I mentioned postulation in my last post and that often I find myself at odds with "popular" opinion. One such place is the idea that spices were less potent in period due to the time it took for them to travel to their destination.
I admit caravan and cargo shipping were slow but was it really that much slower that modern methods? I mean the process is very much the same; pick / harvest the spice, dry the spice, package the spice and ship the spice. Modernly we use trucks or trains to transport things and this does make it faster in that respect but when shipping in bulk we still very much use cargo which is still a slow process. What difference does a month make to the spices? Also the modern process of getting spices will also include warehousing for indeterminate amounts of time and likely more than once.
Packaging has changed greatly instead of wooden containers or cloth sacks we plastic wrap things but which is really better for preserving the product? Plastic can promote mold growth if there is any moisture at all introduced to the product while wooden containers and cloth bags can keep keep air circulation going.
Modernly we tend to process things as far as they can go for the convenience of the consumer exposing a greater surface area to air even if it is in a plastic bag. In period spices were shipped whole and processed mostly by the consumer.This would, in my opinion, preserve the spices better and keep them fresher. Grinding what you need when you need it the outer area exposed to air would be potentially reduced in flavor but the innermost area would still be quite fresh and potent.
My overall point being that I do not believe that heavily spiced (in terms of amounts used if given a quantity in a recipe) foods were a product of lackluster spices that had sat around for a long time losing their potency. Spices were a way to show off wealth and at times it was all about conspicuous consumption. Another thing to consider is that spices in large quantity usually take on a different flavor than when used more sparingly. Cinnamon, what we associate with sweets becomes spicy and peppery in large quantities, and sage in larges amounts tastes like pine bubble bath. It could be the large quantities used were to draw on that changed flavor.