Once upon a time, Singapore grew lots of important crops. People came from all over the region to buy and sell gambier, nutmeg, rubber and the king of spice—pepper. Singapore even became the centre of trade for some of these crops in Southeast Asia. They are no longer grown commercially in Singapore, but you can still find them in the Botanic Gardens and the Spice Garden at Fort Canning.
It may not look like much with its egg shape and wrinkled skin, but the seed of the nutmeg tree is one of the most important spices in the world. It was so so valuable that countries fought many many wars over it.
When the British arrived in Singapore, they tried planting nutmeg on the island. They were successful and for a while, everyone wanted to grow nutmeg. But a disease killed off the nutmeg trees and by the 1860s, no one grew it anymore on the island.
This comes from the leaves of the plant. It is used to tan leather, as a dye, a food additive and as a medicine. Singapore once had many gambier plantations. It was also the main centre of the gambier trade until the 1900s.
This is the tiny tiny fruit of a flowering vine. When dried, it is known as a peppercorn and is used for cooking. It is often grown together with the gambier plant in Singapore. Pepper is one of the world’s most important spices and Singapore was a once regional center of the pepper trade
At one time, this was the most important crop not just in Singapore, but the whole of Malaya. It is harvested by collecting a sticky milk called latex from the tree. Did you know that the best way to harvest it was discovered in Singapore more than 100 years ago? It is still being used today!
Credit: Illustrations by Sim Mei-Ann