When the iconic pumpkin spice lattes start to pop back up on the Starbucks menus, you know that fall is right around the corner.
The pumpkin spice trend seems to be fairly recent. However, pumpkin spice has roots beyond its modern association with coffee.
In fact, pumpkin spice has been around for 3,500 years! So, if people back then weren’t obsessed with drinking pumpkin spice lattes, what exactly was pumpkin spice used for?
The pumpkin spice flavor doesn’t actually include pumpkin at all. Instead, it’s a blend of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and cloves. All of these spices have been around for a long time, but if we start with the history of nutmeg, we can determine how pumpkin spice came to be.
On one of the Banda islands in Indonesia named Pulau Ay, archaeologists made an unexpected discovery. They found evidence of common plants like sago and purple yam on ancient ceramic pottery shards. But when they saw that there was also nutmeg residue, they were surprised.
The pottery shards were estimated to be about 3,500 years old. That’s 2,000 years older than previously thought!
Nutmeg and other spices eventually became hot commodities that people from all over the world sought to obtain. Asia sold spices to the Middle East and North Africa, and soon enough, they reached Europe.
By the fourteenth century, and possibly earlier, traders were traveling to the Banda Islands for nutmeg because it was not known to grow anywhere else. They were nicknamed the “Spice Islands.”
The drive for spice is part of what led Europeans to the Americas. They couldn’t get enough of it. In the 1600s, the Dutch even traded their colony of New Amsterdam for one of the Banda Islands, which was under British ownership.