Lesson 19
What's the Big Deal About Spices?

The index of almost any world history textbook has an entry for "spices" or "the spice trade." Why are spices so important in world history? The short answer is that some spices—especially black pepper, cinnamon and cloves—were a highly sought after commodity. At times, some spices were more valuable per pound than gold. Spices captured the imagination and taste (quite literally) of medieval European high society. Because spices were expensive and rare, Europeans used them lavishly on food to display their wealth. This very conspicuous consumption helped lead to the era of European exploration (approximately 1300-1600 C.E.), which in turn led to European conquest and colonization of much of the eastern hemisphere (India, Indonesia, etc.). It was European exploration in search of a water route to the Spice Islands—the only place in the world that spices were grown at the time—that led to this colonization. Historian Henry Hobhouse wrote that the "starting point for European Expansion . . . had nothing to do with the rise of religion or the rise of capitalism—but it had a great deal to do with pepper."


  • Demand
  • Determinants of Demand
  • Market
  • Markets
  • Price
  • Supply

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