People may have been cooking curry in Southeast Asia for at least 2,000 years, according to traces of spices found on newly discovered stone tools in Vietnam.
During his excavations at the Oc Eo archaeological site in southern Vietnam, Hsiao-chun Hung at the Australian National University in Canberra and colleagues discovered several sandstone grinding tools along with traces of spices.
An analysis of 717 starch grains recovered from the tools revealed eight types of spices: turmeric, ginger, galangal, sand ginger, root, cloves, nutmeg, and cinnamon. Many of the grains also showed signs of deformation, suggesting they were damaged by grinding and resemble the starch granules found in modern curry powder.
“This find strongly suggests that the ancient inhabitants of Oc Eo used turmeric, ginger, and other spices such as cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg as essential ingredients in their culinary practices, most likely in the preparation of curry,” Hung says.
Maritime trade routes between Southeast Asia and South Asia were established more than 3,000 years ago, with spices like nutmeg and cloves coming from Indonesia and others like turmeric and cinnamon from South Asia.
Stone grinding tools first appeared in Southeast Asia between 2,000 and 3,000 years ago. behind, along with other cultural elements originating from South Asia, such as Indian ornaments and religious monuments. Therefore, it is very likely that these tools, spices and recipes were brought to the region by immigrants or travelers from South Asia, Hung says. The spices found at Oc Eo likely came from traders, but could have been grown locally from seeds brought by traders, the researchers say.
The findings provide valuable insight into the dietary habits of Southeast Asian societies at the time and also offer a glimpse into the cultural and trade connections between different regions over thousands of years, Hung says.