Wanderlust: Nutmeg, the sexy spice

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The World

STONE TOWN, Zanzibar — The ladies dancing in the streets at a wedding celebration here haven’t had a drop of alcohol, but they look remarkably tipsy as they flirtingly parade their assets in front of a row of neighborhood men.

The women are wrapped head-to-toe in kanga, the colorful African fabric Muslim women here use to cover their hair and legs. But that hardly stops them from shaking their hips like Beyonce.

What’s the trick?

“Nutmeg,” explains Mohamed Mwinyi, neighbor of the bride, who works as a tourist guide in town. “In the morning of a wedding or other important day women put nutmeg in their porridge. It makes them loose.”

While alcohol is prohibited in Islam, Mwinyi said, nutmeg is not. Quite the contrary. Nutmeg happens to grow abundantly on this heavily Arab-influenced island off the east coast of Africa. Even though nutmeg is native to Indonesia, today it is — together with cloves, pepper and cinnamon — one of Zanzibar’s chief exports.

Economics aside, the aphrodisiac and narcotic properties of nutmeg are presented as universal fact in Zanzibar, where 95 percent of people are Muslim.

Some refer to it as the “magic spice,” or “cheap high,” while others call it “Viagra for women.” Even packages of ground nutmeg, sold in Darajani, the main market in Stone Town, spell out nutmeg’s benefits — in clumsy in English — right on the label: “Nutmeg powder: This is better for drinks, cooking and for woman that given up strong desire for making or to fulfill their men.”

All that for less than a dollar a pop.

Juma Mohammed, a spice trader working in the Darajani market, said the spice business is booming. “In 2000, there used to be only two tables selling spices,“ he said. “Now there are more than 25." The price of nutmeg fluctuates around four dollars per pound. He sells two to four pounds daily, to tourists as well as locals.

Mohammed confirms that nutmeg works reliably on the ladies because it increases their sexual desire and “makes their eyes soft,” which, according to him, is a bit like being drunk. That, in turn, helps with being loose.

There is one catch, he points out: it has a very strong taste, and it's hard to consume enough of it to get the desired result.

“You can put it in powder form and then bake with it, make tea or porridge,” he said. “Porridge is the best option because you can use the most nutmeg and still have a good taste.”

Nutmeg only works as a sex-enhancer for women, Mohammed said. It isn’t recommended for men because it is too strong and, apparently, men do not need as much help stimulating their sexual desire. For men, it is enough to drink “vanilla coffee, ginger coffee, plain coffee or plain ginger tea which wakes them up, allowing them to play good football and also have sex," he said.

Yet, an experimental study by researchers at the Aligarh Muslim University in India found that nutmeg significantly increased sexual activity of male rats, increasing their “mounting frequency, intromission frequency, intromission latency,” as well as “mounting frequency with penile anaesthetization as well as erections, quick flips, long flips and the aggregate of penile reflexes with penile stimulation.”

Women dance at a wedding ceremony near Stone Town, Zanzibar. (Iva Skoch/GlobalPost)

The study concluded that the 50 percent ethanolic extract of nutmeg possesses aphrodisiac activity, increasing both libido and potency, which might be attributed to its penchant for stimulating the nervous system.

Ray Sahelian, a Los Angeles-based physician and best-selling author of the book “Natural Sex Enhancers,” confirms that while he has not done extensive studies with nutmeg as an aphrodisiac, “just about all enhancing herbs and spices work both in women and men.”

He doubts, however, that the effects would be noticeable the same day. “They might take a day or two to be noticed when used in high dosages,” he said.

Which is, perhaps, why the spice traders in Zanzibar suggest ladies shouldn’t take any chances and add nutmeg in their porridge every morning. What is the recommended dosage, you ask?

“That depends on how much porridge you make,” said Ali Baljani, another spice trader in Stone Town.

“For most women, two nuts is more than they can handle.”

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