In the sixteenth century it was worth its weight in gold. The early history of Southeast Asia was driven and moulded by the Arab, Chinese, Malay and European adventurers who sailed in search of the fabulous wealth that it offered. The exotic nutmeg – or Pala as it is known in Indonesia – has a very rich heritage.
Read on for some fascinating facts:
- Nutmeg is indigenous to the volcanic soils of the Indonesian Banda Islands, and in the 15th and 16th centuries, this aromatic spice spurred exploration and shaped colonial empires. It’s not surprising, therefore, that colonial powers vied bitterly for control of the only place on Earth where this spice could be found.
- In the mid 17th century, Dutch attempts to maintain a total monopoly on the nutmeg trade were thwarted by the British, who controlled Run, one of the tiny islands in the Banda chain. It turned out, however, that another island, 9,500 miles away, would be the key to securing Dutch control of the trade. New Amsterdam was Holland’s strategic colonial outpost in the New World, and in 1667, the English traded Run for New Amsterdam, which later became Manhattan.
- The nutmeg fruit is similar in appearance to an apricot. When ripe it splits in two, exposing the beautiful crimson-coloured, lacy or filigree-like aril – the mace, surrounding a single shiny, brown seed. The Bandanese use the pulp of the fruit to make syrup, jam and candy.
- Nutmeg is believed to be the secret ingredient in Coca Cola.
- Nutmeg is a hallucinogenic when ingested in large quantities; this highly dangerous practice will also result in nausea, fever, headache, and vomiting.
- Whole nutmeg plays a very potent and powerful role in voodoo and hoodoo. The oil is used in incense, which is burnt for protection.
- In Creole superstition, it is believed that sprinkling grated nutmeg on a woman's left shoe at midnight for seven consecutive days will drive her mad with love and desire for whoever performed the act.
- Nutmeg is believed to be an aphrodisiac, and the women of Zanzibar will grate it profusely on their porridge in anticipation of their wedding night.
- The English used to celebrate Twelfth Night with a drink called ‘Lamb's Wool’ made from beer, roasted apples, sugar and nutmeg.
- The Chinese discovered the spice’s use for medicinal purposes thousands of years ago.
- Connecticut is known as "The Nutmeg State" owing to the tradition that slick Yankee peddlers would sell whittled wooden "nutmegs" to unsuspecting housewives. Ever since, the term "wooden nutmeg", has been used to indicate any type of fraud.