The Book of Spice

Imprint: Profile Books
Pages: 286
Subject: History & Classics

The Book of Spice

From Anise to Zedoary

John O'Connell

A compendium of spices: the history and uses of the world's favourite flavours. Now available in paperback

Paperback(Preorder only)
9781781253052 (Published 3 Nov 2016)

About the book

Spices are rare things, at once familiar and exotic, comforting us in favourite dishes while evoking far-flung countries, Arabian souks, trade winds, colonial conquests and vast fortunes. From anise to zedoary, The Book of Spice introduces us to their properties, both medical and magical, and the fascinating stories that lie behind both kitchen staples and esoteric luxuries.John O'Connell's bite-size chapters combine insights on history and art, religion and medicine, culture and science, richly seasoned with anecdotes and recipes. Discover why Cleopatra bathed in saffron and mare's milk, why wormwood-laced absinthe caused eighteenth-century drinkers to hallucinate and how cloves harvested in remote Indonesian islands found their way into a kitchen in ancient Syria.Almost every kitchen contains a tin of cloves or a stick of cinnamon, almost every dish a pinch of something, whether chilli or cumin. Combining an extraordinary amount of research with a lifelong passion, this is culinary history at its most appetising.

About the author

John O'Connell lived on spaghetti bolognese and Birds Eye Steakhouse Grills until the mid 1990s, when he moved to London and discovered that, actually, there was a lot of other food out there and maybe it would be a good idea to try some of it? He worked for many years at the listings magazine Time Out, where somehow he persuaded the editor to buy a whole cow so that he could chronicle, in a weekly column, the experience of butchering and cooking it. He was made redundant shortly afterwards. He is the author of several books including I Told You I Was Ill: Adventures in Hypochondria and the novella The Baskerville Legacy. He writes regularly for The Times and Guardian and lives in south London. His favourite spice is cumin.


The Book of Spice will lift your heart, mind and taste-buds. John O'Connell's friendly yet authoritative voice delivers a fine work of history, geography, politics and "gastronomic empathy". This masterful A to Z of flavours charts human conflict and ultimate interconnectedness from the middle ages to the early twenty-first century.

- Shami Chakrabarti

Praise for John O'Connell: 'Clever, atmospheric and elegant

- The Times

Witty and beautifully observed

- Daily Mail

Shamelessly endearing

- Zoe Williams, Guardian

Additional Information

Imprint: Profile Books
Pages: 286
Subject: History & Classics