Early in history, various factors, such as a fascination with other places, curiosity, a quest for new flavours and tastes, as well as commercial appeal and territorial conquests, led to cultural exchange between countries and continents.
Antiquity was the first major period in which distribution took off. Spices had already arrived in the Mediterranean region from the Orient as early as the 2nd millennium BCE, and trade increased with Greek and Roman civilisations. In the 1st century BCE, Rome had access to fruit, vegetables, cereals and spices from all over the Empire and regions further afield, such as Asia.
Despite the geopolitical upheavals connected to the end of the Roman Empire, trading with the Orient continued. The expansion of the Arab Empire from the 7th century, extending from the Indus to Spain, increased the movement and cultivation of new plants, such as lemon trees and rice, which arrived on European soil through Spain. Between the 11th and 13th centuries, when Crusaders went to the Middle East to rescue Christians, they discovered new flavours which they brought back with them.
The Renaissance was a defining period in cultural and commercial exchange. Europeans particularly appreciated spices so, in order to buy them as cheaply as possible, they looked for new trade routes to India and China. The conquest of the oceans and the discovery of America would change eating habits. Foodstuffs unknown until then began to be widely distributed, although not all of them were embraced straight away, such as tomatoes and potatoes for example, which some cultures viewed with suspicion for a long time before accepting them. Other products, such as coffee, tea and chocolate, appeared deliciously exotic to the Europeans and were warmly welcomed.
From 1870, progress in modes of transportation and preserving techniques meant that food, especially exotic fruit, could be distributed quickly. Bananas, pineapples, oranges, lemons and mandarines arrived from North Africa, the Middle East and America too. Today, we have access to a wide variety of exotic fruit, and kiwis and mangoes have become part of our everyday life.
Trading, which began among the first civilisations some 4000 years ago, has now become global. Our appetite for anything new and exotic is greater than ever. Consumers have never before had access to such a wide variety of food.