The word "spices" conjures up visions of exotic places and exquisite tastes that delight the senses. Prized long before recorded history, the earliest evidence of their existence dates back to 50,000 B.C. Originally, they were used for magic, medicine, religious rituals and as preservatives.
The spice trade began in the Middle East more than 4,000 years ago with the importation of cinnamon and pepper from the Indian Subcontinent and other regions of Asia. By 2000 B.C., Arabs monopolized the spice trade, bringing their precious cargo back by arduous journeys in camel caravans. It's no surprise then that, for many centuries, spices were ruinously costly.
During the Middle Ages, a pound of peppercorns could buy freedom for a serf. At the time, Venice and the other Italian city states controlled the importation of spices by sea into Europe. This monopoly became an important catalyst for spice-seeking expeditions that eventually resulted in the discovery of the New World.