Today, at Gardenprue, we give a twist to the world of spices to show you how nutmeg is grown and what it is like . We are used to seeing it in powder in the spice jar so it is time to get to know the cultivation in depth, the history that surrounds it and the cultivation techniques.
LET’S DISCOVER THE ORIGIN OF THIS CURIOUS FRUIT
The common nutmeg ( Myristica fragrans ) of the Myristicaceae family , has a very specific origin : the Moluccas Islands, in Indonesia.
Currently its production has been distributed in some country with similar latitudes and climates but not many. In fact, the world production of nutmeg is controlled by the tropical areas (Banda Islands) close to the place of origin and only 25% is produced by Caribbean islands of the same latitudes, specifically, the island of Granada.
Nutmeg is used as a spice in many western and eastern cultures, and its use is spread throughout the world. It is widely used in Dutch cuisine and is an essential ingredient in the manufacture of German sausages.
A BIT OF HISTORY SURROUNDING THE ORIGIN OF NUTMEG
The Moluccas Islands were historically a highly contested territory , given the inordinate value that this and other spices came to have in the Middle Ages and later centuries.
They were the absolute domain of Indian, Arab and Chinese merchants until the arrival of the Portuguese at the beginning of the 16th century when they arrived on the island of Ternate.
Since then, the dispute between Spain and Portugal for the colonization of the islands was a headache for the two kingdoms, which involved Magellan and Elcano themselves in their famous expedition, whose objective was to reach the Moluccas (islands of the spices) by the seas of the West avoiding the seas of the Portuguese crown agreed in the Treaty of Tordesillas.
This was the route that Christopher Columbus hoped to take before meeting the Americas. Already in the 17th century, the Dutch Company of the Indies arrived with a great military force, taking over the islands for more than 3 centuries from their arrival until their independence in the middle of the 20th century.
NUTMEG: ONE FRUIT, TWO SPICES
Leaving the historical part a bit, let’s see what nutmeg is like. The fruit is made up of a thick envelope that, when ripe, opens and reveals the showy seed, whose endosperm is the nut itself.
Between this thick envelope and the seed, we find another very special covering called aril , with a fleshy-rubbery appearance and an intense orange or red color, which does not completely envelop the seed, allowing the brown almost black color of the walnut to appear. Well, this casing is also dried and marketed as another spice: Mace.
Mace has an aroma similar to nutmeg, but stronger and more bitter. At one time, it was valued more than the nutmeg itself.
We know that it is not a crop that we are going to plant in our garden but since Gardenprue is about that, about crops, we are going to provide the necessary conditions for its development even if we cannot grow it.
If someone from tropical islands has the pleasure of planting a nutmeg tree, here we leave the development conditions. It is a tree that can reach 10-15 m in height in optimal conditions.
Very, very, very concrete. Fully insular tropical climate. That is, warm and very humid . With average annual temperatures of about 25-28 ºC without great variations between seasons and characterized by the dry and rainy seasons typical of the monsoons.
The annual rainfall is about 2000-3000 mm and well distributed throughout the year. Exposure to the sun should not be too direct.
The relative humidity is maintained at very high and constant values throughout the year (between 60 and 90%). Hence the impossibility of its cultivation outside these areas.
The soil must be very rich in organic matter , deep and very well drained, with a pH close to neutrality.
The tree has a medium development speed. From its plantation, it can take 8 years on average until it begins to bear fruit.
The tree is long-lived and can bear fruit after 40 years, although production decreases significantly. In full production it can give us up to 2000 fruits per tree.
Now you will surely look at this spice with different eyes when you dress your dishes . See you at the next crop.