Nutmeg's sordid past

Nutmeg

Eggnog, spice cake, and the ubiquitous pumpkin spice latte share one of the holiday season's most familiar fragrances: nutmeg. Cooks and bakers alike enjoy the warm flavor it lends to food, but once you learn about its dark past, you might look at nutmeg a bit differently.

In NPR's interview, you'll learn that the tale of the spice, according to historian Michael Krondl, "has been one of the saddest stories of history." The early spice industry is fraught with accounts of abuse and mistreatment of indigenous cultures, and nutmeg's story is no exception. The Dutch, in an effort to monopolize the trade, tortured and massacred the people of the Banda Islands in Indonesia, the main source of the spice.

What made nutmeg worth going to such lengths? Krondl calls the spice "the iPhone of the 1600s." Wealthy patrons had to have the fashionable and exotic substance. In the following centuries, nutmeg was thought to have medicinal properties, protecting people from colds and other ailments with its 'warming' ability. It allegedly even induced hallucinations, "or at least a nutmeg bender," according to an account from The Atlantic.

Listen to the story to learn more, including how nutmeg went from an exotic substance only the very wealthy could afford to one available to the masses.

Photo of whole nutmeg by Darcie Boschee

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