When elite European cooking adopted austere seasonings
It’s been said that the key ingredients in European, and especially French, cuisine is butter. And then maybe some salt and pepper. But subtle seasonings paired with fat has been used to make everything from potatoes to snails tasty, which makes sense when your climate makes producing dairy products easier than growing saffron. However, practicality isn’t the only thing that has shaped European cooking, as these trends developed after continental chefs had greater access to the world’s spice rack.
From hard-won to hardly any
Spices and seasonings were once scarce in Europe. Even having a shaker of table salt was a point of envy to be prominently displayed on elite tables in France (see Salt for more on this.) But by the 1600s, after hundreds of years of exploration, trade, enslavement and torture, a stable market for imported seasonings was finally available to middle class Europeans. As with many cultures around the world, all of Europe could enjoy multi-flavored recipes designed around “distinct, disparate flavors and building up layer upon layer of spice and seasoning.” But for the elite classes of Europe, that meant that prominently showing off your spice rack didn’t make you stand out so much anymore, sparking a change.
To strike some contrast with the increasingly available bouquet of flavors, wealthy foodies became advocates of recipes with more complimentary flavors. The idea was that you should taste the flavor of what you were eating, and any seasonings should just be there to enhance that flavor. For example, your meat should taste and be appreciated as meat, so you should then make gravy with a meat-base to further amplify that flavor.
Medical ideas influenced ingredients
At the same time, concepts of physiology were shifting in Europe away from balancing humors to managing “fermentation” in your digestion. So more fresh vegetables were being eaten, in contrast to trying to offset a malady by eating more of a contrasting spice.
Today we seem to have a mix of lots of these ideas. People like mixing flavors with fusion cuisine, but they also extol the virtues of locally farmed produce and meat. But really, as long as you’re adding green chile to your food, you’ll feel like you’re standing with kings.
Source: How Snobbery Helped Take The Spice Out Of European Cooking by Maanvi Singh, The Salt