Christopher Columbus and Spices



Well, October 13th every year is celebrated as Columbus Day in America. I am thankful to Mr. Columbus because he sailed “west” in search of India to find spices and accidentally landed in America at the end of 15th century. In 1937 President Roosevelt proclaimed October 13th as Columbus Day. In 1971 President Nixon declared Columbus Day as a national holiday!

Last month, I was on a European vacation with my family.  Our first stop was in Barcelona, Spain. Barcelona is a very beautiful city, between hills on one side and the Mediterranean Sea on the other. People are very friendly and religious.  We looked up many of the famous and lovely Gaudi architectures. Indeed, one of the features of that city that appealed to me was the beauty of its buildings and cathedrals. My husband reminded me that the architect of our famous Milwaukee Art Museum was a Spaniard, Calatrava. I could imagine how Calatrava might have received his inspiration!


When we were ready to leave Barcelona, I was determined to find a famous statue of Christopher Columbus in that city. When we were passing through a busy traffic our taxi driver point out a statue of a strong man pointing to the sea and told us that was Christopher Columbus. Before I got the camera from my bag, the statue passed from our sight. Anyway I saluted him from the car. 


As history of spices tells us, for many centuries Greece and Rome dominated the Western civilization. Both were dependent on Arab traders for spices and other goods from the East. For many hundreds of years, spices were the single most important commodity, like oil is now, driving the world’s economy. Arab traders brought spices from the East to the West. Spices were used in medicinal formulation, cooking, and in treating and preventing diseases. Romans used the spices to lace food and wine. Greeks used spices as incense, perfumes, and lotion and for medicinal purposes. Spices were valuable like gold and gems. Arabian traders made enormous profit and Europeans began to look for ways to get the spices directly themselves. Vasco da Gama, Bartholomeu Dias, and Christopher Columbus were among the well-known sailors who led these explorations.  They took their best sailors and navigators and sailed to spice islands to get the spices. Christopher Columbus decided to sail west instead of following the eastern route, thinking it may lead him to India quicker. At end of the 15th century, he took off in three ships supported by the queen of Spain and landed in America. He thought he landed in East Indies and called the local inhabitants, “Indians”. And the New World was “discovered”.


Now, here I am in America,  originally from India, teaching people how to use spices in the preparation of healthful and enjoyable foods!. Spices are magical. They add richness and flavor to food. As a student in one of my classes commented, spices added to vegetables show how to enjoy even  “icky” vegetables. Now, we don’t have to go to spice islands to get the spices. Spices are easily available right here at home. Not all spices are hot and spicy. Hotness comes from chilies. Spices like turmeric, cumin, mustard seed are all not hot. They are flavor enhancers. With spices you can add aroma and flavor to vegetable and meat dishes. Spices also have intrinsic health benefits. 

As we celebrate Columbus Day, let us embark on an exciting culinary journey to discover the wonderful world of spices and a new, healthful approach to eating!


Happy Columbus Day!   God Bless America!


Book Release Announcement:    Expanded Edition of Healthy South Indian Cooking, cookbook is recently published by Hippocrene Books, NY.

Book Signing, Discussion & Food Tasting is scheduled for November 1st, 2008 Saturday at Schwartz Bookstore,  Mequon,  at 2PM.

Book Signing, Discussion & Food Tastings event is also scheduled for November 8th, 2008 Saturday at Schwartz Bookstore, Downer Ave. at 2 PM. 

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