Sunday, May 22, 2022

History of clove in Southeast Asia

Clove is an unopened flower bud growing on a tree belonging to the family Myrtaceae. Clove is native to the Moluccas Island in Indonesia where it has grown for thousands of years, without needing to be planted by people. The first clove tree was planted around the 16-17th century during the spice trade wars when the Dutch East India Company wanted a monopoly on the clove crop.

For a period of time around the 1700's, it looked as if the clove trees would never grow anywhere but the island of Amboina. For the Moluccans, cloves compared to sago or coconut was the most valuable commodity. When the fruits were still green, they were preserved in vinegar.

Specifically for the Chinese, cloves were used for medicine and food flavorings. While for Indians, cloves are the aromatic dried flower buds, which are commonly used in biryanis, pickles, salads and garam masala.

The Moluccans sold the spices, such as cloves, nutmeg, and pepper outside of the island. They only used a small amount of spices for necessities such as food seasoning, while the rest, the tons of spices were sent to the cigarette companies in Java.

Its source and place of origin were shrouded in mystery until16th century. Its story began with the discovery of the Moluccas Island by the Portuguese, and the expedition organized by Magellan. On returning to Spain in 1522, the Victoria, the first boat to circumnavigate the globe, carried in its hold a cargo of spices that included cloves.

During the late Middle Ages, cloves were used in Europe to preserve, flavor, and garnish food. For European, the sweet smell of the cloves was distilled to strengthen the vision of the eye. Cloves may be added to food or drink to stimulate the appetite, and when they were drunk with milk enhance the pleasure of sexual intercourse.

Two major naval European powers in the 17th and 18th centuries, namely the Dutch and the Portuguese were involved in a long tussle over competition for cloves. In the early 17th century the Dutch eradicated cloves on all islands except Amboina and Ternate in order to create scarcity and sustain high prices.

This was the plan instituted by the Dutch government to control their monopoly of the valuable spice. They proceeded to destroy every clove tree that grew on any other island in the Moluccas. This project was destined to fail though, partly due to the tenacity of Pierre Poivre who, more than a century later, organised several expeditions for the French East India Company to pilfer clove and nutmeg plants from the Dutch.
History of clove in Southeast Asia

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