Cast: Kate Humble
Running Time: 180 minutes
Experience the fascinating story of how spices shaped our modern world.
The Spice Trail is a story of epic voyages, bloody wars, the birth of multinational companies and contemporary cultures around the globe. In Medieval times spices were thought to have medicinal properties that could cure disease they were also unbelievably expensive and a symbol of wealth and power.
A small sack of nutmeg could buy a London town house, pepper was traded as currency (hence the term peppercorn rent) and the world's most expensive spice saffron was and still is known as red gold. With immense fortunes to be made explorers set forth in search of these tastes of paradise and Kate Humble will be retracing their footsteps as she journeys around the globe on the trail of some of the most coveted spices in the world.
Kate will uncover the story of the most heavily traded spice in the world - pepper in India before heading south to the cinnamon lands of Sri Lanka a place shrouded in mystery for Europeans until the Portugese accidentally landed on its shores. In Indonesia she'll journey around the fabled spice islands an archipelago of tiny volcanic islands once known as paradise on earth that drew European explorers in search of nutmeg and clove. And from the Atlas mountains of Morocco she'll follow the spice trail to Spain as she reveals the story of the world's most expensive spice - saffron before heading across the Atlantic to Mexico in search of vanilla a spice discovered by the most famous Spanish Conquistador Hernan Cortes.
The Spice Trail is a journey to find out how spices shaped our modern world during on of the greatest periods of discovery the world has known and an account of the role these spices still play in the communities of the exotic birthplaces.
Episode one: Pepper and Cinnamon In the first half we visit India to look at Pepper and find out that Black pepper corns are traditionally sun dried. We are told that White pepper is soaked and de-husked to make it milder. Green pepper is mentioned but not explained and Red is not mentioned at all. We see how the corns are removed by being trodden on and massaged by bare feet. We see the devastation a Fungal disease has brought to what was once the primary area of production. We also see the silent and secret negotiation language of the buyers and sellers who use their hands under a cloth to negotiate without the need for a spoken language (a kind of Tactile signing). In the second half we see small Cinnamon trees being cut in Sri Lanka. The outer Bark is scraped by hand and the inner bark is then carefully removed with a knife. The best parts are used to create an outer sheaf and the other parts are placed within. These outer sheaves are joined to each other and overlap slightly to create a standard length stick or rod known as a quill. The sticks are then rolled daily as they dry and are tied into bundles for trading and transport.
Episode two: Nutmeg and Cloves In this programme we visit the Spice Islands, the original home of these two spices. In the first half we look at nutmeg and discover it has many layers. There is the outer fruit which is used for jam. When ripe the fruit opens revealing a red nut and this is the best time to pick it we are told. However in the program we see examples of fruit being cut open when it has been picked early. We see the outer red skin of the nut being removed and dried to create mace. The inner skin or black shell of the nut is then removed and discarded and what is left is the hard brown "nut" we call nutmeg. We also find out that Almond trees are important for shade and a species of Dove is responsible for planting most of the almonds trees and nutmeg trees. The second half of the programme looks at Cloves. We are introduced to the pink flower buds on the tall trees and are told that the best cloves are pink and not yet opened. A mixture of long poles, rope pulling and tree climbing are used so the pickers can collect the clusters of buds from all over the trees. Back on the ground the individual cloves are snapped off from the bud cluster and they are sun dried in the streets. The rest of the bud cluster (stalks and a few small young leaves) are used as an additive to Tobacco, and we see Kate attempting, after much effort, to make a Herbal cigarette.
Episode three: Vanilla and Saffron In the first half the programme looks at Saffron. We visit the Berbers of Morocco, the origin of saffron to see the purple Crocus flowers growing in what looks like a desert. The fields are irrigated with water channels dug into the ground and Sheep dung is carried by the water to fertilize at the same time. The harvest lasts no more than a month and the flowers are picked early every morning. Each bulb produces four flowers each season. During the day, the Stamens are removed and it is a social event like the picking which involves almost everyone in the village. The stamens are dried. We are told that red is the best and the deeper the red the better the saffron. Handling the flowers gives people purple fingers and the people in the area are generous with their saffron using it in drinks and a wide range of cuisine.
The programme then moves to Spain which was so suitable for saffron that it became the saffron capital of the world after being conquered by the Muslims. We are told that saffron from all over the world is now brought there and traded. With saffron being so expensive it is often diluted with other spices (such as turmeric), stamens from other plants or species and even plastic and other contaminents. We got to visit one of the laboratories which does DNA testing and Spectrum analysis as it seeks to maintain the high quality of saffron and to protect it from fraud and impurities which would devalue the geniune product. In the second half of the program we discover that Vanilla is a Mexican spice.
The Pollination is performed by a specialist Bee that lives only in Mexico and we find that it was not possible to grow vanilla elsewhere in the world until a slave boy discovered how to Self-Polinate the plants. Once Artificial Pollination was discovered the price collapsed and the vanilla trade in mexico is now greatly reduced compared to what it used to be. We are told that vanilla is an Orchid but also a Vine. We get to see a vanilla flower being self polinated and are told they are only open for a few hours. It takes 9 months for the pods to develop and another 9 months for them to dry and cure. The best pods have crystals on them.
The Spice Trail