Grenada's Exotic Spice Market
I’ve never visited a country that smells this good.
The tiny island nation of Grenada, tucked away in the eastern corner of the Caribbean, has the heavenly scent of cloves, bay leaves, vanilla, cinnamon and nutmeg (especially nutmeg), the leading export.
It’s like falling head first into eggnog.
It’s an intoxicating mix, especially inside the Grenada Spice Market in St. George, Grenada’s capitol. The market sweeps up from the Caribbean sea and is wedged between impossibly narrow streets that wind steeply past bright red-tiled rooftops and up into the hills.
Enter Grenada's Spice Market and your senses are overwhelmed: wooden tables sag under the weight of exotic vegetables. Vendors shout out their offerings. The nubby green football-sized breadfruit begs to be touched. The air is heavy with the bittersweet perfume of spices, herbs and fruit.
And, of course, nutmeg is everywhere in the market and in every possible incarnation. Nutmeg jam. Nutmeg syrup. Nutmeg ketchup. Nutmeg aromatherapy oil. Nutmeg toothpowder. Nutmeg sports cream. Nutmeg lotion. Nutmeg soap. (I sound like Bubba in Forest Gump.)
Manila-colored nutmeg is a fruit with a hard stone-like seed in the middle, similar to a peach. The seed is really the nutmeg. Bright scarlet mace delicately wraps around the dark brown kernel, like a lacey web. When dried, both nutmeg and mace are used in cooking, but mace is used in cosmetics, as a preservative and to color food. My pal, Roger R. Augustine, breaks it down for you:
Wander around the market and you’ll find exotic fruits and vegetables that’ll make you do a double take. Those aren’t grub worms, but piles of turmeric (which Grenadians call saffron because the color is similar to the real thing). That huge green hedgehog-looking thing is really soursop fruit (which makes a deliciously sweet fruit drink). You’ll also see a big leafy green vegetable called callaloo. It’s a lot like spinach or kale in the nutrient department... but you have to cook it before eating. Callaloo’s root, taro, is also an excellent source of potassium.
Love coconut water? Here’s the real thing (and they've been drinking it here for centuries!):
Grenada, lies at the southernmost tip of the Windward Islands, just 100 miles north of Venezuela. The island feels remote and removed from the rest of the world, even though it’s visited by international flights and cruise ships every day.
But mention Grenada, and most people think of long ago coups, revolts and rescue missions, or 2004’s Hurricane Ivan that damaged almost every home and building on the island. They don’t think of the friendly, tropical green paradise that Grenada is today.
Which is exactly why this is the Caribbean’s best kept secret. I’ll write more about what I discovered on this charming island in the coming weeks!