Are there any spices that actually preserve meat?

As opposed to simply covering the taste of meat that’s gone off; which was one reason why there used to be such a demand in medieval and Renaissance Europe for spices imported from the Far East, or so I’ve read.

Salt? If you consider it a spice, that is.

The belief that spices were popular because they covered the flavor of bad meat during the middle ages is a myth. Cloves, black pepper, cinammon, saffron (the most expensive I think), and nutmeg were all luxury items. Those who could afford to put these spices on their meat would have been able to afford fresh meat or meat that was otherwise preserved.


Actually, the people who were rich enough to use the spices were rich enough to have their meat slaughtered the same day it was cooked. London (the only city I know about particularly) had strict rules and strict punishments for butchers who were caught selling meat too long after butchering.

There may have been some winter slaughtering of livestock, but it was done by people who knew how to salt and smoke meat.

Garlic may have some antiseptic properties. I’m not sure about any of the others. Hops were used because they made beer keep longer, but that’s not quite the same thing.

Rosemary leaves were sometimes wrapped around meat to keep it from going rancid.

Isn’t salt a mineral, rather than a spice? I recall that spices are ground seeds or dried berries of plants (like peppercorns, nutmeg, etc.) while herbs are the leaves of plants (like oregano, thyme, sage, and so on).

But yes, salt can preserve meat. I just don’t think it’s a spice. Perhaps I’m just being nitpicky.

[Pat Paulson]

Picky, picky, picky!


Hm. Rosemary leaves are almost like pine needles; not very wrappy.

Essential oils are all, to some extent or another, antimicrobial, so an herb or spice high is essential oils (like rosemary, thyme, black pepper or garlic) will help to slow the decay of meat due to microorganisms. Whether or not they were actually used in this way, I can’t say, but they all *could *be, theoretically.

Well, wrapped in the sense that the meat was covered with a contiguous layer of rosemary, although individual leaves were, as you said, too short and stiff to do much wrapping.

Is this true? I was under the impression that an “essential oil” was just the hydrophobic liquid (and often pleasantly smelly) components of a plant. Thus there is no way to make such a broad statement about the oils since their composition is quite different from plant to plant.

IIRC, Sushi is served with Gari (pickled ginger) and Wasabi because they have (or were once believed to have had) antimicrobial properties. Also they are tasty.

Theoretically, you might be right. There might be some volatile (meaning: “evaporates quickly”) hydrophobic compound out there that could be bottled as an essential oil that isn’t antimicrobial. Practically speaking, however, I’m not aware of any. They’re almost all toxic to us in large enough quantities (and generally those quantities are best measured in milliliters, not gallons, so I’m not talking about “toxic” like water can be toxic), and I don’t know of any in my 100-some collection that aren’t at least moderately antimicrobial.

I admit I’m extrapolating from a quite concentrated form of the stuff to a plant, and yes, there are plants which are rather dilute in their antimicrobial properties. But the common culinary herbs and spices mentioned here (rosemary, thyme, black pepper - and I’d add oregano to that list) are quite packed with essential oils which are antimicrobial. These plants use their essential oils for pest repellent and wound care themselves, and those same chemical compounds which fight off leaf mold and bacterial invaders will, to some extent, fight off mold and bacteria that likes meat. Theoretically. As I said, I’m not sure if any culture makes/made a widespread use of this theory in practice.