Girls. The book’s unlikely hero is the peppercorn, which has linked East and West since the time of the Romans and which typifies the way that spices, although no longer the luxury items they once were, have become quietly ubiquitous. Cinnamon and nutmeg are rumored to be the key to “capitalism’s most closely guarded secret,” the formula for Coca-Cola.