Tag Archives: aphrodisiacs

Nutmeg: Sure, A Flavoring in Candy but an Aphrodisiac and So Much More

Nutmeg on TreeIf you’re searching for an effective yet tasty aphrodisiac look no further than your local grocery store. The solution comes bundled up in the pit of a more-or-less remarkable spice humbly referred to as “nutmeg.” For thousands of years, the nutmeg has been used to inspire love and lust – even its name derives from the Arabic word “mesk,” or “musky,” as in fragrance.  Today, Americans enjoy nutmeg to limited degrees – in hot cider and apple pie, for example, unaware of the sultry – and dangerous – spice that it is.

But First… Nutmeg: The Early Years

Spice Island Map of 1576

Spice Island Map of 1576?: Porcacchi, Thomaso, ca. 1530–1585? “Isole Molucche.” Copperplate map, 10 × 14 cm. on sheet 30 x 20 cm. Page 189 from Porcacchi’s L’isole piu famose del mondo (Venice, 1576?). [Historic Maps Collection]

Even the early years of the nutmeg is intriguing. It originated in the Indonesian Spice Islands and appeared in the alcoholic beverages of the ancient Romans and Greeks, the cuisine of Byzantine traders, and by the 9th century, sprinkled on the pease pudding of monks in Constantinople. In the 12th century, nutmeg made a much admired presence in the cuisine of Europeans and in medieval and renaissance banquets.

All that is culinary light-heartedness leading to events that unfurled around 1512. In that year, the Portuguese naval commander Albuquerque sent a fleet to find the mythical Spice Islands. They found it all right and returned with nutmeg, among other spices, and a fire in their loins that ignited a bloody round of history that lasted for centuries. In it, the Portuguese were ousted by the Dutch, who founded the Dutch East India Company, who were ousted by the British over 100 years later.

As for the local inhabitants: You can imagine the carnage the ensued from the moment the first European boot made an imprint on the sandy Island soil. The natives were enslaved and abused in a style more or less typical of European conquers for centuries. Their land was looted and destroyed – the Dutch, for example, destroyed the nutmeg trees on every island except the ones they controlled. Eventually, the nutmeg’s roots took hold in Granada, where it still grows today.

Image of Clove Tree

1521: Pigafetta, Antonio, ca. 1480/91–ca. 1534. “Figure of the Five Islands Where Grow the Cloves, and of Their Tree.” From volume 2 of Magellan’s Voyage: A Narrative Account of the First Circumnavigation. Translated and edited by R. A. Skelton (New Haven, Conn., 1969). (IMAGE OF CLOVE TREE)

History of Nutmeg

1669: Montanus, Arnoldus, 1625?-1683. “Ware affbeeldinge wegens het casteel ende stadt Batavia gelegen opt groot eylant Java anno 1669.” Copperplate map, with added color, 27 x 36 cm. Probably issued in Montanus’s Gedenkwaerdige gesantschappen der Oost-Indische maatschappy in ’t Vereenigde Nederland . . . (Amsterdam, 1669) [Historic Maps Collection].HOME of the Dutch East India Company with its magnificent homes

So why all the fuss?

Most food historians would say the nutmeg’s popularity was because of its flavor. Yes…but… a small amount of nutmeg is, indeed, a tasty addition to food. But in larger doses, the nutmeg acts as an aphrodisiac thanks to a “myristicin” and other compounds in the mescalin family. No doubt those nutmeg-rich banquets had many a happy and lustful ending.

In even greater quantities the nutmeg causes hallucinations. In fact, the nutmeg was called the “mystic’s spice” because mystics used it to induce visions that your average nutmeg fan could hardly imagine. These mystics also knew when to stop: while nutmeg may cure mild cases of diarrhea and flatulence, too much would kill them.

Sources:

Medicinal Plants; being descriptions with original figures of the principal plants employed in medicine and an account of the characters, properties, and uses of their parts and products of medicinal value. Bentley, Robert and Henry Trimen. London, Churchill, 1880. (WZ 295 B556m 1880)

UCLA Medical Library.  http://unitproj.library.ucla.edu/biomed/spice

Cambridge World History of Food, Kenneth F. Kiple & Kriemild Conee Ornelas [Cambridge University Press: Cambridge] 2000, Volume Two (p. 1823)

Oxford Companion to Food, Alan Davidson, 2nd edition edited by Tom Jaine [Oxford University Press:Oxford] 2006 (p. 546)

Maps: Princeton University https://libweb5.princeton.edu/visual_materials/maps/websites/pacific/spice-islands/spice-islands-maps.html

Ancient Confections: The Secret to Harmony? Who Says?

Who knew that two ancient confectionery ingredients could provide evidence that 1. two starkly different cultures could come together in a perfect union; 2.opposites can find perfect balance when brought together; and 3. at least men and women really can co-exist no matter what the sitcoms say.

We discovered this symbolically (and tastefully) with two new products we introduced at the shop. One involves the cacao nib – the  essence of chocolate in its rawest, most naked form. At the risk of

Aztec god, Quetzalcoatl_16th century

Aztec god, Quetzalcoatl_16th century

sounding sexist, the cacao is male in nature – the taste is deep, rich and complicated and the bean  fortified by an amour-like shell. Since the Olmecs of Mesoamerica about 4,000 years ago, the cacao was considered everything from a gift of gods to currency.  While likely shelled and prepared by women, it resided in the domain of the chiefs.

Cross the ocean to the Middle East, Mediterranean and Asia of the same time period and you find a reoccurring symbol in the pomegranate. This fruit, with wet, red, voluptuous seeds was represented fertility and appeared in the Buddhists’ “Three Blessed Fruits,” the ancient Greek’s myth involving Demeter, goddess of fertility, the Biblical “Song of Solomon,” and many more. The flavor is sweet, the surrounding flesh soft, and the inner seed hard or, you could say, strong.

We decided to put the two together in the shop’s section on the early makings of candies: the sweetness of the pomegranate mixed beautifully with the chocolatey-bitterness of the nib. Perfect to eat by the handful or use in muffins, atop cereal, and other possibilities. We taste-tested, including with the production staff at a television station where I was appearing. All those involved came back for more and more – the perfect complement in a healthy, versatile treat.

Pom and Nibs                                                  Poms and Nibs Ready for Packing

We duplicated the process with another combination – again, the cacao, only this time in the present form of dark chocolate. Our chocolate-maker, Randy, is a true craftsman, a trained chef well-versed in the nuances of the bean. For this effort, he prepared a deliciously dark chocolate – very pure and very rich. We complemented the chocolate with a fig which has long been symbolic of the female genital.* A great demonstration of this is in Ken Russell’s 1969 movie “Women In Love” based on D.H. Lawrence’s novel, you’ve missed one of the sexiest scenes in movie history and one that demonstrates the true nature of this succulent fruit:

Randy bathed the fig in the dark chocolate, covering it completely from the stem to the base. As for the taste test? I can only say that when I passed out samples at the TV studio there was a general pause amongst the crowd after the first bite. Then a sigh of pleasure. The guest who followed me, a romance writer, put it this way: “Oh my God, my mouth just had multiple orgasms!”

chocolate covered fig                                                         Chocolate Covered Figs

Obviously, world peace, cross-cultural harmony, and happy passion between the genders doesn’t rest on the merging of two ancient flavors. But I do think the symbolism is revealing of the potential – the delicious potential – that exists in the universe. I’m looking forward to finding more.

 *A great resource for this and other female symbols is Barbara Walker’s “The Woman’s Encyclopedia of Myth’s and Secrets,” Harper & Row (1983).