Maanvi Singh in NPR:
In medieval Europe, those who could afford to do so would generously season their stews with saffron, cinnamon, cloves and ginger. Sugar was ubiquitous in savory dishes. And haute European cuisine, until the mid-1600s, was defined by its use of complex, contrasting flavors.
"The real question, then, is why the wealthy, powerful West — with unprecedented access to spices from its colonies — became so fixated on this singular understanding of flavor," Srinivas says.
The answer, it turns out, has just as much to do with economics, politics and religion as it does taste.
Back in the Middle Ages, spices were really expensive, which meant that only the upper class could afford them. But things started to change as Europeans began colonizing parts of India and the Americas.
"Spices begin to pour into Europe," explains Krishnendu Ray, an associate professor of food studies at New York University. "What used to be expensive and exclusive became common."
Serving richly spiced stews was no longer a status symbol for Europe's wealthiest families — even the middle classes could afford to spice up their grub. "So the elite recoiled from the increasing popularity of spices," Ray says. "They moved on to an aesthetic theory of taste. Rather than infusing food with spice, they said things should taste like themselves. Meat should taste like meat, and anything you add only serves to intensify the existing flavors."