A treasured ingredient dating back to the first century, the aromatic seed of the common nutmeg tree has long graced the tales of empires past.
Words by Caroline Key
Lauded by the Romans as the fruit with two flavours (sweet nutmeg and its milder sibling - mace), savoured by Byzantine monks, desired by the Elizabethans; the exquisite spice has proven a valuable commodity through the ages. Once worth more than its weight in gold, precious nutmeg is still ingrained in the psyche of the Caribbean and remains one of its most coveted exports.
Originally found only in the Spice Islands of Indonesia, it was not until 1843 that this rare and exotic plant was carried to the balmy shores of Grenada. But long before its intrepid journey to the Caribbean, a world trade had developed around this intriguing seed and as demand for the spice grew, so did Grenada’s economy with whole pods fetching up to 90 shillings a pound. It seems nutmeg was king and Grenada wore the crown. Today, Grenada remains one of the world’s top suppliers – so important is this little nut that it even features on their national flag.
An aphrodisiac, famed for its medicinal properties and potent enough to induce a higher state of euphoria – it is no wonder that the sweet and spicy nutmeg has captured the taste buds of so many. Used in cuisine throughout the world, the intoxicating spice is an essential addition to many Caribbean dishes. Look no further than a traditional West Indian stew or rum cocktail and you will soon see the significant role that nutmeg plays.
Freshly grated or distilled for essential oil, nothing goes to waste. Seed pods are used for jams, jellies and crystalised candy, while the outer layer is ground down to produce mace. Even the shells are put to good use, serving as excellent garden mulch. From its Asian origin to its proud place in Caribbean culture, the history of the nutmeg is as rich and varied as its effects on the mind and body.
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