Also known as
Nutmeg or Myristica fragrans is an evergreen tree indigenous to Indonesia. The fruit of the tree is the source of two different spices – nutmeg and mace.
The nutmeg seed is encased in a mottled yellow, edible fruit, the approximate size and shape of a small peach. The fruit splits in half to reveal a net-like, bright red covering over the seed. This is the aril which is collected, dried and sold as mace. Under the aril is a dark shiny nut-like pit, and inside that is the oval shaped seed, which is the nutmeg.
Nutmegs are usually sold without the mace or hard shell. They are oval, about an inch long, lightly wrinkled and dark brown on the outside, and lighter brown on the inside. Nutmeg and mace have similar taste qualities. Nutmeg is slightly sweeter while mace has a more delicate flavour. Mace is often preferred in light dishes for the bright orange, saffron-like hue it imparts, while nutmeg is used when a stronger flavour is required, such as cheese sauces. Nutmeg is generally grated, often in a cheese grater, before adding to dishes.
When used in excess, nutmeg acts as a narcotic and could even be poisonous. So, limit your culinary usage of nutmeg to a pinch or two each time.
Before use in recipes, nutmeg is usually grated into fine shreds using a grater. Grated nutmeg can be used in various kinds of desserts like kheer, cheesecakes, phirni, puran poli etc. Sometimes a hint of grated nutmeg is used to perk up the taste of savoury dishes too. It can also be added to homemade garam masala and chai ka masala. Nutmeg, grated when fresh, is a tasty addition to cheese sauces.
This can be prepared by roasting the whole seeds and then crushing them into fine powder. A blender or mortar and pestle may be used for this purpose. Nutmeg powder is used for marinades, stews and soups.
How to select
• Nutmeg can be bought whole or in the ground form.
• Whole nutmeg is much more aromatic and flavoursome, so it preferable to buy it whole, and grate or powder when required.
• Whole nutmeg should be compact and free of any blemishes.
• Just like with other dried spices, when purchasing nutmeg, try to select that which is organically grown since this will give you more assurance that it has not been irradiated.
• In Indian cuisine, nutmeg is used in many sweet as well as savoury dishes, predominantly in Mughlai cuisine.
• It may also be used in small quantities in garam masala.
• Internationally, nutmeg is usually associated with sweet, spicy dishes like pies, puddings, custards, cookies and spice cakes.
• It combines well with many cheeses, and is included in soufflés and cheese sauces.
• In soups it works with tomatoes, slit peas and black beans. It complements vegetables like cabbage, spinach, broccoli, beans onions and eggplant.
• In European cuisine, nutmeg and mace are used especially in potato dishes, soups, sauces, and baked goods.
• In Dutch cuisine nutmeg is quite popular as an addition to vegetables like Brussels sprouts, cauliflower and string beans.
• Japanese curry powders include nutmeg as an ingredient.
• The essential oil from nutmeg is used as natural food flavouring in baked goods, syrups, beverages and sweets. It replaces ground nutmeg as it leaves no particles in the food.
How to store
• Store both ground and whole nutmeg away from sunlight in airtight containers.
• Nutmeg oil is used as a major ingredient in some cough syrups.
• In traditional medicine nutmeg and nutmeg oil were used for illnesses related to the nervous and digestive systems.
• Used in small dosages nutmeg can reduce flatulence, aid digestion, improve the appetite and treat diarrhoea, vomiting and nausea.
• Nutmeg's flavour and fragrance come from the oil of myristica, containing myristicin, a poisonous narcotic. Myristicin can cause hallucinations, vomiting and epileptic symptoms, and large dosages can cause death. These effects will not be induced, however, even with generous culinary usage.