July 30, 2014
To experience the spice-filled heart of Grenada, drive through fields of nutmeg, sample spice-infused teas and nutmeg-seasoned dishes and visit a traditional working spice plantations surrounded by aromatic, tufted spice crops.
When Grenada’s early plantation owners first started growing nutmeg in the late 1800’s, it was a canny move to accumulate wealth – for few crops at the time were as lucrative as this knobbly egg-shaped seed. Indigenous to Indonesia, where nutmeg plantations had been devastated by widespread disease and new growth had yet to take root, nutmeg was in short supply world-wide. Grenada stepped in, and slowly but surely, established a healthy ongoing production that made it the “go to” place for nutmeg. Once nutmeg trees have reached maturity, they yield two crops – mace and nutmeg – the only tropical fruit to offer such a double-whammy.
Today, Grenada is famous worldwide for its full-flavoured nutmeg – as the second largest producer on earth, after Indonesia. Rich, fertile soils across the island encourage an abundance of all manner of exotic spices to flourish, including pimento, bay leaf, cinnamon, clove, ginger and black pepper. Grenada earned its name as the Caribbean’s “Isle of Spice” because of the sheer variety of spices that sprout so readily from its fertile soil. Leafy spice-rich meadows characterise Grenada’s scenic coastal regions and mountainous interior. Around one-ninth of its land mass is preserved in parks, natural sanctuaries and wildlife reserves, ensuring a drive across the Grenadian terrain is a sweet-smelling, scenic delight. Lush forests cling to verdant hills and valleys fill with the pungent aroma of Grenada’s famous nutmeg industry during peak production times.
Visitors keen to learn more can tour spice plantations and processing stations to find out about the hardy new varieties of nutmeg trees and Grenada’s other bounty of spices. Islanders commonly use nutmeg in cooking, baking and for seasoning an array of thirst-quenching tropical drinks. It is grated, ground, chopped, diced and sprinkled into a variety of island delicacies – in fact, mace (the dry cusp around the nutmeg) and nutmeg itself, is found in everything from sweet puddings and milky drinks to robust savoury stews. Grenada’s many spices, especially clove, cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg, are often brewed to create herb-infused healing teas and curative potions. Jams, jellies, syrups, juices and sticky-sweet candy are all made from the pericarp (fruit). Extracts from nutmeg include deeply aromatic essential oils and a health-giving nutmeg butter. Grenadian nutmeg can reach the size of an apricot but once they have been dried in the sun for around six weeks they turn into oval-shaped kernels of greyish-brown.
Spice Tours often begin with a trip around one of the working plantations and processing plants close to the town of Gouyave, including the Nutmeg Processing Station. An expert guide, such as Grenada’s Mandoo Seales – a walking Spice Island encyclopaedia who imparts the botanical origins, species and uses for every single home-grown Grenadian herb or spice – takes you step-by-step through how the spices are grown, gathered and prepared for market.
At heritage-rich spice depot Dougaldston Estate, you’ll learn all about the spices that form the island’s heart as the biggest spice cultivation centre in the West Indies. Then it is time for a drive through the bloom-filled volcanic mountains to see ripening fields of bay leaves, allspice, mace, ginger, cocoa and banana plantations. Next, a stop at the National Park for a dip underneath a waterfall cascade to cool down, freshen up and marvel at the mesmerising views. Half-day tours start at $60 per person with Mandoo, a former British merchant naval sailor who, with trademark eye-rolling humour, promises every visitor to Grenada “a very spice time…”
Header image © Grenada Board of Tourism
Have you visited Grenada’s spice plantations? Let us know in the comments section below.