Do you realize that when you eat a bowl of chili, your food is seasoned with the same kinds of spices as the Inca in Peru used hundreds of years ago? Whether you eat at home or you eat in a restaurant (top right), at almost every meal you are enjoying the taste of a spice-ginger in ginger ale or gingerbread, oregano in spaghetti sauce, anise in licorice, or mint in peppermints.
Nearly 800 years ago, the Aztec in Mexico ground hot chili peppers and mixed them with other spices to make chili powder. Today hot peppers are used throughout the world. Many people believe that spicy food stimulates the liver and promotes good health. Black and white pepper can give us almost the same zing as is found in hot chilis. The black peppercorn is the whole berry, which is picked when it begins to turn red and is then set out to dry.
White pepper is made from the core of the ripe berry. Pepper was first grown on the western coast of India and was brought to Europe by traders who often passed through the markets of Constantinople on their journeys. In ancient Greece and Rome, rulers sometimes collected tribute in the form of pepper.
Pepper was later used as money, and merchants had to take precautions so that dock workers would not steal it from the ships they were unloading. In the 1400s, spices from the East were in great demand in Europe. Explorers began to search for new and faster routes to bring pepper and other spices from India to Europe.
Columbus had hoped to find such a route to India when he sailed west and eventually reached the Americas. As trade has become international, so has the taste for dishes and flavors that were once rare and exotic. Today spices are sold all over the world, as in these markets in Southwest Asia.