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The History of Nutmeg

Often associated with the holiday season, nutmeg is a warm, comforting spice with a long history. Nutmeg is made from the seed of the fruit of a tree known as Myristica fragrans, which is native to the Banda Islands, a tiny volcanic archipelago situated 250 miles east of Indonesia. For over a thousand years, these islands were the world's only source of nutmeg. In the 6th century AD, Arab spice traders brought nutmeg to Constantinople, where they charged exorbitant prices. As a result, wealthy Europeans developed a taste for the spice. In 1512, Portuguese explorers “discovered” the Banda Islands and began sourcing nutmeg directly, which made the spice more affordable for Europeans. In the early 1600s, the Dutch East India Trading Company took control of the Banda Islands with the exception of Rhun, which the English seized control of (although it was later acquired by the Dutch East India Trading Company as well). The Dutch East India Trading Company protected their monopoly on nutmeg by destroying any plantations outside of the Bandas Islands and enforcing the death penalty for violators. But in 1770, French spice traders led by Pierre Poivre (sometimes called Peter Pepper) successfully smuggled nutmeg trees to Mauritius, ending the Dutch East India Trading Company's monopoly. In 1843, English merchants introduced nutmeg to Grenada, which became a massive producer of nutmeg. (In fact, it remains the second-largest producer of nutmeg today, after Indonesia). And of course, nutmeg remains an indispensable spice in many foods and drinks around the world today, including everything from pumpkin pie to pasta dishes.

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