Pumpkin Spice – The Bitter Sweet Story

Image Source: Pixabay.com
Pumpkin Spice

Cinnamon, ginger, cloves and nutmeg.   This spice blend, known today as Pumpkin Spice, conjures up thoughts of wholesome fall fun – corn mazes, trick or treating, walking on crisp fall days and of course, that American fall favorite, pumpkin pie.  American people’s love for the pleasing, nostalgia-inducing taste of this spice blend means you can drink it as a beverage, eat it in baked goods from granola bars to Oreos, and even use it in soap, shampoo, and.. FISHING LURES? Pumpkin pie spice conjures memories that are wholesome and sweet, and people’s obsession with it often generates some good-humored mockery.  But what’s REALLY in that latte you’re enjoying?  The origin of pumpkin spice isn’t so sweet, but it’s definitely spicy!  About 500 years ago, the drive to obtain the spices in your pumpkin spice Cheerios was one of the most consequential moments in human history.  Your Thanksgiving pie comes with an incredible legacy –under that dollop of whipped cream is the beginning of the modern age, shocking levels of violence, and even the origin of The United States of America itself.

Image Source: Pixabay.com
Nutmeg

Nutmeg in particular has a large slice of history’s pie.  In the European Middle Ages, exotic nutmeg was the ultimate status good, worth much more than its weight in gold.  People used it as an aphrodisiac, and it was thought especially good for warding off the plague, but no one had any idea where it came from.  One of the main reasons for all of the bold sailing voyages of the “European Age of Discovery” was to find the sources of the nutmeg that Europeans craved.   In the process, Europeans reached and began to colonize places as far-flung as The Americas and Australia, initiating the early modern age and laying the foundations for our current globalized world.  Nutmeg is native to a place called the Banda Archipelago, in Eastern Indonesia.  In the 1500’s, first the Portuguese, then the Dutch showed up there, seeking this spice that was more precious than gold. They were willing to do anything to secure it.

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons
Map of Eastern Archipelago, including Banda

The native people of Banda had been building their trading empire with Asia for centuries, and were wealthy and well organized, but they did not count on the lengths the Dutch would go to for profit.  To ensure a monopoly over the Nutmeg trade, the Dutch massacred almost the entire population of The Bandas, keeping only a few as slaves to work the nutmeg orchards.  This marked the start of centuries of deadly, often genocidal war between the Dutch and Indonesian people. The Dutch, however, were much more disturbed by the presence of some ragtag Englishmen who were claiming a tiny island in the archipelago, Run, for England.  Both the English and the Dutch in Indonesia were some of the toughest, wiliest, most skilled fighters either kingdom had to offer, and the fighting between them was brutal, often with many native Indonesian lives as collateral.  Giles Morton’s amazing book Nathaniel’s Nutmeg, describes the swashbuckling, and tremendously consequential, battles for The Bandas in detail.

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Cloves

To maintain their monopoly, and shake those pesky English, the Dutch eventually offered an island-swap for peace.  In exchange for Run and the nutmeg monopoly, in 1667 the English were given a much less important and less profitable island held by the Dutch:  New Amsterdam, otherwise known as Manhattan Island.  New Amsterdam became New York, the English presence in North America was firmly established, and the rest, as they say, is history.  Eventually the Dutch monopoly on nutmeg was lost, and their hard-won empire in Indonesia began to crumble.  Nutmeg and its Indonesian cousin, cloves, became cheap enough to drink and eat every day.  New York, and indeed the entire country of the United States would have been vastly different – or never even existed at all — without pumpkin spice.  If someone makes fun of you for eating your 4th pumpkin spice pop tarts of the day, now you can let them know that it’s not trendy junk food, it’s one of the most important substances in modern history.

Pumpkin Spice in food
Pumpkin Spice in OTHER things
Overview
Nathaniel’s Nutmeg
Video Journey to the Spice Islands

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Indigenous People Day: Irrigation Methods of Tenochtitlan

Written by: on October 12, 2020 @ 8:00 am

Even today, 2,000 years after the heyday of the Roman civilization, tourists flock to Italy to see the iconic Roman Coliseum, the dignified Roman Forum, and the beautiful ruins of the city of Pompeii.  Although the average ancient Roman citizen enjoyed these treasures as well, the true pride of the city of Rome was its […]

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Are You a Coffee Head?

Written by: on October 5, 2020 @ 8:00 am

It’s been said that Coffee is “the plant that domesticated humans.”  Although its exact origins are lost to history, we can be sure that coffee has had a meteoric rise in popularity around the world in the past 500 years.  In fact, coffee is second only to water as the world’s most consumed beverage!  Have […]

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Native Communication

Written by: on September 28, 2020 @ 8:00 am

If a time machine dropped you into the Americas in 1491, what would you find? A vast, empty continent roamed by small bands of people, fighting to survive? No way!  Both North and South America before the arrival of Columbus played host to very large urban civilizations, powerful militaries, huge agricultural economies, and an impressive […]

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Celebrating Pollution Prevention Week: September 21 – 27, 2020

Written by: on September 21, 2020 @ 12:09 pm

Pollution is one of the largest threats against our planet, poisoning our water systems, contaminating our atmosphere, and suffocating wildlife. Pollution is defined as a process in which land, air, water, and the remainder of the environment are made dirty, unsafe, and unsuitable for use. By making yourself aware of the sources creating pollution, we […]

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Triangles: The Strongest Shape

Written by: on September 14, 2020 @ 6:00 am

One shape is a favorite among architects, the triangle. The triangle is the strongest shape, capable of holding its shape, having a strong base, and providing immense support.  Some of the world’s most famous architectural marvels like the Eiffel Tower, Great Pyramids of Giza, and the Louvre Pyramid use the support of triangles to make […]

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The World’s Most Famous Math Game: Sudoku

Written by: on September 7, 2020 @ 6:00 am

Sudoku is a single person, mathematics crossword, and it is the most popular puzzle in the world. A sudoku puzzle is a grid composed of individual boxes called cells, arranged in a 9 cell by 9 cell square. These 81 cells come partially filled, and the goal of the puzzle is to complete the cells […]

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Timothy Berners-Lee: The Inventor of the WWW

Written by: on August 31, 2020 @ 6:00 am

The internet is the most influential communication tool humanity has ever had. Internet improves the quality of lives, offering never before seen opportunities for economics, influencing every aspect of human life, changing cultures and educating people in the most remote parts of our planet. Its commonly believed that the Internet and World Wide Web are […]

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Written by: on August 24, 2020 @ 6:00 am

“A good scientist is a person with original ideas. A good engineer is a person who makes a design that works with as few original ideas as possible. There are no prima donnas in engineering.” – Freeman Dyson Engineering accounts for ¼ of STEM; it is an expensive, critical field for innovation and maintenance.  Engineering […]

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Celebrating National Aviation Day: The Miracle of Human Flight

Written by: on August 17, 2020 @ 6:00 am

Traveling back to ancient Greece, we find the story of Icarus and Daedalus, the tragic story of father and son using wings fashioned of wax and feathers to escape the island of Crete. While in this ancient myth the pair were successful until the sun melted the wax holding their wings together, humans have dreamed […]

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