Herbs, discovering taste

erbe&spezie2When men were even more like monkeys, fire and salt were used to make food tastier and longer lasting. And only then did they start to stand out from the animals. But culinary taste probably had to wait for the discovery of herbs and spices, paying the price of stomach ache. A common long-ago origin, perhaps dating back to the beginning of trade between wooded and lagoon areas

and between deserts and mountains. Highly sought-after and precious, they were worth their weight in gold and were even recognised (for example in 11th century Venice) as a valid way of paying taxes. An important chapter in our gastronomic history, not to mention in medicine itself

(syrups, infusions, compresses, ointments…) at least until the early 17th century. And perhaps even before (although not confirmed by science) as aphrodisiacs, an illusion which considered prodigious the root of the mandrake, a Solanaceae widespread in Mediterranean countries, as recognised by the Greek physician Dioscorides and confirmed by Pliny the Elder (although lacking in credibility in such matters). For the Romans, however, lettuce, mallow and wall-rocket were

enough. For the great agronomist Columella, wall-rocket aroused dulled passions, while other unidentified herbs ended up in infusions, distillates and even desserts. Always with the same hopes. But no-one has ever confessed to using these incentives… Then the times changed and we ended up with oysters and champagne which have nothing in common with herbs, but are supposed to have the same prodigious qualities as certain wild herbs. What is sure, however, is that these wild or cultivated herbs are able to add a distinctive touch to particular international or local, refined or traditional, ways of cooking meat or fish, in which spices and herbs play a leading part. Anise, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, chilli pepper and saffron are all spices (powder, leaves and dried bark) able to characterise any dish, not to mention their healing aspects (stimulating, digestive, purifying, toning, sedative…). And herbs? Garlic, basil, onion, fennel, oregano, parsley, rosemary, sage, shallots, celery, thyme… fresh herbs so common they are even cultivated indoors. Flavours which together or on their own are added to food to make it stand out, transforming the

humblest of kitchens into a genuine laboratory of taste. As confirmed by academics and chefs.

The Observatory-by Carlo Mocci- ZAFFERANO Magazione

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