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There is some evidence that Roman priests may have burned nutmeg as a form of incense, although this is disputed. It is known to have been used as a prized and costly spice in the Middle Ages. Saint Theodore the Studite was famous for allowing his monks to sprinkle nutmeg on their pease pudding when required to eat it. In Elizabethan times it was believed that nutmeg could ward off the plague, so nutmeg was very popular. Nutmeg was traded by Arabs during the Middle Ages in the profitable Indian Ocean trade. In the late 15th century, Portugal theoretically took over the Indian Ocean trade, including nutmeg, under the Treaty of Tordesillas with Spain and a separate treaty with the sultan of Ternate. But their control of this trade was always only partial and they remained largely participants, rather than overlords. The authority Ternate held over the nutmeg-growing centre of the Banda Islands was quite limited, and the Portuguese failed to gain a serious foothold in the islands themselves. The trade in nutmeg later became dominated by the Dutch in the 17th century, who managed to establish control over the Banda Islands after an extended military campaign that culminated in the massacre or expulsion of most of the islands' inhabitants in 1621. Thereafter, the Banda Islands were run as a series of plantation estates, with the Dutch mounting annual expeditions in local war-vessels to extirpate nutmeg trees planted elsewhere. As a result of the British interregnum during the Napoleonic Wars, the English took temporary control of the Banda Islands from the Dutch and transplanted nutmeg trees to their own colonial holdings elsewhere, notably Zanzibar and Grenada. Connecticut gets its nickname ("the Nutmeg State", "Nutmegger") from the legend that some unscrupulous Connecticut traders would whittle "nutmeg" out of wood, creating a "wooden nutmeg" (a term which came to mean any fraud)

The Arabs were the exclusive importers of the spice to Europe up until 1512, when Vasco de Gama reached the Moloccas and claimed the islands for Portugal. To preserve their new monopoly, the Portuguese (and from 1602, the Dutch) restricted the trees to the islands of Banda and Amboina. The Dutch were especially cautious, since the part of the fruit used as a spice is also the seed, so that anyone with the spice could propagate it. To protect against this, the Dutch bathed the seeds in lime, which would prevent them from growing. This plan was thwarted however, by fruit pigeons who carried the fruit to other islands, before it was harvested, scattering the seeds. The Dutch sent out search and destroy crews to control the spread and when there was an abundant harvest, they even burned nutmeg to keep its supply under control. Despite these precautions, the French, led by Pierre Poivre (Peter Piper) smuggled nutmeg seeds and clove seedlings to start a plantation on the island of Mauritius, off the east coast of Africa, near Madagascar. In 1796 the British took over the Moloccas and spread the cultivation to other East Indian islands and then to the Caribbean. Nutmeg was so successful in Grenada it now calls itself the Nutmeg Island, designing its flag in the green, yellow and red colours of nutmeg and including a graphic image of nutmeg in one corner.
Nutmeg has long been lauded as possessing or imparting magical powers. A sixteenth century monk is on record as advising young men to carry vials of nutmeg oil and at the appropriate time, to anoint their genitals for virility that would see them through several days. Tucking a nutmeg into the left armpit before attending a social event was believed to attract admirers. Nutmegs were often used as amulets to protect against a wide variety of dangers and evils; from boils to rheumatism to broken bones and other misfortunes. In the Middle Ages carved wooden imitations were even sold in the streets. People carried nutmegs everywhere and many wore little graters made of silver, ivory or wood, often with a compartment for the nuts.

Nutmeg is not a nut and does not pose a risk to people with nut allegies. Allergy to nutmeg does occur, but seems to be rather rare.

 

 

 



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