Is it because before it was used as a drug, it was used for flavoring food?

Both in- and out- of universe answers are welcome!

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    In the book, not everybody knew that melange and spice were the same things. I guess they just called it spice because they could treat it like a spice, i.e. put it in food. It did smell like cinnamon.
    – Mr Lister
    Apr 2, 2014 at 8:11
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    Drugs often have colloquial names. Pot, crack, etc.
    – John O
    Apr 2, 2014 at 16:33
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    Because it's spicy Apr 2, 2014 at 19:34
  • No citations but when they talk about "the spice melange" I always thought they meant a mixture of spices --- implying the spice is not a single chemical, but a complex combination of them.
    – The Photon
    Dec 10, 2014 at 22:19

3 Answers 3


As noted in the Dune books, melange looks and smells much like cinnamon so "spice" would be an obvious name for it.

Out-of-universe, I always assumed Frank Herbert wanted to suggest something exotic and precious, as spices were in medieval Europe. There is a fascinating discussion of medieval use of spices here.

Spices were highly prized and very expensive: In London in 1438, a pound of pepper was more than two days' wages for a skilled worker, or very roughly $500 in modern terms. This isn't quite in the same league as melange (a briefcase of which is said to be enough to buy a planet) but it's not cheap either.

Making 'spice' the commodity of choice also ties into the vaguely "medieval" feel of the Dune universe, with rival families headed by Dukes and Barons, hand-to-hand combat with swords, etc.

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    In the medieval era (before seagoing trade routes opened up after 1492) Europe obtained its spices from the Middle East and North Africa. This is one of the many Arrakis/Arabia parallels in the books. Apr 2, 2014 at 13:04
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    For FH, the spice was more a metaphor for petroleum: "In his interview with OMNI, Herbert explicitly identified CHOAM with OPEC, equating the spice melange to oil (it should be noted that OPEC did not become notable as a political power until after the publication of the first novel)." dune.wikia.com/wiki/Dune_(novel) Apr 2, 2014 at 13:06
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    @DVK: Yes, there's a table halfway down the article I linked to. Although the claimed health-giving properties are fairly modest (help the digestion, ward off colds, etc.) in contrast to melange. Apr 2, 2014 at 13:40
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    Using roughly Googled values that a briefcase holds 26 litres, the density of saffron is 0.14g/cm^3 and its value is $7000/kg, a briefcase of saffron would be worth about $26000. Not quite enough for a planet, but much more than gold.
    – dbmag9
    Apr 2, 2014 at 15:26
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    @trysis You buy it for $10 because company puts a big markup on it. It's not actually that expensive to procure, if you bought it in bulk from a large supplier you would pay pennies per ounce.
    – Superbest
    Apr 3, 2014 at 5:50

"Melange" is a french word, that means "mixture" or as people in India would call it "masala". I think he just took the indian word and translated into another language, he probably chose french to add some particular effect to the actions in the book. The Houses on the spice planet being similar to french nobility struggle for power through the rights to commercialize exotic products.

It is a "link", symbolizing the product, it's target market and the trouble that surrounds it one package. Everyone wants some.


Well, it's literally used as an additive in food (and beverage IIANM), like a spice. And it comes in powdered form, like a spice. And there's the exotic nature of it, which @RoyalCanadianBandit mentioned - also shared with spices traditionally. So, there you have it.

On the other hand, spices are supposed to be of vegetable origin, which Dune's spice isn't.

  • Salt is generally considered to be a spice, and is even less of vegetable origin than melange is.
    – Mark
    Jul 10, 2021 at 2:12

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