(Myristacae fragrantis )
The Nutmeg is an evergreen tree native to the famed Spice Islands; Maluku (Moluccas) Islands of Eastern Indonesia, but it is now grown also on Penang Island in Malaysia, in the Caribbean (particularly Grenada), in the southern state of Karela in India, and on the island of Zanzibar off the coast of Tanzania. Most nutmeg in North America comes from Granada, most in Europe from Indonesia. Also known as Muscade (French); Muscatnuß (German); Jaiphal (Hindi); Jatipatri, Jathi (Karela); Pala (Indonesia); Jouza at-Teeb (Arabic).
Main producing countries today are Indonesia (East Indian Nutmeg) and Grenada (West Indian Nutmeg); while Indonesian nutmegs are mainly exported to Europe and Asia, Grenada nutmeg mostly finds its way into the USA.
Nutmeg comes from the Nutmeg tree which produces mace as well. Nutmeg is highly priced in Europe, in 1761 and pound could go for 85-90 shillings. Nutmeg is used in many dishes and drinks, including eggnog. Indonesia and Grenada dominate the production is nutmeg- world production being 10,000 to 12,000 tonnes per year. Saint Theodore the Studite, allowed his monks to sprinkle nutmeg on their pease pudding. In Elizabethan times it was believed that nutmeg could ward off the plague.
Originally nutmeg grew only on tiny Run Island, one of the Banda islands of Indonesia. The Dutch and English fought several nasty wars over this island but a settlement was finally reached in 1668. The Dutch abandoned to Britain a colony called New Amsterdam (which the British had illegally occupied and renamed New York). In return the Dutch got Run Island and a monopoly on nutmeg – which made the Dutch East India Company very wealthy indeed.
Mace – Also known as Fleur de muscade, Macis (France); Muskatblüte, Macis (Germany); Javitri (Hindi); Sekar pala, Fuli (Indonesia); Basbasa, Fuljan (Arabic).
Mace consists of a leathery “arillus” between the seed kernel and the fruit itself. The flavour of mace is similar to nutmeg but lighter and more fruity. It is usually called for in lighter flavoured dishes and the stronger, sweeter nutmeg in sweeter and more robustly flavoured dishes.
The Nutmeg fruit pulp is tough and very sour, but in Indonesia it is used to make a jam called selei buah pala which is said to
be delicious with a pleasant nutmeg aroma. It is also used for that purpose in Grenada where the jam is called Morne Delice.
In Indonesia the fruit is also sliced thin, cooked and crystallized to make a fragrant candy called manisan pala.
When the fruit is completely ripe it will split . This is the point where it is normally harvested. Given time to dry out the fruit becomes a hard black shell.
Nutmeg Oil – Nutmeg Butter
Oil is extracted by steam distillation of ground nutmeg. It is clear but tastes and smells of nutmeg. The oil, or components of it, are used in many food products because, unlike the seed itself, no solid residue is involved. It is used in toothpastes, cough syrups, beverages, baked goods and perfumes.
Nutmeg Butter is produced by pressure, producing a semi-solid that can replace cocoa butter, but has a distinct nutmeg flavour. It is also mixed with other fats and has applications as an industrial lubricant.
There are two other members of genus Myristica that are used commercially – both as adulterants to true nutmeg. Both are easy to tell from true nutmeg if whole, as both are acorn shaped rather than spherical or oval. M. malabarica (Bombay Nutmeg, Wild Nutmeg) is grown on the Malabar coast of India (South India)and lacks flavour but is being studied as a powerful medicinal. M. argentea ( Macassar Nutmeg, Papua Nutmeg) is grown in New Guinea and is said to have a pungent wintergreen-like flavour. Both adulterants can be identified by their seeds’ shape: Whereas true Banda nutmegs are shaped globularly to egg-like, with their largest dimension at most 50% longer than the smallest, the two other species feature strongly prolate seeds more reminiscent to acorns (oak seeds) than eggs.
Aroma and Flavour
Both spices are strongly aromatic, resinous and warm in taste. Mace is generally said to have a finer aroma than nutmeg, but the difference is small. Nutmeg quickly loses its fragrance when ground; therefore, the necessary amount should be grated from a whole nut immediately before usage.
Health and Nutrition
Nutmeg contains about 10% essential oil, which is mostly composed of terpene hydrocarbons (sabinene and pinenes; furthermore camphene, p-cymene, phellandrene, terpinene, limonene, myrcene, together 60-80%), terpene derivatives (linalool, geraniol, terpineol, together 5-15%) and phenylpropanoids (myristicin, elemicin, safrol, eugenol and eugenol derivatives, together 15-20%). Of the latter group, myristicin (methoxy-safrole, typically 4%) is responsible for the hallucinogenic effect of nutmeg.
Nutmeg is a mild hallucinogen, but is not popular for that use. Among problems are the large dosage (about 1/2 nutmeg seed) and serious side effects caused by other components (the hallucinogens are harmless). These include unpleasant flavour, extreme nausea, rapid heart beat, dizziness, dry mouth, constipation, difficulty urinating, dehydration, body pain, visual distortion, anxiety and panic.
Oil of mace (up to 12% in the spice) contains the same aroma components, but the total fraction of terpenoids is increased to almost 90% at the cost of the phenylpropanoids (10%).
Both nutmeg and mace contain about 2% of lignanes (diarylpropanoids), which are nonvolatile dimers of phenylpropanoid constituents of the essential oil, e. g., dehydrodi-isoeugenol.
Amounts used in culinary practice are far too small for any adverse effects to be felt, except perhaps by those who have used nutmeg as a hallucinogen and end up hypersensitive to nutmeg.
Buying & Storing
Always buy nutmeg whole, and only a few at at time because little is used at a time. This way your spice will have a long shelf life – and you’ll know what you’re really paying for. While whole nutmegs will be usable for years if stored in a sealed container kept in a cool place and away from light, it pays to buy from a source that does a fair volume to be sure it hasn’t already been stored for years in a hot place. Buy a little nutmeg grater and grate some off a seed any time you need grated nutmeg – it takes only a moment.
Like nutmeg, mace should be purchased whole rather than ground. Not only will it last longer but you know for sure what it is you’re getting for your money. It grinds very easily. Stored in a cool place away from light it will be usable for more than a year.
Ideas when cooking with Nutmeg
While nutmeg is no longer used in the quantity it was in Medieval Europe when it was expensive, it does appear in many European recipes.
- It is still widely used in Holland for vegetable dishes and throughout Europe as the main flavouring for Bechamel and cheese sauces – as well as in holiday egg nog and other beverages like beer.
- Nutmeg is used in the Mughlai cuisine of northern India. The Northern Indian spice mixture garam masala may contain nutmeg or mace, also Moroccon compositions like ras el hanout.
- Nutmeg mostly used in savoury Middle Eastern dishes and in Greece and Cyprus.
- The Italians use it with cheese and spinach; a classic combination: known stuffed pastas and it sees similar usage in France.
- Nutmeg and mace are more popular for cakes, crackers and stewed fruits.
- European today still uses it in cabbage, potato and other vegetables, but also for meat, soups, stews and sauces.
- Nutmeg is an optional ingredient in a famous Caribbean spice paste, Jamaican jerk.