Blog 2: Peppers, Nutmeg, and Cloves

Pepper, nutmeg, and cloves are common spices known to most people, and most likely they aren’t thought of as anything too important. However, these spices have each made an impact on the world in their own special way. The chemical make up of a common spice can change how many things are done and benefit or hurt society as a whole.

Pepper originated in India from the vine Piper nigrum, and it is the most popular of spices. By the fifth century BC, pepper was being used in Greece for medicinal purposes, such as an antidote to poison. On the contrary, the Romans used pepper as spice for their food as it is commonly used today. As time went on, pepper was used as a preservative and flavor enhancer, and it would disguise the taste of rotted food. Pepper’s ability to help give character to tasteless helped push the Venetian traders who transported it into prosperity. This prosperity is what led other nation to want to compete aggressively to find new routes to India. Portuguese explorers made it to India and expanded their countries empire through it during their search for peppercorns. Christopher Colombus was supposedly on his way to finding a  new route to India when he discovered the unknown continents of North and South America. So what was the all the buzz about? What gave pepper the hot sensation everyone was craving? It is actually a response by pain nerves to a chemical stimulus that is due to the shape of the piperine molecule. Back to Colombus, since he wasn’t quite in India, he found a different type of pepper, the chili pepper. It has several different species that are all apart of the Capsicum genus. The pungent, intense flavor of chili peppers comes from the chemical capsaicin, which has similarities to piperine of pepper. The satisfaction that is sometimes felt after a fiery meal may be caused by endorphins. Colombus’s chili pepper’s didn’t get as popular in Europe as it did in Asia, and the East India Trading Company traded it frequently.

In addition to peppers, nutmeg and cloves are two spices with influential backgrounds. They originally only grew on the Banda Islands before the Portuguese found the source and began to trade the spices. Nutmeg and cloves are two very aromatic spices that chemically differ in only in the position of one double bond. They are also natural pesticides, and humans can consume small amounts of them due to the effectiveness of the liver’s detoxification process. In Asia, nutmeg is used medicinally to treat rheumatism, stomach pains and dysentery or colic. It also used to be used as protection against the Black Death by being tied in a pouch around the neck. Unfortunately, it became marked as “the spice of madness” due to its hallucinogenic properties that came from the molecule myristicin and elemicin. When consumed in certain amounts, nutmeg causes nausea, sweats, heart palpitations, elevated blood pressures, and days of hallucinations. Very similar to myristicin is safrole which is the starting material for MDMA, or ecstasy. The clove trade was monopolized by the Portuguese throughout the 16th century, but as it turned over into the next century the Dutch had the ability to take control of the Banda Islands. After many battles between the Dutch and the English, the Treaty of Breda was signed in which the Dutch got to keep the clove and nutmeg islands and the British got the island of Manhattan. Without those spice trees, New York might have still been New Amsterdam.

I think that the authors made a very valid argument about the importance of the three spices in this chapter. Each one made some sort of impact, large or small, that had an outstanding effect on either the course of history or the way things are used in present day. Each of these spices are still a part of the world today as they are all used quite often in cooking and baking throughout the world. Their chemical make up has helped them help us create tasty masterpieces out of any foods.

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