tv RT News PBS November 6, 2013 5:00pm-5:31pm PST
between us, we explore the colorful past of spices and how they have changed the way we eat today. >> funding for this program is provided by subaru. >> at subaru, we build vehicles like the rugged outback. we follow the journey spices made from china with symmetrical all-wheel drive standard, over the silk routes and plenty of cargo space, to the middle east for those who pack even more adventure into life. and from the spice islands love. through the spice ports subaru, a proud sponsor of malacca, sri lanka, of "globe trekker." and kerala, via arabia to europe... and from central america to spain and from there around the rest of the world. spices can be the bark, root, bud, seed, or fruit of a plant. they can be used whole and fresh, dried, or, most commonly, pounded into a powder. the word spice comes from an old french word meaning special. spices came from lands at the edge of the world.
many people in the ancient world believed spices came from paradise. the egyptians mummified their dead with cumin, the chinese burnt cloves to commune with the spirit world, >> this is a clove tree. now cloves that we use in cooking are the dried flowers and some medieval europeans that come from this tree. believed nutmeg was the plant originated on some the only cure for the plague. incredibly small volcanic pepper was so valuable islands called the moluccas, it was used instead of money, and centuries ago, thousands of people and it was pepper that the romans were so mad about. lost their lives fighting over the little thing, because it was more valuable than gold. imbued with magical properties, i'm in the roman ruins of baalbek, situated 50 miles sought after for medicines east of beirut in lebanon. and aphrodisiacs, with the power to build empires here in baalbek once stood the most impressive and destroy lives, temples outside of rome. this is the story of spice. they took 10,000 slaves over 200 years to build. i am merrilees parker, and i am going on a voyage i have to say, this place around the world is totally overwhelming. with my chef friends padma lakshmi, who is in india and spain, tyler florence, who is in mexico...
>> you may find the following scenes disturbing. >> and peter gordon, who is in china. >> mmm, it's pretty pungent stuff this. >> mmm. this is, or rather was, the temple of jupiter, and if i can get up here, you can get the picture of what an extraordinary piece of engineering this was. and though only six columns remain, they've survived centuries of war and earthquake. and each one is 20 meters tall, and i feel absolutely tiny. baalbek is situated in present day lebanon, in the beqaa valley. traders brought their wares from egypt in the south, through baalbek, and up through turkey, and then onto rome. baalbek has been an important holy place for thousands of years. under the phoenicians, it was the scene of human sacrifice and temple prostitution. the romans added to the phoenician city, building baalbek on an extravagant scale
unlike anything in rome. at its height, baalbek housed a quarter of a million people. from time immemorial, traveler merchants trod ancient routes trading spices. they made up fabulous tales to boost their value to a public eager for novelty. ambergris was said to be the spittle of dragons, and cinnamon was stolen from nests guarded by giant birds. although the romans weren't the first to use spices in their cooking, they were the first to use them in industrial quantities, and the one they were mad for was pepper. this is pepper. rome was ransomed for it, people were murdered over it, and i bet you didn't think about that the last time you twisted a bit over your pizza. black pepper only grew on the malabar, or west, coast of india, a 5,000-mile journey to the tables of rome. the spice capital
of the malabar coast is cochin, in kerala. it's still today a vibrant port where all sorts of spices are grown and sold. padma lakshmi is there to find out more. >> it's the combination of kerala's climate, hills, and soil that yield the biggest quantity and some of the best spices in the world. black pepper is the king of spices here. it's also known as black gold. [speaking foreign language] not only was it a prosperous commodity, but it used to be given as a treasured gift to visiting dignitaries. and black pepper and white pepper are actually the same thing, they're just picked and treated differently. this black pepper is picked when the corns are still green, and it's laid out on terraces called barbeques, and they dry them in the sun until they get black and shriveled. and it hits... it's much more aromatic than white pepper, and it hits the tip of your tongue. white pepper is the same berry, only it's picked when the berry is red, and it's soaked
so that the outer husk is removed, rendering it much milder than the black pepper. and when you eat it, it actually hits the back of your throat, rather than the tip of your tongue. >> from rome to the west coast of india was a three-year round trip boat ride. but during the reign of emperor tiberius, sailors discovered they could use the monsoon winds both there and back and make the trip in a year. so, even more precious pepper poured into rome. i'm at butser ancient farm in england, where, besides iron age houses, they've also rebuilt an authentic roman villa. in the world's oldest cookbook, the roman cook apicius uses black pepper in at least two thirds of his recipes. sally grainger shows me a pork recipe using the romans' favorite spice. >> the smell of freshly ground pepper on hot food, as you know, is glorious.
it was important in every dish. every dish in the cookery book that survives says, "finish with black pepper, freshly ground." >> they were obsessed with pepper, weren't they? straight away, i run into a spice i've never seen before. >> what are they? >> now these are wonderful. this is a bayberry. the laurel leaf, the bay leaf... >> as in the laurel leaf that they wore on their heads? >> exactly, yes. >> bay is a very strong flavor. >> you smell it, it has-- it has the aroma of the bay leaf. technically, you can't eat a bay leaf, of course. >> no, you just infuse. >> exactly, this you-- this you can actually put into the food. >> we also add local mediterranean spices: lovage, dill, cumin, and coriander. >> the final one is something called asafetida. you've heard of it? >> yes, i use it. it's great in dal. it stinks. >> it stinks. it's "asa" as in resin and "fetida" as in feted. >> and in india, do you see? again, this is an indian spice, isn't it? this originates in india. >> well, it actually originated in afghanistan. that
was where it first was grown. its meat tenderizing qualities are paramount. >> what sally is cooking is the first recorded example of finger food. >> you cut it into dice, but you leave it on the skin, and the fat keeps the meat moist. so you have these little cubes of meat, and when it's roasted, they can be pulled off. >> and there's one more surprise for me. >> we need to add the magic ingredient, roman fish sauce, liquamen it's called. >> fantastic! now, i thought fish sauce was asian. >> well, yes, but the romans and the greeks, in fact the greeks first, invented fish sauce. they developed the idea of taking anchovies, small anchovies, and mixing it with salt, and allowing them to dissolve and ferment. it should be a tablespoon, but we don't have one, because the romans didn't have tablespoons. give that a stir for me. >> so that's our marinade for the meat. ok. just pour it like that? >> yeah, all over. >> apicius tells us that we should now leave the meat to marinade for three days. gosh, it must've been quite interesting by the end of the three days. >> yes, i think so.
>> this is the kind of oven a well-off roman would have taken with him on his travels. sally puts the coals on the top of the oven, creating even all-around heat. while the meat is cooking, we make a sauce out of pepper, lovage, sweet wine, and fish sauce. >> whoa! >> 40 minutes later, the lid comes off. >> unh... >> oh, wow, look at that! >> i think we can safely say we've done it a little bit-- a little bit "toasty". >> it smells awesome. it's good, isn't it? it's like ribs or something. you just want to lick your fingers. mmm! >> beautiful. >> thank you so much. it's delicious. mmm! >> [laughs] >> at the other side
of the known world, the chinese were also going nuts for spices. when the romans and their ambassadors arrived in india, they heard chinese being spoken. and that was because the chinese had been trading in spice as early as 200 b.c. now that's 1,000 years earlier than any european had even set foot on the spice islands. from china, merchants had, for centuries, used overland routes to persia, routes that became known as the silk routes. but now, the chinese were discovering the indonesian islands to their south. nutmeg and mace came from the banda islands, the only place in the world where they grew at that time. nutmeg is commonly used in fillings for pasta, often with spinach. mace is used in milk-flavored sauces such as bechamel. cloves came from a few tiny volcanic islands nearby. derived from the french word "clou," meaning nail, the clove oil contains eugenol,
an antiseptic still used in toothpastes and gargles. my friend peter gordon travels to remote south china, where the yao tribe have used imported cloves in their cooking for centuries. >> spices play a key role in cantonese cooking. the yao have always been farmers, and their indigenous produce has influenced their recipes. and one of the most vital ingredients grows here in northwest guangdong. these are star anise trees, and the star-shaped pod has an intense aromatic, and slightly sweet flavor. according to chinese medicine, it's good for coughs, stomachache, and breath freshening. and, of course, it's also an essential ingredient in the five-spice powder.
>> the recipe for a traditional five-spice powder is equal quantities of indigenous sichuan pepper, cassia, or chinese cinnamon, and star anise, along with fennel seeds, originating in the mediterranean, and cloves from the islands to the south. >> mmm, it's pretty pungent stuff this, and when you're cooking with it, a little goes a long way, so you don't need to use too much, and it does keep for a while. >> peter meets sun-mae, who still cooks in the traditional way. >> i brought you a present, some five-spice powder that i made earlier. what do you think of that? >> nice. >> nice? that's nicer than nice. i ground that myself. it's wonderful. ok, what are we going to do? >> now, first, you have to chop the chili...
and some ginger. >> ok, and this garlic, i've never seen this before. it's like one clove of garlic is the whole head, it's wonderful. >> yeah, we only use it for cooking pork. >> oh, perfect for this dish then. >> while the romans spiced their pork with black pepper and mediterranean aromatics, in china, they cooked the same basic dish using the spices of the far east, making for a completely different taste. in sun-mae's kitchen, they cook the pork in a sauce made of sugar, ginger, and chilies. >> now you need to add some water, soy sauce, and rice wine. >> they add some shiitake mushrooms and dried plums. then leave it to cook for an hour and a half. >> ah, it smells delicious! >> yes.
[laughs] >> mmm! >> delicious, yes? it's even better with boiled rice. >> the ingredients from dishes like this show that spices had been flowing to and fro between china and europe for ages. and that was thanks to some powerful middlemen. >> welcome to lebanon. >> the europeans were mad about spices. but where spices came from, christians feared to tread, so they used the arabs as middlemen. cities like byzantium, alexandria, cairo, and tripoli here in lebanon became immensely wealthy on the back of the spice trade. arabs took control of all the key spice ports of the mediterranean,
as islam spread from arabia west towards morocco and east to the malabar coast in india. now i'm here at a caravanserai, which is kind of like a camel motel, where, over a thousand years ago, camels laden with spices would come to rest after long and incredibly hard journeys across the arabian deserts. later, restaurateur naziih shows me the spices i need for traditional lebanese cooking. i can see cumin, i spied it here. >> smell it. >> can i smell? >> i can taste it myself. >> yeah, i love it. >> quite nice, so fresh. >> it's great. cumin has a sweet aroma with a mildly bitter taste. it's native to the eastern mediterranean, and it has been used for over 5,000 years. it was thought in medieval europe to encourage faithfulness. >> oh, can i have a small bag, please? >> yeah. >> and what else is a classic spice you'd have in meze?
>> you have cinnamon too. >> cinnamon. wow, they--they are the most enormous cinnamon sticks i think i've ever seen. we never buy them at home like this, i don't think. people don't even realize it's a bark. we don't get cinnamon sticks like that back home, do we? it's enormous. >> no, we haven't still already... not grounded, but small sticks. >> it's definitely not ground that, is it? i don't think i need the whole bag. i'll take one stick. >> no problem. >> ok, thank you very much. is there anything that you think i shouldn't leave lebanon without? any spice? >> i think there's another thing, something traditional here we use is the sumac. >> sumac. can i try some sumac? >> you need to get her sumac. >> and is--is sumac a mixture of spices? >> it's kind of a tree, exactly, you know. >> oh, it's a tree? it's actually a spice itself. naz tells me that sumac is used widely in lebanese, iranian, and turkish cuisines. the romans used sumac as a souring agent, in the same way we would use lemon juice. [laughs] i'm going to be spiced out, it's perfect. >> you'll need a suitcase
when you travel home. >> [laughs] naz introduces me to another delight of lebanese life: cardamom flavored coffee. wow, the taste of cardamom is, um... is quite strong. >> for you. >> for me, yeah. [laughs] it's going to pick you up in the morning. cardamom is part of the ginger family and grows in southern india. hand-picking is essential so as not to damage the pods, which is why cardamom is one of the most expensive of all spices. arab traders became addicted to cardamom coffee, known as qahwa. good manners dictate that you drink at least three cups... which gets me out of my seat. back on the spice trail, i visit the beqaa valley. peaceful at the time of my visit, now politically volatile.
i have come to find out about a spice-laden meal which sums up middle eastern hospitality. anissa helou introduces me to two staples of which are middle eastern appetizers. first up, tabbouleh, a salad made of bulgur wheat, parsley, and tomatoes. it's found all over the middle east, but the lebanese version is special. >> in lebanon they use spices in it. it has cinnamon, seven-spice mixture, pepper... and you know the thing about cinnamon? in the old days it used to be considered an aphrodisiac. >> wasn't everything? [both laugh] >> and the concubines in the harem used to rub themselves with cinnamon bark before the sultan came to visit them. >> [laughs] >> but, you know, they should have... all of them smeled of cinnamon. i don't know which one he chose and how he chose them, but apparently it was a real turn on. >> tomatoes were only added to the recipe when the spaniards introduced them
in the 16th century to europe and the old world. and this is always in tabbouleh, isn't it, tomato? >> always, and not peeled, not seeded, nothing. you know, you use the whole thing. well, also because you want it to crunch, and you don't want it to be too soft. >> we throw in the bulgur wheat, but just a handful. >> aphrodisiac. >> the cinnamon. [laughs] >> and quite a bit. the seven-spice mixture-- and now this is a very interesting mixture. it has--it's seven spices. we use it in a lot of different things in lebanon. >> the seven-spice mix includes black and white pepper, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, ginger, and sumac. >> ah, can i help?
i'll go around that right side. >> here, let me do this side. >> anissa also shows me how to make the classic dish hummus, which we garnish with paprika. >> it just looks like a picture, you know? >> that's it. now, the turks do hummus slightly differently, and what they do is that they season the hummus with cumin and paprika, and so the hummus is a little bit less creamy in color, a bit darker and spicier, not hot spicier, but tastier. >> mmm, it's so light. meze is the perfect al fresco food: fresh, healthy, and completely delicious and full of the spices indigenous to this part of the world. you know that's good for you, don't you? >> uh-huh. >> another spice native to the eastern mediterranean is saffron. the arabs took it west with the spread of islam into moorish spain, where 70% of the saffron now grows.
padma goes to spain to tilt at windmills. >> the region of la mancha is best known for don quixote and those famous windmills, but it's also the place where spain's precious crop of saffron is harvested. saffron comes from the delicate crocus flower, which blooms for only a few weeks a year. the fragile red stamen inside the flower must immediately be hand-picked. this painstaking labor is celebrated at the world championship of saffron picking. it takes about 200 flowers to yield one single gram, which is why saffron is so expensive. >> down on the coast in nerja, at ayo's place, padma finds out just why the spaniards go to so much trouble for saffron. the answer is paella, and ayo is the master of this iconic spanish dish. >> and this is the most important part:
saffron. this is what separates a mediocre paella from an authentic spanish paella. and we're going to add it to the middle of the pot. now i'm putting in tomatoes. they have been peeled. at this point we're going to add some green peppers. >> ayo adds a spanish short grain rice called bomba. and his secret ingredient is this tasty stock made from chicken, seafood, and locally grown vegetables. it's hard to imagine paella without the distinctive taste and even color that saffron, a spice from the east, gives this classic spanish dish. >> mmm...buenisimo. >> around a 1,000 years ago, a tiny nation state formed an unlikely bond
with their former archenemies. i'm at a crusader castle here at sidon, lebanon. i'm going to have a look around. how much is that? >> 4,000 for one person. >> thank you very much. perfect, that's 4,000. that's about $2.50. the arabs were key players in the spice trade for centuries. but when they joined forces with venice, the modern era for spices was born. the crusaders arrived in boats belonging to the venetians, who acted as bodyguards and taxi drivers, and, once here, the venetians lost no time in doing a spot of trading. venice joined forces with egypt. and the egyptians protected the venetian fleets as they sailed from cairo to venice. by the end of the 12th century, thanks to spice, venice was the richest state in the world.
the risks may have been great, but the profits were colossal. the likes of venice's extravagant wealth was unseen before in the western world and spelled an end to the dark ages in europe. the venetians transported spices over the alps to the tables of the rich northern europeans. in those days, one pound of ginger was worth the equivalent of one sheep, and one pound of mace, the equivalent of three sheep or one cow. even then, the medieval palate was very sophisticated in its taste for spice. hampton court palace in england was in its day the grandest most sophisticated palace in europe. henry viii was the gourmet king,
and the cooks in his kitchens often cooked up feasts for 600 people. in the kitchens of hampton court i am introduced to some spices i've never heard of by food archaeologist richard fitch. >> this one here? >> those are grains of paradise. they were also called the malagueta pepper, um, the alligator pepper, or the guinea pepper, they all come from-- they're all the same name for a pepper that comes from the guinea coast from west africa. grains of paradise are distinctly feisty. >> this i don't recognize here what's this one? >> that, which looks like juniper berries, they are in fact cubebs, also called the javan tailed pepper. it's not a true pepper, it's a berry, a dried berry, but it has a peppery taste. >> grown mostly in the wild in sri lanka and indonesia, cubebs are the dried unripe fruits of a member of the vine family. richard shows me how to make beef y-stywyd. >> well, we need to cut it up into small, what they call gobbets,
or mouth-sized pieces. >> that's brilliant. gobbet. you know, you almost know what it means just by that. >> it's exactly what it says. you've got to cut it up. the idea is to make it easy to eat. >> the 15th century recipe beef y-stywyd basically just means stewed beef in middle english. then come the spices. >> grains of paradise and some mace, put some of that in. that's the cassia bark. the long pepper... and a pinch of cloves. >> he adds a huge amount of diced onions to the pot and some finely chopped parsley and sage. we leave it to cook for four hours. this slow reduction of the sauce was designed to blend the flavors and tenderize the meat. i mean, it smells amazing. the color's quite kind of dark. >> yes, that's the trouble with, what we like to call, history food, that until you get all of the ingredients
from america, like the tomato and corn and so on, it's beigy-browny, muddy-colored. but, fortunately, we don't taste with our eyes, we taste with our mouths. >> exactly. can i taste? [laughs] wow, i really thought i wasn't going to like that, and it is absolutely delicious. there are so many flavors in there that are kind of familiar, but they're like a distant cousin, you know? i can taste pepper, but it's so much more sort of perfumed. >> if you get the balance right, it stops being spicy and becomes spiced, and that's the aim. >> at the end of the 15th century, venice still dominated the european spice trade, but a power over on the western edge of europe wanted a piece of the action. the portuguese grew tired
of the venetian stranglehold. they poured money in to alternative ways to get the spice. after thousands of lost lives, they clinched it. they devised a ship that could sail upwind, which meant it could go round the southern tip of africa. the race for spice was on. the portuguese were the fiercest pursuers of spices, because lisbon laid at the far end of the old trade routes, so, for them, spices were really expensive. but, in the 16th century, lisbon became the opulent center of a vast empire, after da gama discovered the sea route to india. heading out from lisbon, vasco da gama made his way around the horn of africa in 1487. first stop: mozambique. in mozambique, the portuguese started a slave colony and built the fort of sao sebastiao,
the biggest european settlement in east africa. this protected portugal's interests in gold and slavery. today it's the oldest complete fort still standing in sub-saharan africa. the portuguese murdered their way up the east coast of africa, and then made the intrepid journey across the arabian sea, arriving on the malabar coast and the spice port of calicut. the portuguese braved shipwreck, piracy, and scurvy to cross the dangerous expanse of the indian ocean. with the battle cry "for christ and spices," they arrived on the west coast of india. using surprise and superior gunfire, they blew all competition out of the water.
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