P is for Pepper

Black Gold. Texas Tea. The most valuable commodity in recent years has that nickname, and if you watched a certain TV show from the 1960s, you remember the words. But “black gold” before 1800 meant something else, something also very valuable. Futurists picked up on it, too.

The spice must flow.

Black Gold

Even today, pepper is the most traded spice in the world. It originated out of India, on the Malabar coast, although more than a third of it today comes from Vietnam. In the Silk Road days, it was so valuable that it was demanded by the Huns when they took Rome; they asked for 3000 pounds of pepper in addition to precious metals and furs. Rome lived on cinnamon and pepper, so it knew the value, too.

Accountant Luca Pacioli in his double-entry bookkeeping text explained to merchants how to list their inventory: gold coin in ducats, jewels, unpolished pointed diamonds, silverware, feather beds, and …

cases of ginger bellidi … sacks of pepper, long pepper or round pepper … so many packages of cinnamon.

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