Spices: A Time Traveler’s Treasure

Often today, we don’t really think much of herbs and spices. We might have chives, mint, or basil in small pots on our windowsill or in the kitchen. There may be a cabinet or shelf that holds the spices in the house. If we run out, we buy more for relatively cheap. Even saffron, the most expensive spice is generally a very small percentage of the average person’s wage. Historically however, this is not the case and even a small bit of pepper could finance a time traveler’s excursion (so long as they are capable of historically accurate customs or language and not causing a plague).

Salt is probably the most common item in the spice cupboard. It is something usually found on anyone’s table, no matter their price point or cultural background. Today it is so common we find ourselves with multiple colors and origins of salt; Himalayan salt for example. However, at one time, it was so valuable that people were paid in it. It is in fact the origin of the word salary (sal=salt). The idea that salt could be so valuable can be somewhat hard to understand in a modern world where salt is often minimized in the name of dieting. Regardless, if a time traveler wishes to visit the ancient world, salt can be a very versatile barter item or simply be used more practically in food.

Pepper, whether black, white, green, or red, is another spices or herb that in historical terms, can be and was a gold substitute. This wonderful berry brings interest and bite to food. After all, we think of salt and pepper. To us, pepper is a basic requirement of a person’s pantry. To others in history, perhaps rather far back, pepper was not necessarily a requirement of life but could pose as a drive for a life’s work. This was especially true for ancient merchants in search of spices and therefore riches. Pepper should be in the treasure chest of any time traveler.

Saffron, in contrast to the two seasonings above, is a seasoning that is not as common in the household. It is not considered a basic unless cooking Spanish cuisine such as paella. Another contrast to salt and pepper, is that it is a bit more expensive than the average item in a spice cabinet. It is still quite expensive as a spice and most would still think twice about purchasing it without having a particular recipe in mind. However, saffron, as a percentage of a person’s wage, was vastly more expensive in the past. Again the expense rises the farther back in time you go until the item first appears in whatever location being investigated. Saffron was a spice of kings (Henry VIII for example) and therefore raises the importance of the time traveler holding even the slightest amount. In fact, a time traveler should be wary of thieves and suspicious officials.

There are many items that can or should be a part of a time traveler’s currency set. Food is just one of them. In terms of shelf stability, spices are the easiest for transportation and being divided for different sales. There are many other foods that would be fabulous for different time frames. However, these often require refrigeration or are not as shelf stable. Even though a person could bring gold or silver, sometimes during history, there were spices and other items that were worth for far more than gold. Would you like to find out what other food items would be good for a time traveler to possess? Please comment below and thanks for reading.

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