Sunday, June 17, 2007

Spices from middle ages

If we can believe a favorite myth of the Assyrians, whose chiseled stone tablets represent the earliest written records yet discovered, at least one spice was known before our world was created! These early peoples, who lived thousands of years before Christ, claimed that their gods were drinking sesame seed wine at a gathering held just before they made the Earth.

From the hieroglyphics on the walls of the pyramids, to the scriptures of the Bible, we find constant mention of the important part spices played in the lives of the ancients. Some of the spices, herbs and seeds we know today, were cultivated by the early peoples of the western world, our word, "aroma" was the ancient Greek word for "spice".

Along the trade routes of antiquity went caravans with as many as 4,000 camels bearing spices and the rich merchandise of the East, plodding along from Goa, Calicut and the Orient to spice markets in Nineveh and Babylon; Carthage, Alexandria and Rome. Joseph, of the coat of many colors, was sold to spice traders by his envious older brothers: "And behold, a company of Ishmaelites came from Gilead with their camels bearing spicery and balm and myrrh, going to carry it down to Egypt."

The route from Gilead to Egypt was part of the "golden road to Samarkand" traveled for hundreds, almost thousands of years, bringing pepper and cloves from India, cinnamon and nutmeg from the Spice Islands (or Moluccas), ginger from China.

For hundreds of years frail ships clawed their way along the Indian coast, past the pirate-infested Persian Gulf, along the coast of South Arabia and through the Red Sea to Egypt. Those were typical ways of bringing spices from the Orient to the Western world in ancient tunes. As early as the days of Tiberius Caesar they discovered that ships scud-ding before the blast of the monsoon - the seasonal wind from the Indian Ocean, blowing east in summer, west in winter - could bring their spice cargoes to market in record time. Shipwrecks and storms brought large losses and there were constant robberies, but the risks were outweighed by the eventual profits for, as might be expected during the highly developed Greek and Roman eras, spices were in great demand.

So costly that only the wealthy could afford them, spices nevertheless were used in every conceivable way. Many and varied were the aromatics, which seasoned the delicacies served at Roman banquets. Medicines required great quantities of spices and herbs, as witness the writings of Hippocrates, Theophrastcs, Dioscorides and Pliny. Bay leaves (or laurel) were woven into crowns for Olympic heroes; spice-scented balms were used after baths; spice-flavored wines were popular; incense made of spice was burned in temples and even along the roads.

For centuries, since 950 B.C. (or earlier), the Arabs were the masters of this dangerous but lucrative trade. In the Old Testament of the Bible, Ezekiel 27-22, it is recorded: "The traders of Sheba and Raamah traded with you; they exchanged for your wares the best of all kinds of spices, and all precious stones and gold". The Arabs kept Europe completely in the dark as to the source of many of the Oriental spices.

Actually, they bought their spices from the Indians and from Chinese and Javanese merchants who put into Indian ports. But when questioned by would-be rivals from Europe, they would tell shuddery tales of the dangers they faced in gathering the spices in mysterious far-off lands.

Islam gave great impetus to the Arabs' activities in the spice trade. Mohammed, born about 570 A.D., married a wealthy spice-trading widow and as his Islamic missionaries made their way throughout Asia they spread their faith at the same time that they gathered up spices.

To understand the amazing prestige of spices in ancient times we must remember for one thing that food was neither good nor palatable. There was no cattle fodder that could be stored, so beef was killed in the autumn and salted. There were no potatoes; no corn, tea, coffee or chocolate. There were no lemons with which to prepare refreshingly acid beverages, and neither was there sugar with which to sweeten them. However, a dash of pepper, a little cinnamon or ginger, mixed with even the coarsest dishes, could make them palatable. The demand for spices spread like a wave over Europe - even beyond the fringes of civilization. As ransom, when he lay siege to Rome, Alaric the Visigoth demanded 3,000 pounds of pepper and later, an additional tribute of 300 pounds annually. The barbarians from the north were quick to learn that spices kept their meat fresher and thus lessened the supply problem during their constant forays.

Whether spices came by sea or by land, they had to come by way of Cairo, Egypt. "Whoever is lord of Cairo," said the merchant pilot, "may call himself lord and master of (Christendom. . . and. . . of all the islands and places where the spices grow), since of necessity all merchandise of spicery from whatever direction can come and he sold only in the land of the Sultan."
From Cairo the spices were shipped to Alexandria and there they were bought and shipped by the Venetians, and the Genoese, who rode the crest of swelling demand for spices to fabulous wealth. The spice trade, calculated to supply the demands of medieval trans-Alpine cookery, was great not only in volume but in value, it has been assessed as worth, at the very least a million ducats annually. A single big Venetian galeasse returning from Alexandria with her holds full of spice-sacks would carry cargo to the value of 200,000 ducats.*

During the Middle Ages in Europe, a pound of ginger was worth the price of a sheep; a pound of mace would buy three sheep or half cow; cloves cost the equivalent of about $20 a pound. Pepper, always the greatest prize, was counted out peppercorn by peppercorn. The guards on London docks even down to Elizabethan times, had to have their pockets sewn up to make sure they didn't steal any spices. In the 11th Century, many towns kept their accounts in pepper; taxes and rents were assessed and paid in this spice and a sack of. pepper was worth a man's life.

One day, in the year 1271, a young Venetian set out with his father and uncle on a 24-year journey which was to take them all over Asia, as far as fabled Cathay, or China. His name was Marco Polo and his book of traveler's tales was to lead to the downfall of Venice, the destruction of the Arabian Empire, the discovery of the New World and the opening of trade with the Orient.

Not only had the Polos' wanderings taken them to the rich court of Kublai Khan, "Zipangu" and the land of the Tartars, but Marco Polo was able to tell of the hot countries where he'd seen spices grown. He wrote of Java, "from thence also is obtained the greatest part of the spices that are distributed throughout the world." He told of the door to India, Ormus, "Whose port is frequented by traders from all parts of India, who bring spices and drugs. . . These they dispose to a different set of traders, by whom they are dispersed throughout the world." He described the kingdom of Dely as a place that "produced large quantities of pepper and ginger, with many other articles of spicery."

Suddenly European merchants realized these places could be reached by ship. Much of the mystery had had been removed from the lands of spicery, and Europe was awakened to a new quest. First Portugal, then Spain and England, then Holland and eventually even the newly founded United States entered one of history's most exciting contests. During nearly four centuries, the major western powers
raced each other to the Orient and battled each other for control of the spice-producing lands.

The little seafaring country of Portugal now claimed Ceylon, the East Indies and finally the Spice Islands themselves and became for a time one of the richest nations of Europe.

Meantime, spices contributed their most important gift to western peoples. They lured men into the discovery of a great New World. Christopher Columbus, Genoese mapmaker and day-dreamer, carrying Spain's colors into the drive for spices, made his famous voyage across the Atlantic and discovered America. The only aromatic plants he found in the Western World, however were capsicums, "plenty of aji, which is their pepper, which is more valuable than pepper, and ‘allspice or pimenta,’ a tree whose leaf had the finest smell of cloves that I ever met with." Thus wrote Dr. Chanca of Columbus's expedition.

Spain's delayed entry into the spice race was speeded up not only by Columbus, but five years later by the navigator-explorer Ferdinand Magellan, who was successful in making the first trip to the east by heading west across the Atlantic in 1519. Although Magellan himself was killed in the Philippines two years later and four of the five ships of the expedition lost, the remaining ship, the Victoria, returned to Spain with enough spices to pay for the entire expedition. Nevertheless, Spain continued the spice quest only briefly, King Charles of Spain selling his rights to the Spice Islands to his brother-in-law, John III of Portugal. The gold of the Incas proved a stronger attraction to the Spaniards.

Portugal remained dominant in the Far Eastern spice lands until the end of the 16th Century, when the Dutch entered the competition in earnest. Van Houtman and Van Neck, each in command of expeditions to the Indies, made friends with native sultans, and organized trading posts which eventually gave their country a monopoly in the early 17th Century. With the Dutch conquest of Malacca in 1641 the Malay Peninsula and northern Sumatra canie under their control.
In 1650 they took over the cinnamon trade in Ceylon; in 1663 the best pepper ports of the Malabar Coast were theirs. Before the end of the 17th Century Macassar on the Island of Celebes and Bantam in Java were added to make the Dutch complete masters of the immensely profitable spice trade.

The Dutch ruled the market with a rod of iron. If the price of cinnamon fell too low in Amsterdam, they burned the spice. They soaked their nutmegs in milk of lime, a process which did not affect flavor, but supposedly killed the germ of the nut. This was to prevent nutmegs from being planted elsewhere.

France's role in spice trading was generally a minor one, not backed by its government. French sea captains out of Dieppe had quietly made their way down along the coast of Africa by 1365, some 50 years before the Portuguese got there. They did not manage to create a rnonopoly as did the Arabs, Venetians, Genoese, Portuguese and later the Dutch, They did, however, help destroy the century-old Dutch spice monopoly when, in 1770, the French contrived to "kidnap" enough cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg plants from Dutch possessions to begin spice-growing in the French islands of Reunion, Mauritius and Seychelles in the Indian Ocean and in French Guiana on the north coast of South America.

Meanwhile, the great sea-faring English people were not idle. They, too, were looking for routes to the riches of the East. In 1527 British merchant Robert Thorne wrote to Henry VIII suggesting a search for the "Northwest passage" to India and the Indies: "The Spaniards hold the westward route, by the Straits of Magellan; the Portuguese the eastward, by the Cape of Good Hope. The English have left to them but one way to discover- and that is by the North." These attempts led them to important discoveries in North America, but not to the lands of spices. Yet, navigators such as Lancaster, Cabot, Cavendish, Raleigh, Drake and the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588, made England a power at sea. In 1600 the British East India Company was chartered by Queen Elizabeth, with spice cargoes as its big objective. Where the Dutch controlled the East Indies, the English were gaining supremacy on the mainland of India itself. In 1780, the Dutch and the English fought a war, which was to be ruinously costly to the Dutch East India Company. In 1795 the English took Malacca and a year later all Dutch property and trading centers except Java. The Dutch East India Company had to be dissolved in 1799.

On June 23, 1672, the first colonial American took an active part in spice-trading: Boston-born Elihu Yale - later to give his money and name to the great. university - arrived in Madras, India, as a clerk of the British East India Company. There he established contacts on which he built afortune in spices.
It was not until a century later that America entered the spice trade in a big way. Father of the American spice trade was a dashing Yankee sea captain named Jonathan Carnes. Sailing on one of the early American trading voyages out of Salem in 1778, he discovered places in the Orient, principally in Sumatra, where he could deal directly with the natives, thus circumventing the Dutch monopoly. He convinced the Peele family of Salem to back him and in 1795 made a voyage, which yielded 700% profit in spices.

This sent America into the spice competition so actively that between 1784 and 1873, about a thousand vessels made the 24,000 mile-long trip to Sumatra and back. In 1818, when the pepper trade was very brisk indeed, 35 vessels made the long and dangerous trip. It isn't at all surprising to learn that the pepper trade furnished a great part of the import duties collected in Salem (which at one point were enough to pay five per cent of expenses of the entire U.S. government).

Pirates finally put America out of the oriental trade. Our merchant ships were raided and destroyed time and again. The idealistic young United States government decided it would be improper to back the spice trade with naval protection in foreign waters.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

US Health Market

Tuberculosis: Extracting Value From a Stagnant Market

Brief No.

30 Sep 2002

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Product BrochureSummary of Contents


The TB treatment and prophylaxis market has experienced limited growth and activity over the last 40 years, as companies have perceived TB as primarily a "poor disease". However, the market now looks to hold greater potential, with rising incidence in the US, and improved diagnostics creating a renewed demand for both vaccination and therapeutics.

Scope of this report

  • Overview of TB pathology and epidemiology

  • Review of current TB diagnostic technologies and areas of unmet need in the diagnostics market

  • Assessment of current TB treatment, highlighting areas of unmet need and potential market opportunity

  • Analysis of the prophylaxis market providing strategic insight into clinical trial design and strategies for market penetration

  • Report Highlights

    There are three key areas within the TB market with high levels of unmet need, namely diagnostics, therapeutics, and prophylaxis.

    TB vaccines with higher efficacy and longevity will help to persuade governments in the developed world to reconsider including TB prophylaxis in immunization schedules.

    Improvements in the rapidity and accuracy of diagnostic technologies will drive patient potential and market growth. The development of second line treatment options for resistant infection will increase the value of the TB treatment market.

    Key reasons to buy this report

  • Identify the areas of the TB market which offer the highest potential for new market entrants

  • Understand the changing competitive dynamics in the TB market

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  • Wednesday, June 13, 2007

    Water Harvesting Benefits

    From editorial of Down to Earth Magazine.
    By Sunita Narain

    Some innovations change lives. A favourite of mine is the village milk
    collection system, a cooperative model. There's a dairy in the village,
    people bring in milk, the dairy in-charge places a sample on an
    instrument, checks the fat content, prints a receipt that tells the
    seller the fat content and the price. Once a week, the milk-seller
    encashes receipts. As most villages do not have electricity, instruments
    and computers work on diesel generators. Every day the co-operative's
    van arrives to take the milk for sale in the nearby town.

    In villages I visited last week, in arid Rajasthan, I saw this system at
    work. In the evening young girls, women and men streamed into the dairy.
    Their milk was checked, they collected their receipt. I asked them if
    they could read the numbers, written in English. They did not know the
    language, but could read their receipts. Just consider the economics:
    one buffalo gives roughly 5 litres of milk each day; people earn,
    depending on the fat content, Rs 15 to Rs 25 per litre. Even the
    poorest-one-buffalo owners-earn. The money reaches them directly, in
    their village.

    Consider also that this village, Laporiya, has seen a back-breaking
    drought for the past nine years. Meteorological data shows the last good
    monsoon was in 1997; it rained 700 mm. Since then rainfall has varied
    from 300-400 mm, it comes in a few cloudbursts. It is in this situation
    animals become the mainstay of the economy. Animal care is much less
    risk-averse than agriculture. The dairy is the vital link in
    adversity-it links people to the market. It helps them cope with scarcity.

    Market and retail proponents must understand this system is simple but
    not simplistic. It provides for the poorest and most marginalised, by
    investing in improving the productivity of common grazing lands. A
    critical move, for livestock need fodder, usually desperately short
    during -peak droughts. Lesser the fodder, lesser the milk. This is
    investment in hard-core infrastructure, critical for markets to function.

    But today, across India, fodder is desperately short. Where there is
    land but no water for irrigation, farmers cannot cultivate crops, and so
    cannot use the bonus of residues for animals. The common lands-village
    grazing lands and forest lands-are over-exploited and under-productive.
    In most regions, villagers have told me they spend Rs 12,000 to Rs
    20,000 per year of their meagre earnings, on an average, to buy fodder.
    But this economy is underground. There is no fodder policy in India, no
    intervention to protect the grazing lands or improve the productivity of
    forestland for food for our livestock. This is the 'other' food crisis.

    It must be understood that livestock is not wasted or inefficient. It
    plays a critical role in the village agricultural and livelihood
    economy-from manure to enhancing soil productivity and nutrition. But
    its food is nobody's priority. The pastures-reserved for animal
    grazing-have shrunk over the years; forestlands are the only remaining
    commons. Foresters say animals are biotic pressures; they suppress
    regeneration of forests. They want domestic livestock out of these
    lands. Their concerns may be valid. But it is equally important to note
    that domestic animals will need forests, as much as wildlife. We need an
    explicit policy for this food crisis. We need to find answers.

    For instance, the dairy in Laporiya works even in severe drought because
    it is connected to the common grazing land. In this village and its
    vicinity, the NGO Gram Vikas Navyuvak Mandal has spent huge energies to
    vacate encroachments from common grazing lands. These lands are
    administratively under the gram panchayat, but over the years most have
    been taken over-not by the poor but by the powerful. It is a tense
    battle within the village to reclaim the commons. Laws to protect such
    lands are weak, the administration helpless. But without the supportive
    common pasture, there can be little private gain, particularly for the

    Reclaiming the commons is the first step towards regenerating these
    lands. In these villages a fascinating technique has been evolved,
    called the 'chauka' system, to trap the little rainfall they get and
    improve the grasslands. The villagers dig rectangular trenches-less than
    1 feet deep-to temporarily hold rainwater before it flows into the next
    trench and then the next and so into the tank. With this system in
    place, the village common land has become a grand water collection area.

    The aim is to make the entire village a rain collection system, to
    recharge the aquifer, withstand drought. In neighbouring Sihalsagar
    village, every bit of land has been re-crafted for water-villagers have
    dug three big nadis (ponds), 25 small ponds and made chauka in their
    grazing land. Every field has a bund; every drop of rain is trapped and
    harvested. As a result, the village has water even as its neighbours do
    not. Since work began on water conservation, the village has never seen
    bountiful rain. But it still has some water.

    In other words, even meagre rain, if harvested, can provide sustenance.
    The issue then is to increase the productivity of each raindrop. If that
    scarce water is used for crops, it will benefit some and not all. It
    will also deplete the groundwater table, for farmers will dig deeper to
    get water for their fields. The economy will not be sustainable. On the
    other hand, if that water is used to turn it into milk, it will add
    value to that scarce resource. If that milk is processed locally, so
    that more value is added, it will make the economy prosper. The market
    will work, but only if this politics of scarcity is understood.

    In the dingy dairy of Laporiya I learnt: last year, after nine years of
    persistent drought, when it rained less than 300 mm, the village of 300
    households sold milk worth Rs 17.5 lakh. It was a valuable lesson. I
    will not forget it easily.

    Thursday, June 7, 2007

    To homogenise or not homogenise

    I don't if anyone noticed or not, but non homogenised milk tastes far better than homogenised milk. In fact , drinking non homongenized milk for 23 years in India, my system just couldn't digest this artificially processed milk. It turns out, apart from having horrible taste, homogenized milk is extremely bad for human health. (I for one, can not digest normal homogenized milk). Organic or non organic.
    For me, organic means-closest to nature,minimal processing, way nature/God intended different species to co-exist with each other.
    Read Further Here..

    Here is further report on homogenisation
    But, you ask, "homogenising was developed for the benefit of consumers, surely?" Not true. Homogenising was developed to reduce the fat particles to such a fine extent they no longer separate out, so that the milk lasts longer on the shelf. It is only one of many processes food is now subjected to entirely for commercial purposes. Consumers have to contend with foods being irradiated, genetically engineered, homogenised and processed using any other novel method that will benefit the corporations producing it. Homogenising extends milk shelf-life to 11 days or so. It has no beneficial food value; in fact, the very opposite.
    Dr Kurt Oster, head of cardiology in Connecticut, has been researching and gathering evidence about homogenised milk for over 20 years. This questionable process began being introduced by dairy companies as far back as 1932. Most of the milk consumed in the US is now homogenised. Dr Oster's findings conclusively show that in the process of extending shelf life and stopping the cream separating out of milk, medicine has a clear culprit for increased arteriosclerosis. Dr Oster's findings link the formation of the plaque which clogs arteries directly to ingesting homogenised milk.

    According to Dr Oster, with Dr Donald Ross of Fairfield University and Dr John Zikakis of the University of Delaware, homogenising allows the enzyme xanthine oxidase (XO) to pass intact into the blood stream. There it attacks the plasmologen tissue of the artery walls and parts of the heart muscle. This causes lesions that the body tries to heal by laying down a protective layer of cholesterol. The end result is scar tissue and calcified plaques with a build-up of cholesterol and other fatty deposits. We call these arteriosclerosis and atherosclerosis. According to these experts, dietary cholesterol is not the main cause of heart attacks; it is homogenised milk.
    Homogenisation could also be one of the major reasons for allergies to milk. As Dr Oski said in the finish of his disturbing book, Don't Drink Your Milk, 4 "Milk has no valid claim as the perfect food. As nutrition, it produces allergies in infants, diarrhoea and cramps in the older child and adult, and may be a factor in the development of heart attacks and strokes."

    What is your favourite grain

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