A popular spice in kitchens across the world, the nutmeg is derived from the nutmeg tree which also gives the mace spice. Scientifically known as Myristica fragrans, the nutmeg tree is important for two spices derived from the fruit, nutmeg and mace. Nutmeg trees grow up to a height of 25 meters with a smooth, brownish-grey bark The nutmeg spice is known to originate in the Banda Islands of Indonesia but today, it is grown in other parts of the world as well.. Since nutmeg is fleshy, white and veined, containing oil, it is one of the most sought after spices in the world. Read on to know more interesting and amazing information on the history, origin and background of nutmeg spice.
Interesting & Amazing Information On Origin & Background Of Nutmeg Spice
Evidences say that nutmeg was used by Roman priest who burned it as a form of incense, though this has often been disputed. It was a prized and costly spice in the Middle Ages, where it was widely used in flavorings, medicines and preserving agents. Saint Theodore the Studite was known for allowing his monks sprinkle nutmeg on a preparation called pease pudding when ready to eat. During the Elizabethan era, nutmeg was believed to ward off plague and diseases, a fact which helped the spice gain enormous popularity. In the initial years, Banda Islands was the world’s only source of nutmeg and mace.
The spice was traded by the Arabs, who sold it to the Venetians for exorbitant prices, but never disclosed the exact location of nutmeg in the profitable Indian Ocean trade. Also, no European was able to deduce the location. It was only in 1511, when the Portuguese conquered the Malacca that they discovered the source of the world’s nutmeg supply. After securing the Malacca and finding the Banda’s location, Afonso de Albuquerque sent an expedition of three ships lead by his friend, Antonio de Abreu to find the location. They were guided by Malay pilots via Java, the Lesser Sundas and Ambon to Banda in the early 1512. Over a month’s stay, the Portuguese purchased and filled their ships with nutmeg, mace and cloves.
However, the control of trade by the Portuguese was only partial and they remained largely as participants rather than overlords, because the Spanish held the authority over the nutmeg-growing center in the Banda Islands. Hence, the Portuguese failed to gain serious foothold in the islands for themselves. In the 17th century, nutmeg trade became dominated by the Dutch who established control over the Banda Islands, massacring and expulsing most of the islands’ inhabitants in 1621. They made annual expeditions in local-war vessels to extirpate nutmeg trees and plant them elsewhere. It was during the Napoleonic Wars that the British took control of the Banda Islands, as a result of Dutch interregnum, and transplanted the nutmeg trees to Zanzibar and Grenada.
The Dutch became cautious while trading nutmeg, as the nutmeg fruit used as a spice also had seeds, which could be easily propagated. Hence, the Dutch bathed the seeds in lime to prevent them from growing. Eventually, the plan was thwarted by fruit pigeons that carried the fruit to other islands and scattered it in order to harvest them. The Dutch went on a search and destroyed nutmeg where it was in abundant harvest to keep its supply under control. Even then, the French smuggled nutmeg seeds and clove seedlings to start plantation on Mauritius. The British took over the Malaccas in 1796 and spread the spice to other East Indian islands and the Caribbean.
The success of nutmeg in Grenada was to such an extent that it holds a graphic image of nutmeg in one corner of its flag even today. In the present times, nutmeg is being produced in a variety of locations with an annual production estimated to be between 10,000 and 12,000 tonnes. Indonesia and Grenada are the major producers with a world market share of 75% and 20% respectively. Other producers are India, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea and Caribbean Islands. The principal import markets are Japan, European Union, United States and India.