PDF ISBN: 978-87-7694-728-6

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published September 1, 2022

Published by NIAS Press, now an imprint of NUS Press

248pp || 229 x 152 mm

37 images (20 in colour), 6 maps, 3 tables


print edition ISBN: 978-87-7694-314-1

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Fragrant Frontier: Global Spice Entanglements from the Sino-Vietnamese Uplands

Edited by Sarah Turner, Annuska Derk and Jean-François Rousseau

Since its inception over two millennia ago, the spice trade has connected and transformed the environments, politics, cultures, and cuisines of vastly different societies around the world. The ‘magical’ qualities of spices mean they offer more than a mere food flavoring, often evoking memories of childhood events or specific festivals. Although spices are frequently found in our kitchen cupboards, how they get there has something of a mythical allure. In this ethnographically rich and insightful study, the authors embark on a journey of demystification that starts in the Sino-Vietnamese uplands with three spices – star anise, black cardamom, and cassia (cinnamon) – and ends on dining tables across the globe.

This book foregrounds the experiences of ethnic minority farmers cultivating these spices, highlighting nuanced entanglements among livelihoods, environment, ethnic identity, and external pressures, as well as other factors at play. It then investigates the complex commodity chains that move and transform these spices from upland smallholdings and forests in this frontier to global markets, mapping the flows of spices, identifying the numerous actors involved, and teasing out critical power imbalances. Finally, it focuses on value-creation and the commoditization of these spices across a spectrum of people and places. This rich and carefully integrated volume offers new insights into upland frontier livelihoods and the ongoing implications of the contemporary agrarian transition. Moreover, it bridges the gap in our knowledge regarding how these specific spices, cultivated for centuries in the mountainous Sino-Vietnamese uplands, become everyday ingredients in Global North food, cosmetics, and medicines.

Please explore the three virtual Story Maps that we have designed for the spices we focus on here. These visually depict the commodity chains and actors that star anise, black cardamom, and ‘cinnamon’ are entangled with, from upland ethnic minority cultivators in the fragrant frontier of the Sino-Vietnamese uplands to global consumers.

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