Cumin, Camels, and Caravans: A Spice Odyssey

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Univ of California Press, Apr 7, 2014 - Cooking - 332 pages
Gary Paul Nabhan takes the reader on a vivid and far-ranging journey across time and space in this fascinating look at the relationship between the spice trade and culinary imperialism. Drawing on his own family’s history as spice traders, as well as travel narratives, historical accounts, and his expertise as an ethnobotanist, Nabhan describes the critical roles that Semitic peoples and desert floras had in setting the stage for globalized spice trade.

Traveling along four prominent trade routes—the Silk Road, the Frankincense Trail, the Spice Route, and the Camino Real (for chiles and chocolate)—Nabhan follows the caravans of itinerant spice merchants from the frankincense-gathering grounds and ancient harbors of the Arabian Peninsula to the port of Zayton on the China Sea to Santa Fe in the southwest United States. His stories, recipes, and linguistic analyses of cultural diffusion routes reveal the extent to which aromatics such as cumin, cinnamon, saffron, and peppers became adopted worldwide as signature ingredients of diverse cuisines. Cumin, Camels, and Caravans demonstrates that two particular desert cultures often depicted in constant conflict—Arabs and Jews—have spent much of their history collaborating in the spice trade and suggests how a more virtuous multicultural globalized society may be achieved in the future.


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LibraryThing Review

User Review  - quondame - LibraryThing

There is a lot of interesting anecdotes about spices, their history, and uses, but this is not at all a rigorous study, but a very idiosyncratic view which excludes about the same number of facts as it includes and includes complete speculation as fact. Read full review


The Origin of Species
1 Aromas Emanating from the Driest of Places
2 Caravans Leaving Arabia Felix
3 Uncovering Hidden Outposts in the Desert
4 Omanis Rocking the Cradle of Civilization
5 Mecca and the Migrations of Muslim and Jewish Traders
6 Merging the Spice Routes with the Silk Roads
7 The Flourishing of CrossCultural Collaboration in Iberia
9 Building Bridges between Continents and Cultures
10 Navigating the Maritime Silk Roads from China to Africa
11 Vasco da Gama Mastering the Game of Globalization
12 Crossing the Drawbridge over the Eastern Ocean
Culinary Imperialism and Its Alternatives

8 The Crumbling of Convivencia and the Rise of Transnational Guilds

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About the author (2014)

Gary Paul Nabhan is an Ecumenical Franciscan Brother, MacArthur "genius" award winner, and ethnobotanist of Arab-American descent. His food and farming books include Food from the Radical Center, Where Our Food Comes From, and the forthcoming Jesus for Farmers and Fishers.

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