Out of the East: Spices and the Medieval Imagination by Paul Freedman - review by Julia Keay

Julia Keay

Pungent Unguents

Out of the East: Spices and the Medieval Imagination


Yale University Press 275pp £20

All too often academics writing on their specialist subjects end up either boring their readers or intimidating them. Paul Freedman, Professor of History at Yale University, proves that it doesn’t have to be that way. He wears his scholarship lightly, and has written an account of the impact of spices on the history, geography, economics, health and eating habits of medieval Europe that is as entertaining as it is informative.

The question that underlies Out of the East is ‘why were spices so valuable?’ Their flavours were used to enhance medieval cuisine, their fragrance added mystique to religious rituals, they promoted individual well-being and disguised all manner of nasty medieval smells, and if their medicinal qualities didn’t often save lives,

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