The Cambridge World History of Food

Natural history of food

What’s so virgin about virgin olive oil? Is tapioca born as little round balls, or can you get it in another form? At the dinner table, our questions are endless. Yet, the ingredient lists on the side of packages are wholly inadequate. Most cookbooks don’t know much about origins either. This humongous, library-belonging, scholar-written, two-volume encyclopedia fills our hunger for more information. No recipes, only superbly reliable research on food, food crops, and food preparation. Eat smarter.

-- KK 12/16/03


Indeed kola is to the African what tobacco or coffee is to the European or betel is to the southeastern Asian a stimulant and a psychoactive substance. The importance of kola as a drug was first recognized outside Africa in the twelfth century by an Arabian physician, who wrote that it was used in the form of a powder for colic and stomachache and had warming properties. A later Portuguese observer testified to the importance of Kola nuts thus: "The Black population would scarcely undertake any enterprise without the aid of Kola" which, among other things, was supposed to protect against the pangs of thirst.

Since the 1850s, however, research has been carried out by botanists, chemists, and pharmacists on some of the properties ascribed to the kola nut. For example, A.M.F.J. Pasisot-Beauvois asserted the nuts' remarkable ability to impart a pleasant taste to all food or water consumed. Subsequent experiments have confirmed this observation at least for drinking water, which, even when comparatively stale or impure, becomes quite palatable to the consumer after chewing kola. It is possible that the action of the chemicals in kola on the palatal mucosa creates the "illusion" of sweetness, or perhaps this is the result of kola's high caffeine content.

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