You wouldn’t know it from the abundance of nutmeg in shops, but Grenada’s production of the spice stopped five years ago. And it’ll continue to be at a halt for another five years. Why? Because of Hurricane Ivan. 82% of the island’s nutmeg trees were destroyed by the 2004 hurricane.
But amazingly enough, there’s still plenty of nutmeg there.
On my recent trip to Grenada, I found it everywhere — mostly whole (as large seeds) and ground. But at any market, you’ll also find it as jelly and jam, as essence and oil, as syrup for ice cream, as a sugary candy (oddly named “nutmeg cheese”), and in everything else from ice cream to coffee. Buy one of the island’s rum drinks from the bar, and you’ll always get a finishing touch of grated nutmeg on top. It even has medicinal purposes –- Nut-Med comes as a lotion or spray to relieve pain in muscles and joints.
Is it just me, or does it seem to make everything happy, like egg nog during the holidays?
Actually, it may be scientifically proven. It’s been said that if you get a big enough whiff of the fresh spice, you’ll get a type of addictive high.
%Gallery-77070%Even despite Hurricane Ivan’s wrath, the country remains the world’s #2 nutmeg supplier (behind Indonesia), because of its stockpile.
The island isn’t known as “The Spice Isle” for nothing. It boasts more spices per square mile than any other place in the world, including cinnamon, cloves, mace, turmeric, and allspice. And no other is more abundant than nutmeg.
Known as the “black gold of Grenada,” nutmeg is so beloved and ubiquitous that it’s on the national flag. But, surprisingly, it’s not indigenous – it was introduced to the island by the Indonesians.
To see nutmeg at its source – and to get some helpful insider knowledge – a good place to stop is the Dougaldston Spice Boucan.
At the boucan (spice-drying shed), guides pass around samples to illustrate that the nutmeg grows on a tree within a pod. You can’t rush the growing – you have to wait for it to naturally split in two, rather than breaking it apart. Inside, you’ll find a hard brown shell that’s the size of a small egg.
At this stage, the waxy fingers of mace that surrounds the shell gets all of the attention. But it deserves to – it takes center stage with its brilliant red color. Take off the mace and dry it for a few days (it’ll eventually change to a dull orange color), then use it to season things like soup and pies.
As for the nutmeg, let it dry as well. After about eight weeks, shake it and you’ll hear the seed inside. That means it’s time to crack the shell and grate the nutmeg.
The Dougaldston Spice Boucan isn’t limited to nutmeg and mace. It gives a good crash course on other things grown and processed on the grounds, like cocoa, bay leaves, and cinnamon.
Alison Brick traveled through Grenada on a trip sponsored by the Grenada Board of Tourism. That said, she could write about anything that struck her fancy. (And it just so happens that these are the things that struck her fancy.) You can read more from her The Spice Isle: Grenada series here.