2,000-Year-Old Curry Spices Discovered in Vietnam

Scientists in southern Vietnam have identified the earliest evidence of curry in Southeast Asia. Their study shows that spices used in today’s currys have not changed significantly from those used approximately 2,000 years ago. It suggests that South Asian migrants brought their culinary traditions into Southeast Asia via the Indian Ocean.

Oc Eo

Researchers first unearthed stone grinding tools at the Oc Eo archaeological site in 2017. Oc Eo sits at the head of the Mekong Delta in An Giang, Vietnam and served as an important trade hub between China and the Indian subcontinent from roughly the first to the eighth century AD.

The stone tools included footed grinding slabs, pestles, and mortars. Similar tools remained in use in India until at least the 19th century. Archaeologists assume that these South Asian-style tools first came to Oc Eo with migrants, who later manufactured them locally.

Food preparation equipment from the study.

Food preparation equipment from the study. Photo: Science.org


Now, in a new study, a team from Australian National University has analyzed the tools to reveal the remnants of a wide range of spices, including turmeric, ginger, galangal, clove, nutmeg, and cinnamon.

“These spices are indispensable ingredients used in the making of curry in South Asia today,” the study notes.

“Given these spices originated from various different locations, it’s clear people were undertaking long-distance journeys for trade purposes,” study co-author Weiwei Wang said in a statement.

Exceptional preservation

As well as the microscopic remains of spices on grinding stones, the team also examined some exceptionally well-preserved seeds from Oc Eo. ”

The seeds were so fresh it was hard to believe they were 2,000 years old,” co-author Hsiao-chun Hung explained.

Oc Eo and its location relative to the spice network.

Spice networks during the period. Photo: Science.org


The combination of South Asian-style tools with spices and seeds that are more commonly found in Southeast Asian curries (such as galangal, sand ginger, and finger root) shows how the spice trade may have shaped “the formation of early Southeast Asian cuisines, especially in light of the dynamic role of ancient Oc Eo, in southern Vietnam, within global maritime trade networks,” the study concludes.

Martin Walsh

Martin Walsh is a writer and editor for ExplorersWeb.

Martin has been writing about adventure travel and exploration for over five years.

Martin spent most of the last 15 years backpacking the world on a shoestring budget. Whether it was hitchhiking through Syria, getting strangled in Kyrgyzstan, touring Cambodia’s medical facilities with an exceedingly painful giant venomous centipede bite, chewing khat in Ethiopia, or narrowly avoiding various toilet-related accidents in rural China, so far, Martin has just about survived his decision making.

Based in Da Lat, Vietnam, Martin can be found out in the jungle trying to avoid leeches while chasing monkeys.