Speculoos or speculaas dolls were baked for centuries between double pearwood cookie boards into which reliefs were carved. The fact that the baked goods come out of this mold mirrored gives them their name (speculaas means "mirror"). The Dutch carved male and female figures, animals, windmills and also saints, including St. Nicholas. According to lore, this was said to be related to a tradition in which the sacrifice of humans and animals was replaced by the less violent offering of cakes. Lovers would have declared love to each other by giving speculaas dolls.
However, the violence and bloodshed continued, albeit in other places and not in the form of offerings. 'How Western domination and the destruction of culture and nature began with the hunt for a spice'; this is how the renowned Dutch author Adriaan van Dis describes the book “The Curse of Nutmeg” by Amitav Ghosh. In the glory days of the Verenigde Oostindische Compagnie (abbreviated as VOC) - also called the "Golden Age" - many of the spices we still know today as characteristic speculaas flavorings were introduced: cinnamon, cloves, white pepper, ginger, anise, cardamon and nutmeg. The VOC (in English “The United East India Company)” made astronimical amounts of money from this fragrant yet smelly business. There was a lot of competition involved in the "hunt" because everyone wanted a monopoly on the various fragrances. To secure the supply of nutmeg and to quell general resistance, Governor General Jan Pieterszoon Coen (1587-1629) murdered almost the entire population of the island of Banda-Besor in 1621. The Bandanese were partially replaced by Javanese and African enslaved people. Fierce protests regularly take place around the statue of J.P. Coen in Hoorn. Does a murderer deserve a statue? The "glorious" past of the Netherlands is critically reconsidered, by historians and politicians, and also by museums and artists, who decolonize the past by highlighting other perspectives and, for example, speaking from "us" instead of "them. Perfumery and smell studies are also paying close attention to these issues. For example, several perfume houses have decided to stop using the term 'oriental' as a perfume category, and olfactory historians have paid a lot of attention to power effects, inequality and olfactory othering.
That the "cozy" Dutch cookie is the result of hundreds of years of colonial exploitation does not reveal itself to our taste buds lightly. The "bitter aftertaste" of nutmeg, cloves and cinnamon is especially proverbial. Neither is the fact that the combination of those flavours and odours - which appear to us as a natural unit - came about through millennia of botanical evolution in different areas of the earth (Leemans, Verbeek 2024, forthcoming).