The use of mulling spices first began in the 2nd century, when the Romans began spicing and heating their wine as they traveled across the European continent, trading and conquering. While the exact combination of spices may vary, mulling spices are typically composed of cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and allspice, and may also contain bits of dried fruit.
As the Romans continued to travel throughout Europe, their love for mulled wine began to spread across the continent, particularly in northern European countries. Mulled beverages became especially popular during the Middle Ages, when people used them to stay warm during the harsh winters. A type of mulled cider called “wassail” became especially popular in Germany and England during this period of time, and was used in a number of harvest drinking rituals.
Over the years, mulling spices made their way into a variety of other warm beverages, and began to be associated with the autumn and winter seasons. Today, mulling spices are most commonly used in festive winter beverages like mulled wine, cider, and tea.
Use in Beverages
Mulling spices are designed to add a warm, sweet, rich, and aromatic flavor to whichever beverages they are added to. The process of creating a mulled beverage typically involves adding the mulling spices to the beverage as it is being heated, although the exact recipe may change depending on which beverage is being created. While mulled wine was the first mulled beverage to become popular, a variety of other beverages have received the benefits of mulling spices over the years.
In Medieval Germany, a drinking ritual called “wassailing” became common during the winter months, and was intended to bestow good fortune upon the following year’s apple harvest. During the wassailing ritual, practitioners drank from a bowl of wassail – mulled cider, which contained cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and sugar. Over the years, the tradition made its way into England, and became extremely popular during the Christmas holiday season. Over the years, the wassail bowl has been composed of a diverse set of ingredients, ranging from warmed ale brewed with apples and honey, to the mulled cider beverage that is still consumed today.
Mulled cider is rarely referred to as wassail in modern times. The traditional recipe for creating mulled cider is to heat apple cider with a combination of cinnamon sticks, allspice, nutmeg, cloves, and brown sugar. Once the cider is fully heated, the spices are strained away, leaving only the infused warm beverage.
Mulling spices can also be used to create a variety of teas. Popular blends include:
- The fragrant and festive Downton Abbey® Christmas Tea, a premium black tea blended with the warmth of traditional mulling spices
- Sonoma Mulled Zin Hot Tea, a caffeine-free holiday hot tea blend made from Sonoma Zinfandel fine wine grape skins infused with the warm spices of cinnamon, ginger, cloves and orange zest
- Hot Apple Cider Tea, a caffeine-free blend of apples, cinnamon cloves and ginger
During the Holiday Season
Mulling spices have a long and rich history of use during the holiday season, dating back to the Medieval wassailing tradition in England, an extension of the original German wassailing practice.
In the early 1800s in the English countryside, it became common for young women to travel from door to door during the Christmas holiday season, singing and offering a bowl of wassail to their neighbors and friends. This tradition eventually came to be known as caroling rather than wassailing. Although modern caroling does not require that practitioners carry the traditional wassail bowl, many carolers still often choose to warm up with a sweet and rich mug of mulled cider as they make their rounds.
Mulled wines, ciders, and teas are still associated with wintertime and the holiday season around the world, especially in countries with long winters like Sweden, Finland, Germany, and England. To give the gift of the mulling spices holiday tradition, the Downton Abbey® Christmas Tea Gift Set is a festive and elegant choice.
Although mulling spices are not quite as common today as they once were, they continue to be viewed as a festive and flavorful addition to seasonal beverages by those who remember the tradition.