Monday, February 28, 2011

On The Use and Abuse of Condiments.

The title of the following article from the South Australian Advertiser, of September 21, 1858, was irresistible - as was the urge to share it with you. It gives a little insight into some of the prevailing medical opinions and dietary ideas of the time.

On The Use and Abuse of Condiments.
(From the Family Herald)

Of the substances that find a place in the diet of mankind, many are used only to please the palate, the consideration of which belongs to the art of cookery. Apart, however, from epicurean taste, there are some condiments used to facilitate digestion, and to impart principles essential to the healthy condition of the body. These may be divided into five classes: 1. Saline; 2. Acid; 3. Aromatic; 4. Saccharine; 5. Oleaginous.

Saline condiments. – Common salt is the only necessary saline condiment. It is found in every fluid and soft part of the body, and also in some of the hard parts. It exists in large quantities in the blood, and forms a principal ingredient in the gastric juice. When taken in too large quantity, salt causes thirst, irritation of the alimentary canal, and various disorders. When too little is taken, or when it cannot be procured, as is the case at times in regions remote from the sea, putrid fevers may be produced, and worms are liable to be generated in the bowels. Some persons profess to abstain wholly from salt; but there is a certain amount in bread and many articles in common use, sufficient to save them from the evil consequences of their foolish theories. Salt provisions ought not to form too large a proportion of diet, being apt to produce scurvy, the tendency to which is counteracted by lemon juice, when fresh meat or vegetables cannot be procured.

Acid Condiments. – Of all the acids, vinegar is the best, and it is the most commonly used. It is antiseptic or corrective of the tendency to putrescence, and it also assists digestion if taken in moderate quantity. With shell-fish, uncooked vegetables, and oily substances, it forms a wholesome condiment. Vinegar formed part of the rations of the soldiers of ancient Rome, every man carrying a small stone bottle of it to correct the qualities of doubtful water which they might have to drink on their marches. It is sometimes used largely to reduce corpulency, but this effect can only be obtained at the cost of injury to the stomach. The vinegar at inferior oyster-shops and stalls, is commonly adulterated with oil of vitriol, and will be shunned by those who value their health. Tartaric acid, citric acid, lemonade, and other vegetable acids belong to this class of condiments. Moderate use of fruits, although not fully ripe is sometimes wholesome from the acidity. In other constitutions and states of the body, soda and alkalis are required for health.

Aromatic Condiments.- Mustard, pepper, cloves, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, horse-radish, and the various aromatic condiments are chiefly used in promoting the secretion of the gastric juice. In moderation they are beneficial, but when taken in excess the digestive power is weakened, and it is not easy again to diminish the quantity, as we see in the hot spices which old Indians continue to use after their return to this country. In hot climates, where less exercise are taken, the habit is acquired of artificially stimulating the appetite. With most kinds of vegetables it is advisable to take pepper, especially when the stomach is not strong. Cayenne pepper is very wholesome, but it must be remembered that, as sold in shops, it often contains a large amount of red lead, or other heavy poisonous mineral. Garlic, onions, shallots, and other vegetables of the class may be ranked among aromatic condiments by those who like their flavor, but they contain a sufficient amount of direct nutriment to entitle them to be classed with ordinary diet.

Saccharine Condiments:- Sugar in its great diversity of forms, including coarse and refined sugar from cane, molasses, honey, &c., is a nutritious as well as a palatable condiment. Being a corrective of acidity, it ought generally to be taken with fruit. When taken in excess it causes indigestion, and the large use of sweetmeats by the young is the source of frequent stomach disorders, which are aggravated by the noxious substances often mixed with the sugar in their preparation. Cases of death from the poisonous colouring matter of sweetmeats are not infrequent.

Oleaginous condiments:- Oily substances, moderately used, are of great benefit to the body, and the consumption of them, in the shape of butter, olive oil, ghee, and other forms is large amongst all nations. They are in themselves very nutritious, and they assist the digestion of vegetables and other articles of diet. Butter is the most wholesome of these condiments, but if taken in excess it causes indigestion and bilious disorders, and also leads to the formation of unhealthy fat instead of firm flesh in the body. Rich pastry is amongst the most indigestible of all articles of diet.

Mixed Condiments: - Combinations of condiments of various classes are made sometimes extemporaneously, as for salad, or for preserving in different kinds of seasonings and sauces. Ketchup is formed from fermented juice of mushrooms, to which salt, vinegar, and aromatics are added. Soy, and other Indian sauces, are made from various vegetables, with salt and spices. There are also various kinds of curry powders and other mixed condiments in the solid state. Of all these preparations, while it may be admitted that they help digestion, the chief object is to gratify the palate and to stimulate the appetite. The young ought not to accustom themselves to their use, and the healthy do not require them. Where there is a deficiency of appetite, or feebleness of digestion, they may be used with thankfulness.

As the recipe for the day I give you a spice cake – a variation of the seed cake recipe in The young cook's assistant, and housekeeper's guide; P. Masters, 1841.

A Seed Cake.
Take a little light dough as prepared for rolls. Warm six ounces of butter in a saucepan, and with two pounds of dough mix three eggs, a cupful of milk or cream, six ounces of sugar, and one of carraway seeds. Butter the shape, mix up the cake lightly, and put in enough to half fill it. Set it by the fire to rise to the top of the shape before baking.

A Spice Cake.
Prepare a cake as the seed cake, leaving out the caraway seeds only. Pound and sift some allspice, and put in a large teaspoonful. Finish as in the preceding.

Quotation for the Day.

Condiments are like old friends – highly thought of, but often taken for granted.
Marilyn Kaytor.


rsynnott said...

I'm a little disturbed that apparently various condiments should be expected to contain sulphuric acid, lead, and random unspecified poison!

The Old Foodie said...

I wonder how much in the way of adulterants and other invisible poisons STILL hide in our food, almost a couple of centuries later.

SharleneT said...

Great post! I've been busy taking post-op care of a friend in January and then three weeks of jury duty on a first-degree murder case. Now, I'm busy catching up on 599 posts!

How did you fare In Australia after the flooding? Still at your brother's? Hope not too much damage... Come visit when you can...