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Grades 3-5
Studying spices is a tasty way for students to learn about natural resources, trade, and our use of international products. In this lesson students will learn a little bit about the importance of spices in history and will focus on the significance of spices in the foods they eat. They will research some of the spices in their favorite foods and will map the origins of these spices. Students will conclude by planning meals that use these spices and writing fact sheets that describe the spices to the people eating the meal.
Connections to the Curriculum:
Connections to the National Geography Standards:
Standard 16: "The changes that occur in the meaning, use, distribution, and importance of resources"
Three to four hours

Materials Required:
  • Recipes for foods students tend to know and like (you can bring them in yourself, or have students bring them)
  • Blank Xpeditions outline maps of the world , one copy for each student
  • Colored pencils (optional, to color the maps)
Students will
  • discuss their favorite foods, and hypothesize the origins of the flavors;
  • read information about the spice trade, and discuss why spices have been so important over many centuries;
  • research and answer questions about the spices in a favorite recipe;
  • map the locations of all spices researched in the class;
  • discuss the reasons we use spices from around the world;
  • plan international meals, including spices from at least two continents; and
  • write fact sheets to be placed on the table when the meals are served.
Geographic Skills:

Acquiring Geographic Information
Organizing Geographic Information
Analyzing Geographic Information

S u g g e s t e d   P r o c e d u r e
Discuss students' favorite foods. What flavors are in them? Where do students think these flavors come from?

Explain that spices, including salt, come from different parts of the world and have been traded for centuries. Without this trade in spices, eating would be much less interesting.

Have students look at A Short History of Spice Trading to find out more about the history of the spice trade. After they have read the material at the sites, ask them to explain in a class discussion the reasons why spices have been considered so important for many centuries.

Ask each student to bring in a recipe for his or her favorite food, or have students choose from a set of recipes that you bring in. Many recipes can be found at the recipe sites listed below. Each recipe should contain at least two spices or flavorings (including salt).

Have students go to the following Web sites to find out about two of the spices and flavorings in their recipes. As they look at the sites, have them answer the questions below the list of Web sites.

McCormick & Co., Inc.: Enspicelopedia
Spice Advice Encyclopedia
The Epicentre Encyclopedia of Spices

Questions to answer:

  • What countries or region of the world does this spice come from?
  • Where might you look for this spice? On a tree? In the ground? Somewhere else?
  • What is one interesting historical or mythical fact about this spice (e.g., something about trade in this spice or the history of how it was discovered—or an interesting bit of folklore concerning this spice)?
  • What foods is this spice commonly used in?
[Note: Before students begin their research, find out what spices students have selected from their recipes. If it appears that the entire class has chosen only a few spices, assign some students to other spices so there will be a larger variety of spices covered in the classroom. Ideally, the class will have spices from several continents.]

List on the board the spices that students have investigated and the countries where these spices come from.

Give each student a blank outline map of the world , and have students label the countries of origin and the spice names, as they are listed on the board. They can refer to a world atlas or to the MapMachine to find out where these countries are located. They might want to use a different color for each spice's country or countries of origin so they can easily see where the different spices came from.

Discuss why we use spices from around the world. What would food taste like without these spices? Why do we go to lengths to obtain spices from distant places?
Suggested Student Assessment:
Have students plan international meals, using spices they have learned about in this lesson and any other spices they find interesting. Ask them to try to use spices from at least two different continents. They can plan their meals individually or in small groups of two or three.

They should search for recipes containing their spices at the following international recipe Web sites (and any others they can locate online or in cookbooks):

McCormick Recipes
Yahoo! Ethnic and Regional Recipes

Have students write menus that list the foods they will be serving. Then have them write fact sheets to be placed on the table. The fact sheets should describe where the spices come from, where in that region they can be found (e.g., on trees or in the ground), and one or two interesting things about each spice.

The fact sheets should also include maps showing where each spice comes from.

Extending the Lesson:
Have students cook one or more of the menu items for their families or friends and share the fact sheet they made in class with their dinner guests. Ask them to return to class and report on how the guests enjoyed the meal, what they thought about the spices, and whether they think they will try the spices in other recipes.
Related Links: