The spice trade developed throughout
South Asia and
Middle East by at least 2000 BCE with
black pepper, and in
East Asia with herbs and pepper. The Egyptians used herbs for
mummification and their demand for exotic spices and herbs helped stimulate world trade. The word spice comes from the Old French word espice, which became epice, and which came from the Latin root spec, the noun referring to "appearance, sort, kind":
species has the same root. By 1000 BCE, medical systems based upon herbs could be found in
India. Early uses were connected with magic, medicine, religion, tradition, and preservation.
Cloves were used in
Mesopotamia by 1700 BCE.
[note 1] The ancient Indian
Ramayana mentions cloves. The
Romans had cloves in the 1st century CE, as
Pliny the Elder wrote about them.
The earliest written records of spices come from ancient Egyptian, Chinese, and Indian cultures. The Ebers Papyrus from Early Egyptians that dates from 1550 B.C.E. describes some eight hundred different medicinal remedies and numerous medicinal procedures.
Historians believe that
nutmeg, which originates from the
Banda Islands in
Southeast Asia, was introduced to Europe in the 6th century BCE.
Indonesian merchants traveled around China, India, the Middle East, and the east coast of Africa.
Arab merchants facilitated the routes through the Middle East and India. This resulted in the Egyptian
port city of
Alexandria being the main trading center for spices. The most important discovery prior to the European spice trade were the monsoon winds (40 CE). Sailing from Eastern spice cultivators to Western European consumers gradually replaced the land-locked spice routes once facilitated by the Middle East Arab caravans.
In the story of
Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers to spice merchants. In the biblical poem
Song of Solomon, the male speaker compares his beloved to many forms of spices.
Spices were among the most demanded and expensive products available in Europe in the
 the most common being
cinnamon (and the cheaper alternative
medieval medicine's main theory of
humorism, spices and herbs were indispensable to balance "humors" in food,
 a daily basis for good health at a time of recurrent
pandemics. In addition to being desired by those using
medieval medicine, the European elite also craved spices in the
Middle Ages. An example of the European aristocracy's demand for spice comes from the
King of Aragon, who invested substantial resources into bringing back spices to
Spain in the 12th century. He was specifically looking for spices to put in
wine, and was not alone among
European monarchs at the time to have such a desire for spice.
Spices were all imported from plantations in Asia and Africa, which made them expensive. From the 8th until the 15th century, the
Republic of Venice had the monopoly on spice trade with the Middle East, and along with it the neighboring Italian
maritime republics and city-states. The trade made the region rich. It has been estimated that around 1,000 tons of pepper and 1,000 tons of the other common spices were imported into Western Europe each year during the
Late Middle Ages. The value of these goods was the equivalent of a yearly supply of grain for 1.5 million people.
 The most exclusive was
saffron, used as much for its vivid yellow-red color as for its flavor. Spices that have now fallen into obscurity in European cuisine include
grains of paradise, a relative of
cardamom which mostly replaced pepper in late medieval north French cooking,
Early Modern Period
Portugal were not happy to pay the high price that Venice demanded for spices. The control of trade routes and the spice-producing regions were the main reasons that
Vasco da Gama sailed to
India in 1499.
Gama discovered the pepper market in
India, he was able to secure peppers for a much cheaper price than the ones demanded by
 At around the same time,
Christopher Columbus returned from the
New World, he described to
investors new spices available there.[
Another source of competition in the spice trade during the 15th and 16th century was the
Ragusans from the maritime republic of
Dubrovnik in southern Croatia.
The military prowess of
Afonso de Albuquerque (1453–1515) allowed the Portuguese to take control of the sea routes to India. In 1506, he took the island of
Socotra in the mouth of the
Red Sea and, in 1507,
Ormuz in the
Persian Gulf. Since becoming the
viceroy of the
Indies, he took
Goa in India in 1510, and
Malacca on the
Malay peninsula in 1511. The Portuguese could now trade directly with
China, and the
Maluku Islands. The
Silk Road complemented the Portuguese sea routes, and brought the treasures of the
Lisbon, including many spices.
With the discovery of the New World came new spices, including
chocolate. This development kept the spice trade, with America as a late comer with its new seasonings, profitable well into the 19th century.
One issue with spices today is dilution, where spices are blended to make inferior quality powdered spices, by including roots, skins and other
admixture in production of spice powder.