Condiment inflation

One of the most important pieces in royal sets of tableware was what interestingly even has a name of its own in the English language.
Namely, the salt cellar.
Now someone like me -not a native speaker- might be tempted to assume that was a big underground room full of NaCl.
What it really is is a kind of big sugar bowl, usually made from precious materials and highly decorated, which was displayed prominently on the table and which did contain, not sugar, but simple salt.
At the time these were invented, that still was a precious commodity to have. Someone who could afford to put a big bowl of it on their table had to be really well-off.

The same thing went for sugar. Refined sugar as we use it wasn´t invented until the second half of the second millenium C.E., and it was, at first, used sparingly because it was so expensive.

There was a time when nations went to war over the right of way to a certain archipelago just because nutmeg trees were growing on it (see the Wikipedia  article on nutmeg to find out why New Yorkers speak English because of that little altercation:)). Pepper was worth its weight in gold.

And the common European man´s cuisine was, save for the use of fragrant herbs, onions, and garlic, probably pretty bland.

On the other side, you had the dishes of the upper class, who had access to the abovementioned rarities and tended, in order to impress everyone with their riches, to use them in amounts that today would be considered to be making a dish inedible.
That is a problem faced by everyone who tries to adapt medieval recipes for modern use. The amounts as well as the choice of spices are sometimes staggering, and to a modern palate, not every combination comes off as well as what goes into honey cakes, mulled wine or spekulaas.

On the other hand, the substances I mentioned first did, because of new technologies, become freely available and cheap.
Sugar and salt do have one other thing in common: they act as preserving agents. Salted ham and candied fruit were some of the earliest ways people had of keeping perishable foodstuffs edible for longer periods of time when there were no refrigerators.
When they became cheap, the step to overusing them in an attempt to make food less perishable was a very small one.

And today? there´s salt, pepper, and sugar on everybody´s table, and, unfortunately for many people´s health, salt and sugar are the two omnipresent ingredients that the food industry puts into most of its products in quantities well beyond what many people can stomach.
Oh, and the resulting foodstuffs are still pretty bland-tasting, if you take the artificial aromas out.
And the renaissance meals were probably a lot healthier, too, at least when they were made from fresh ingredients.


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