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There’s A Reason They Call Grenada, West Indies, Spice Island

Living in a concrete jungle like New York, you are lucky if you encounter the smell of freshly mowed grass compared to the stench of NYC’s infamous subways. As a Native New Yorker, I’ve never experienced having fresh fruits, vegetables, herbs, and spices with lovely smells literally at my fingertips. Going on your seasonal apple and pumpkin picking outing doesn’t count. In October, my husband and I joined the Sniffapalooza Scents of Grenada No 5 – Bay Leaf edition trip to the West Indies, not to be confused with Granada, Spain. It was organized by Team Karen (Karen Dubin and Karen Adams) in conjunction with Perfumer Stephen Dirkes of Euphorium Brooklyn, and Isabelle Slinger of the Tower Estate. We experienced a five-day, jam-packed fragrance and flavor feast for our senses. Grenada is a hidden gem that is less developed than other neighboring Caribbean islands. With clear turquoise waters, dense green tropical trees, flowers, fruits, herbs, spices, lush mountains, and winding roads, it is a wonderful world of natural resources.

Nutmeg Is Not Just For The Holidays

I associate Nutmeg, Cinnamon, Clove, and Allspice with seasonal sweets like Cookies, Gingerbread, Pumpkin Pie, and Eggnog. Everything in Grenada is about spices with a heavy focus on Nutmeg, hence its nickname Spice Island. Grenada is the world’s second largest producer of Nutmeg after Indonesia. Nutmeg is so ubiquitous and loved that even Grenada’s flag depicts a clove of Nutmeg. Nutmeg (Myristica Fragrans) is the seed inside the ripe fruit of a tropical evergreen tree, while Mace is the dried outer shell described as a “lacy membrane” known as the Aril. Although from the same tree, Nutmeg and Mace are two separate spices and have different fragrance and flavor profiles. Nutmeg is described as “warm, nutty, and slightly sweet,” while Mace is spicier and “reminiscent of pepper and cinnamon combined.” Both are used in sweet and savory dishes. On the trip, I smelled Nutmeg Oil, Dried Nutmeg, and Mace. I tasted Nutmeg jam, jelly, and syrup from De La Grenade Industries Ltd. I indulged in chocolate blended with Nutmeg and chocolate filled with Nutmeg jam from House of Chocolate, and Nutmeg ice cream from Sails Restaurant. I’m still not a huge fan of Nutmeg, but I have a newfound appreciation and understand it’s not just for the holidays.

Who Knew West Indian Bay Leaf Is Not The Same As Laurel Bay Leaf?

Have you heard the phrase, “You must kiss the chef” when you find a Bay Leaf in your dish? Apparently, that Bay Leaf is the Laurel Bay Leaf (Laurus Nobilis). The Laurel Bay Leaf is used in savory dishes such as soups, stews, sauces, and meat dishes. It is described as “delicately fragrant with a bitter taste” and “herbal, with flavor notes similar to Thyme or Oregano with notes of Eucalyptus, Menthol, and Pine.” In Grenada, the West Indian Bay Leaf (Pimenta Racemosa) also known as Bay Rum is a completely different Bay Leaf. It is used in rice dishes, soups, stews, and tea. I had the opportunity to hand pick a fresh branch of the many West Indian Bay trees growing on the Tower Estate’s five acres of land. When you rip a piece of the West Indian Bay Leaf it has a fragrant, spicy, and complex scent with sweet notes of Clove, Cardamom, Cinnamon, and Nutmeg. It was so interesting and special that I kept going back to smell it. The scent was hard to pinpoint, and it reminded me of Allspice because it had so many different spicy nuances. Historically, Grenadian Bay Leaves were distilled with rum and are colloquially referred to as Bay Rum. Bay Rum cologne is a classic Caribbean fragrance.

Butterfly Pea Flowers & Grenada Citrus

The Tower Estate is known for its Blue Tea, which is produced from dried Butterfly Pea Flowers. Iced Blue Tea was served at all of our meals and was accompanied with Citrus Juice (Grenada’s version of lemonade). When you combine lemon or Citrus Juice with Blue Tea, it turns a pretty bright purple because of the acid and high pH level of the citrus. We also tasted fresh Water Lemon and Seville Orange (pronounced Swivel). We were instructed to bite a piece of the Water Lemon skin off and then suck on the fruit pulp and chew the black seeds, which resembled Passion Fruit. I didn’t mind the sweet, citrus flavor, but the crunchy texture of the seeds was not to my liking. The Seville Orange looked more like a lime with green skin and tasted like a clean, slightly bitter citrus. On a visit to the De La Grenade Industries Ltd factory, we tasted marmalade made from the Seville Orange and at a presentation, we tasted the Le Grenade Liqueur. The Le Grenade Liqueur reminded me of a less sweet, bitter citrus Cointreau. It was smooth, went down well, and would make a good substitute for Triple Sec or Cointreau in a Margarita.

Culinary Safari With Chef Bishop And Her Team

A highlight of our trip was the Tower Estate garden tour and Culinary Safari with Isabelle and Chef Belinda Bishop. To prepare for the Culinary Safari, we took a garden tour and foraged for some fresh fruits and herbs. I experienced Broadleaf Thyme, Shado Beni (aka Chadon Beni), Lemongrass, Mint, Patchouli, Tarragon, and Turmeric. I was familiar with all of the herbs except for the Shado Beni also known as Culantro. If you hate Cilantro, then you will dislike Shado Beni, which is reminiscent of Cilantro but is said to be more intense and potent. I couldn’t believe how fragrant and fresh smelling the hand-picked garden herbs were. Avocado, Bananas, Butterfly Pea Flowers, Cocoa, Starfruit, Star Apple, and Vanilla are just a few of the many fruits that were literally at our fingertips.

After our garden tour, we were ready for a farm-to-table cooking lesson with Chef Belinda Bishop and her team. We were given aprons and chef hats and put to work. The menu included salad, seared Mahi Mahi with a Creole sauce, Callaloo stew, and Coo-Coo side dishes. The chefs demonstrated how to properly open a coconut, take out the coconut meat, and prepare coconut milk. We also learned how to make Passion Fruit vinaigrette dressing. The Callaloo is a “tough and green Spinach-like leaf of the Dasheen plant” popular in the Caribbean. It is prepared with coconut milk, onion, garlic, seasoning pepper, chive, thyme, salt, and pepper. It tasted like sweetened collard greens and was not as bitter as spinach or kale. The Coo-Coo is like Polenta and is made with Cornmeal and Coconut Milk. It was shaped into small individual bundt-like cakes. The Creole sauce featured seasoning peppers, tomato, onion, garlic, ginger, salt, and pepper. We broke off into different groups to prepare each of these dishes. I was part of the salad making station and watched as the group peeled, cut, and chopped lettuce, purple and white cabbage, tomatoes, carrots, Star Fruit, and Blue Pea Flowers. I’ve never experienced so many natural, fresh ingredients in one place.

A Taste of Rum

You can’t go to the Caribbean without tasting rum. Lucky for us, Eastern Caribbean Rum Company visited the Tower Estate and we sampled Barrel Jack and Rumble Overproof Rum. Gold the mixologist, crafted two cocktails inspired by Stephen Dirkes’ Grenada fragrance creations. The first cocktail, Golden Apple Souse, was inspired by Dirkes’ new Bay Rum fragrance, with notes of Ylang Ylang, Neroli, Gospo Orange, Lemon, Lime, West Indian Bay Leaf, Allspice, Mace, Rum, West Indian Amyris, Tonka, and Vanilla. The base of the drink was fresh Golden Apple, which was fibrous and not particularly flavorful. However, the cocktail was a well-balanced combination of subtle fruit and spicy nuances made with Rumble Overproof Rum with a paprika and salt rim. The second cocktail, Creamy Spiced Rum Punch, was inspired by Dirkes’ Pure Grenada environmental scent, which contains notes of Nutmeg, Cocoa, Cedarwood, Benzoin, Patchouli, and Vetiver. The creamy and sweet punch reminded me of the flavors of rice pudding, Horchata, and RumChata.

Tea Tasting & Fragrance Pairing

The Tower Estate is known for its unique teas made from ingredients grown on the estate. Isabelle and Stephen lead us on a tea tasting sensory journey with petit fours and fragrance accords based on a Bay course, Citrus course, and Spice course. The petit fours included a caramelized onion and goat cheese tart with a honey cake, whipped salmon on crostini with a lemon shortbread dessert, and a Lemongrass ice cream tinted blue with Butterfly Pea Flowers. Stephen dipped a variety of fragrance accords such as Bay Leaf, Nutmeg, Clove, Lime, Seville Orange, Neroli, Rose, Tonka Bean, Java Vetiver, and Musk for us to evaluate and create a perfume idea. My scent idea, Sunrise of Grenada, combined Neroli, Rose, Tonka Bean, and Java Vetiver. In addition to our tea tasting and fragrance extravaganza, using colored markers, we designed masks based on our Grenada experience. After all of the stimuli, the room was exceptionally quiet as each of us concentrated on our masks and enjoyed the downtime. Last but not least, we were given different dried ingredients and an empty tea bag to craft our own tea including Bay Leaf, Butterfly Pea Flowers, Citrus, Lemongrass, Ginger, and Soursop. I blended Butterfly Pea Flowers, Lemongrass, and Ginger. Every one of my senses was engaged and exhausted.

Five Course Fragrant Feast – Scent, Sound, Taste, Texture, and Touch

We experienced a five course, fragrant feast with all of my five senses engaged. The first course was a chocolate, banana, and cardamom sushi amuse bush with a popped jasmine scented balloon. Then shrimp ceviche paired with a bergamot scented mask followed. A Vetiver scent was sprayed in the air while the lights were momentarily turned off and a salad was served. Stephen Dirkes walked around the room burning foraged incense of Bay Leaf, Clove, Cinnamon, Allspice, and Copal (tree resin) that gave church vibes while we enjoyed a Guava Basil Granita. We feasted on a chicken and shrimp entrée, and the final course was tinted blue Lemongrass ice cream with a Butterfly Pea Flower.

Time Out To Snorkel

Our time was limited but we did get in a quick snorkeling trip with Eco Dive. It was a beautiful sunny and clear day. We snorkeled at Flamingo Bay and the Underwater Sculpture Park, which were both enjoyable.  My favorite part of snorkeling was the glistening water and the crackling sound as I peacefully floated to take in all of the colorful marine life, vibrant coral, and sea vegetation. We also walked along Grand Anse Beach for a lovely sunset.

A Memorable Trip

The Sniffapalooza Scents of Grenada No 5 – Bay Leaf edition trip was educational, interactive, and memorable. Not only did we get to smell and taste ourselves silly, but we also got to meet new and interesting fragrance enthusiasts that we would not have had the opportunity to meet otherwise. I’m so glad we had this opportunity. If you are looking to spice up your next Caribbean vacation, I highly recommend a trip to Grenada.



3 thoughts on “There’s A Reason They Call Grenada, West Indies, Spice Island”

  1. Just read your terrific, interesting, enlightening article – really great!!! I want to see, smell and touch and taste almost everything!!

  2. Beautifully written piece. I felt like I was walking through the lush green bush with you. I wanted to forage the flowers, and the herbs under the warm sun. The fragrance experience is one I’ll never forget… oops forgot I wasn’t there, but I was. Thanks you for taking me on this wonderful journey.


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