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The Bloody History: All things pumpkin spice

If you love Pumpkin Spice Latte’s, congratulations, you’ve got blood on your hands

by Alexander Quebec

Nothing announces the arrival of fall like the Pumpkin Spice Latte, and it’s often way too early introduction in summer because some of you can’t wait another few months for actual fall (which in California, doesn’t happen until Mid November in a season we call “True Fall”). Love it or hate it, the drink is a mainstay of the fall season, and many wait eagerly for its return each and every year.

But did you know that there’s some blood on your hands when you order one of these? Some of the ingredients below that make up the official libation of the basic bitches have had a rough history to get to where they are now. We often don’t pay attention to the history that goes on behind the scenes of some of the key ingredients that make up our favorite foods. Read on below to learn more about the bloody history of the Pumpkin Spice Latte.

 

Cinnamon

Casualties: Celoynese, as well as Portuguese, Dutch and British Soldiers

Cinnamon varieties

Cinnamon is a pretty ancient spice, so much so that it is even mentioned in the Bible. Most people from Ancient times onto the Age of Exploration had no clue where Cinnamon came from, thus elevating it to a status similar to that most designer handbags enjoy now.

Ceylon (now known as Sri Lanka)  was a pretty quiet and peaceful place until around the 16th century when the Portuguese arrived. “Discovered” purely by accident (remember, it’s not really discovering something if someone is already there), the Portuguese only wanted the cinnamon and other products produced by the island, but later realized that gaining control of the entire island wasn’t a bad idea. This started with Portugal going to war with the native Kandy Kingdom (seriously, that’s what it was called), which resulted in a stalemate, which was ended by Portugal agreeing to treat Kandy as a client state, but in reality, the Kingdom was as good as conquered.

“Admit it, this was the first thing that popped up in your hear when you heard Kandy Kingdom Hasbro.com

Then the Dutch arrived and declared war on the Portuguese, who then declared war on the Dutch in the larger Portuguese-Dutch Conflict (which was all the rage in Europe at the time), and finally, the Kandy Kingdom declared war on both. Finally, the Dutch and Kandians were able to expel the Portuguese, after which the Dutch turned on their Kandian Allies and took over the islands. The Dutch would run the Island until the British arrived and ditched the Dutch. By that point, cinnamon was grown in places with a similar climate, making a monopoly a pointless exercise.

 

“Old Europeans loved puffy things: Wigs, Sleeves, Warships” -Wikipedia

Today, there are three kinds of cinnamon available in the market: The Sri Lankan stuff is considered milder and sweeter and a bit more expensive, while the stuff on the shelves at your local supermarket is more than likely the cassia kind, which is relatively cheaper and stronger in the flavor profile. Saigon cinnamon is a bit more on the spicier side compared to the other two.

Nutmeg
Casualties: Over 150,000 Bandanese, mostly men. Some British troops as well.

Where nutmeg comes from -Wikipedia

Nutmeg was a rare commodity, even for a spice. From the earliest times until the Age of Exploration, it grew in only one place: The Banda Islands of Indonesia. The Portuguese were the first to get their hands on this spice, and with control of the trade, they got all of the money that came with it. For some reason, however, they let the Dutch handle all of the trade for nutmeg until 1580, when Portugal fell to Spain. Now locked out of the nutmeg trade, the Dutch tried a new strategy.

The Dutch created the Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie, also known as the Dutch East Indian Company, which was one of the largest and wealthiest trade organizations at the time. Amassing a workforce of over 50,000 employees, a 30,000 man strong army, and a fleet of 200 ships, the VOC was a force to be reckoned with in the “spice wars”.

In 1621, the Dutch took over the Banda islands from the Sultans, who preferred a neutral policy when it came to trade. They protected their hold on the islands by executing any male over the age of 15, as well as any tribal leaders who resisted. They then designated a few regions to grow the trees, destroying any trees outside of those regions. In addition, anyone caught growing a nutmeg tree without permission was put to death.

The Dutch and English having a “Whose ships are more flammable” competition. The British are winning. Wikipedia

The Dutch almost had a monopoly, with one teensy little problem…the British.

The British owned a tiny sliver of an island called Run Island, which provided an opportunity for the British and the Bandanese rebels a place to continue the fight that was part of the larger Anglo-Dutch wars. The Dutch had made moves against the British to take the islands, but they would finally achieve victory not by conquest, but by negotiation. The Dutch made an offer: If the British would give up the Island, the Dutch would give them some backwater, isolated island in the New World called Manhattan (and as they say, hindsight is always 20/20).

And, as the saying goes, all good things do come to an end. By the end of the 18th century, the VOC was bankrupted by all of the wars it had participated in, which meant they didn’t have the resources to protect their cash crop, among other things. Then some Frenchman by the name of Pierre Poivre (or Peter Pepper) managed to smuggle a few nutmeg plants to French-controlled Mauritius, which were then sent to the Caribbean. Then in 1809, the British were back with a vengeance, taking over some of the islands, but then giving them back to the Dutch eight years later. By then, however, the British had nutmeg trees growing all over their territories in India, Ceylon (Modern-day Sri Lanka), and Singapore.

Pumpkins

Casualties: over 12 million Indigenous peoples, from 1492 to 1900, roughly…

“Fun Fact: Basic Bitch Instagram influencers are tied with bees as the pumpkin’s main pollinator.”

Pumpkins are endemic to Southwest US and Northeastern Mexico, which would put it on Apache land (In the USA anyway). Over 7500, in what is now the state of Oaxaca in Mexico, the first pumpkins weren’t the round, sweet, orange things we know them as today, but were small, hard, and bitter. The natives used to harvest them for the flesh, which was hardy and would store well for the winter months. Over time, the cultivation of pumpkins would spread from Mexico, all the way to what is now New England, and as far west as California.

Then the year 1492 comes through and well…let’s just say we know how this story goes.

“Spoiler Alert: It doesn’t end well for one of these groups of people”

Granted, the encroaching invaders weren’t after the pumpkins, (their descendants are, however, if Instagram is any indication), but rather the land it was growing on. In the course of over 4 centuries, millions of Native Americans were killed; many by armed conflict, but also by the diseases brought from overseas that they did not have natural immunity against.

Native Americans in the New England area today celebrate National Day of Mourning on the same day as Thanksgiving to commemorate all of the indigenous peoples killed by the hands of colonists and as a counterpoint to Thanksgiving Day, which was relatively recently declared a holiday by President Roosevelt (the one in the wheelchair, not the one that was shot and kept on with his speech) in 1941.

Now that you know the bloody history of one of your favorite fall drinks…enjoy!

 

References
https://www.pbs.org/food/the-history-kitchen/history-pumpkins-recipes/#:~:text=Archaeologists%20discovered%20the%20oldest%20domesticated,variety%20we%20are%20familiar%20with.

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/how-formerly-ubiquitous-pumpkin-became-once-year-treat-180970860/
https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/21/us/thanksgiving-myths-fact-check.html
https://www.bespokespices.com/history-of-cinnamon.html
https://www.neatorama.com/2012/08/06/The-Nutmeg-Wars/
https://www.history.com/news/cinnamons-spicy-history
https://www.bonappetit.com/story/types-of-cinnamon

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