Peppers, Nutmeg, and Cloves

Peppers, Nutmeg, and Cloves

By Casey Kowalski 3/16/14

            Pepper, nutmeg, and cloves are some of the most important molecules in history. The earliest use of pepper in Europe was in the fifth century B.C., when the Greeks used it as an antidote to poison. However, pepper and similar spices were soon used as a preservative and a flavor enhancer to disguise the taste of slightly rancid or heavily salted foods. Because of this, pepper and similar spices were a very lucrative trade for Europeans. Almost all of the spice trade flowed through Venice because of its geographic location, quickly giving rise to a Venetian monopoly of the spice trade. Venice then greatly increased the price of spices coming through it, which prompted other countries such as Portugal and Spain, to seek alternate routes to India. This led to the Age of Discovery, and ultimately, the discovery of the New World.

            The chemical structure of these spices are what brought them to glory. The active molecule in pepper, for instance, is piperine (C17H19O3N). It gives people the hot sensation they associate with pepper by fitting into a protein on the nerve endings in the mouth. This causes the nerve to send a signal to the brain, which people perceive as hot.

            Nutmeg and cloves, however, are known for their aroma more than anything. Although their scents are very different, the molecules are very similar. Both eugenol, from cloves, and isoeugenol, from nutmeg, have aromatic rings in them. They differ only in a double which is in a slightly different location in eugenol than isoeugenol, but it makes a huge difference between the scents of the two plants.

            The authors of the book claim that these spices and others like them are what brought about the Age of Discovery and the finding of the new world. I agree with them to an extent. First off, I do not believe that spices were the sole reason that the Age of Discovery came about. I believe that the natural resources found in the new world are what really made it an age, however the spice trade is what led to the discovery of the new world and its natural resources. On the other hand, even if the spice trade were not what it was, it is certain that explorers would eventually have discovered the new world. The spice trade definitely hastened the discovery of the Americas, but if it had not, there would have been other causes for explorers to try to circumnavigate the world or sail out to sea seeking new lands.

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Categories: Uncategorized | 5 Comments

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5 thoughts on “Peppers, Nutmeg, and Cloves

  1. Hey kasey,
    First off, you did a great job in summarizing all of the important aspects of this chapter in my opinion. You were concise and didn’t add any unneccace

  2. *un-needed info. Despite this, I do feel you could’ve added a tad more chemistry, but overall I think this is one of the best blogs. Next time just add a little more chemistry and maybe elaborate more on your opinion

  3. You are correct to believe that there are more than a few reasons as to why the Age of Exploration began -Coach Rice’s class should have very much informed you of this ;)- but to sort of “correct” you, spices are a natural resource. As said by Le Couteur and Burreson, it was in fact a majour cause of the Age of Exploration, and an even bigger effect. The need for spice and spice trade influenced explorers to sail in search of new lands, and, upon finding them, it did in fact stimulate spice trade. As stated before, I do believe you are correct to believe spice was not the sole purpose. In truth, it was the “Gold, God, Glory!” idea that lead the age. Accordingly, Spices fall under the “Gold” aspect. It was influenced by trade and future wealth, and stimulated trade and wealth.
    There was also a “domino” effect to the discoveries. Upon finding new land and/or spices, the traders would sail for new markets, and vice versa, or upon finding new markets, the explorers would look for newer and better spices to trade.

  4. I enjoyed reading your blog, but I just don’t think there was enough information with nutmeg or cloves. Your execution of pepper was spot on, but I feel that you rushed through nutmeg and cloves. Besides that, I thought your blog was very informative! You did a great job! 🙂

  5. You did a fantastic job in providing both history and chemistry! It was a nice read and did not include extra, unnecessary information (:

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