Food Snark

The Origin of Nutmeg

May 15, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

This article was written by Phineas Upham

Nutmeg is the pit of a tropical tree called Mysterica fragrans. The spice existed on several continents prior to the nineteenth century, but it’s unlikely that the average British person would have been able to secure even a small supply of it. The Indians consumed it heavily as a flavor for their food.

The Romans and the Greeks didn’t know the spice, but there is plentiful evidence suggesting that Constantinople did.

There are several works from Chinese authors around the eighth century that incorrectly attribute nutmeg to Indochina. While this mistake doesn’t give us any idea on where the Chinese grew nutmeg, it does signal that they received it through indirect routes that probably wove through the Philippines or Taiwan. There is also evidence that the Chinese renamed nutmeg between the fourth and eighth centuries for reasons that are not entirely clear.

Nutmeg sparked a trade war of sorts throughout the ancient world. Europeans knew all about nutmeg by the 12th century, and the Portuguese had it by the early 1500s. They held a monopoly on the spice until the Dutch wrested control from them in the 17th century. The Dutch held onto their monopoly for more than 150 years, but the French managed to smuggle some seedlings out of the country and cultivate them within eight years. Nutmeg was so prized that Europeans would squabble with each other when new plantations were located.

The 1860s brought nutmeg to Grenada, where the plant has been successfully cultivated since then.

About the Author: Phineas Upham is an investor at a family office/hedgefund, where he focuses on special situation illiquid investing. Before this position, Phineas Upham was working at Morgan Stanley in the Media & Technology group. You may contact Phineas on his LinedIn page.

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