Did you know that the desert traders dealing in cinnamon inflated their profits by claiming the rolled bark was twigs from the nests of firebirds, fifty feet up trees and extremely dangerous to acquire? I keep thinking of the edges of maps with the unknown marked by a warning: here there be dragons, and i wonder if there had been fables for all the flavors, maybe we would have just stayed home.
Oh, saffron? The whiskers of a manticore, cardamom is the powdered tears of ancient basilisks and don’t get me STARTED on where vanilla “beans” come from. Allspice is guarded by blind moles the size of buicks, curry plants are the favored horticultural decoration of sphinxes, ginger could have been renamed mandrakes, cloves are the feather pinions of cockatrices, rosemary is jealously hoarded by holy warriors who use it to fend off evil spirits.
The ancients were wrong, the acid spit of Cerberus breeds not nightshade, but cilantro. Parsley blooms from the pages of indexed love letters, left in dusty attics for a minimum of 7 years, nutmeg grows like mold on tombstones but only in deconsecrated graveyards. Basil clings to the sides of cliffs in the outback, Lemongrass is used as snorkels for leviathans, harvesting turmeric wrong could curse you to endless pursuit by overly amorous mummies. Peppercorn can only be pulled with tweezers from giant carnivorous lilies, cumin leaves only grow in noxious swamps and the smell attracts mosquitoes so big, you will lose all faith in the existence of a benevolent creator.
Some spices have to be bartered from oni in exchange for American whiskey, mustard is dried algae found only on the shells of immense crabs whose only natural predator are kraken, fennel makes a sound similar to cold laughter when picked from Dark woods on moonless nights, tarragon grows only on those petrified by gorgons, garlic salt is actually what is left after a chupacabra drains a goat.
Chili pods hang off calderas of literal volcanos, some must be hauled from the magma itself, chives grow like hair on the heads of trolls but not the ones you’re thinking of, mint must be prayed over by left-handed redheads for 13 hours straight or it will be incredibly poisonous, and oregano must be plucked from the undersides of oliphants.
I cannot even pretend to wish these founts of flavors had stayed in their respective homes, like so many things I inherited the benefits of ancestral warcrimes, but I still wish we had a better story for their acquisition than ‘Our probably spoiled food is bland, let’s wipe out an island so we don’t have to buy spices from India while sticking it to Portugal at the same time!’ A more entertaining tale with monsters that don’t look like us.