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The Molucca Islands have been such a lucrative source for exotic spices that they were commonly known in Europe as the Spice Islands. They were controlled for a long time by the Portuguese and the Dutch, who held a monopoly on trade in cloves and nutmeg for some time, defending it ruthlessly. The Dutch were especially extreme in their defense of their spice trade; they destroyed 3/4 of the clove and nutmeg trees on the islands in order to limit availability and keep a high price on the spices, and massacred the inhabitants of one island to control production. (Insert your own swipe at modern monopolies here, but the fact is they simply don't compare on the Bloodthirstiness Scale).

The French eventually managed to to break the clove monopoly in 1770, by having one of their diplomats smuggle a few seedlings into French territory. Nutmeg was later distributed to various British territories when the British took over the islands.


This and a lot more fascinating information can be found in Harold McGee's great book "On Food and Cooking".

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