Friday, February 22, 2019

Researching a Novel - Spices Part 3: Nutmeg's Blood-Soaked History

by Elva Cobb Martin

As a review, the Spice Trade refers to the trade between historical civilizations in Asia, Northeast Africa and Europe.
Spices such as cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, cassia cardamom, ginger, pepper and turmeric were known and used in antiquity for commerce.

Nutmeg and New York
The Spice Trade brought great riches to Arab, Indian, Venetian, Portuguese, Dutch, and Spanish traders. It once brought death to residents of the Banda spice islands over a nutmeg monopoly. In 1603 the Dutch East India Company (known as VOC) ousted the Portuguese control of nutmeg on these islands.

Here's an interesting tidbit in the history of nutmeg. The English fought the Dutch over control of this spice. England finally handed their island of Rhun over to the Dutch in exchange for a swampy island trading post in North America, an unattractive property known then as New Amsterdam; today as Manhattan Island.

Nutmeg's Boodbath
Meanwhile, the Dutch East India Company, now in control of the Banda islands and its valuable main export, nutmeg, enforced a bloody monopoly. Anyone suspected of selling nutmeg outside the company faced the death penalty. Some still tried to do so and in 1621 the VOC leader, Jan Coen, launched an attack against the Bandanese. Forty local leaders were beheaded and the systematic slaughter of all males over the age of 15 took place. Others were taken from the island and sold into slavery.
The population of thousands was reduced to 600. To replace the dead and deported workers, VOC brought in African slaves.

Through this merciless monopoly, the Dutch East India Company became immensely wealthy. By 1669, it had 50,000 employees, an army of 10,000, about 200 ships and paid its shareholders unbelievable dividends.

Breaking the Dutch Nutmeg Monopoly
A French missionary and horticulturalist named Pierre Poivre snuck into the Banda Islands in 1769 and stole some nutmeg seeds and tiny trees. He took these back to the island of Mauritius and created a botanical garden. The British swept in and took the Banda Islands and starting growing nutmeg trees in their tropical colonies. Soon, Granada, in the Caribbean, became the world's second most important source of nutmeg.

Like many other spices, nutmeg is one of those fragrant additions to food that brings a little kick of warmth and curious complexity that, once tasted in a dish, can't be done without.  Chinese and East Indian cultures use it as a curative and aphrodisiac, as well as flavor enhancer.

Health Benefits of Nutmeg
One ounce or 28 grams of ground nutmeg is a lot – just a teaspoon can very effectively flavor an entire batch of oatmeal raisin cookies. But this amount demonstrates its nutritive benefits. Manganese is the clear winner as far as content, at 41% of the daily recommended value. It delivers an amazing array of advantages within the body, from blood clotting and regulating the blood sugar, to metabolizing carbohydrates and absorbing calcium. It also helps form tissues, bones, and sex hormones.

Who knows, nutmeg may play a part in my current wip. Since it is set in about 1760, my story would be right in the middle of the battle against the Dutch monopoly of this spice.

Today nutmeg is available everywhere and it's inexpensive. But it's original price to get to us was costly in lives and heavy in greed.

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Elva Martin

Elva Cobb Martin is vice-president of the South Carolina Chapter of American Christian Fiction Writers. She is a former school teacher and a graduate of Anderson University and Erskine College. She has two inspirational novels published with Lighthouse Publishers of the Carolinas. Summer of Deception, a contemporary romantic suspense, and an historical romance, In a Pirate’s Debt. Both have spent time on Amazon’s 100 Best Sellers List for Women’s Religious Fiction. She has indie published a Bible study on Amazon, Power Over Satan, on the  believer's authority in Christ. Decision, Charisma, and Home Life have carried Elva's articles. She and her husband Dwayne are semi-retired ministers. A mother and grandmother, Elva lives in South Carolina. Connect with her on her web site,on Twitter; Facebook;  and Pinterest    
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