Nutmeg

Nutmeg and spice grater

Fresh grated nutmeg has a much better flavor

Nutmeg is the seed of a fruit from an evergreen tree Myristica fragrans that grows in many hot-climate countries, but it hasn’t always been that way. At one time it was only available from the central Spice Islands of Indonesia. Nutmeg has been around at least as far back as 300 B.C. It was first introduced to European markets by Venetian and Genoese merchants that had purchased it from Arab traders in Constantinople.  Nutmeg soon become an essential luxury for wealthy Europeans, who could afford to carry their nutmegs in tiny silver graters to bring their own supply to the banquet table. During the seventeenth century, the prices where so extremely high because it was completely controlled by the Dutch East India Company. It wasn’t until much later, when the French smuggled seedling trees out of the area and planted them on the island of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean, that the Dutch monopoly was broken.

However it wasn’t just grab a couple of seedlings and your in business. The Nutmeg tree does not start to yield fruit until it is eight years old, reaching its peek at about 25 years old.  It will continue to yield fruit for another sixty years so it was  a good long term investment. The tree itself can grow to be sixty-five feet tall and yields a fruit that has been described as looking much like an apricot or peach. Inside the fruit is a pit, wrapped by a brown shell and the blades of mace. Crack it open and you get the inner nut which is the nutmeg. When harvested, the inner nut has to harden inside the outer pit. When hardened, they are removed from the outer shell by hand and dried in the sun for six to eight weeks. During this time they are turned by hand twice a day.

Nutmeg and Mace are often confused and some recipes list them as inner changeable, saying if you don’t have one, just use the other.  Mace is actually like an outer skin protecting the nutmeg. It is removed from the nutmeg and processed separately. Nutmeg is slightly sweeter than mace but they both bring out the sweetness of vegetables, Nutmeg being better suited for desserts and delicate cream based sauces such as classic bechamel.

Nutmeg is a good source of minerals like copper, potassium, calcium, manganese, iron, zinc and magnesium. Potassium helps control heart rate and blood pressure. It is also a rich sourse of the B-complex vitamins, plus vitamin C, folic acid, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin A and many flavonoid anti-oxidants like beta-carotene and cryptoxanthin, essential for optimum health.

There is scientific support that nutmeg can be used as a food preservative and an antiseptic and it might help reduce inflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis.

As a chef, my interests are in its uses with other foods. It is for more than just eggnog. Try grating a little on your next bowl of rice pudding or on top of your latte or cup of hot chocolate, and then think of it’s rich history as you enjoy the flavor.

You can purchase ground nutmeg but I prefer to grate whole fresh nutmeg for a much brighter taste.  If you store the nuts , in a container, tightly covered, in a cool dark place, it will keep indefinitely. Purchased ground, it will lose its flavor rapidly.

Chefs Note: To test nutmeg, insert a darning needle into the center of the seed. If it is good a tiny drop of oil will seep out.

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Eat Healthy, Laugh Often and Enjoy Life~

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8 Responses to Nutmeg

  1. Amy
    Twitter:
    says:

    Wow! I have learned so much today! I can just go back to bed now, my day is complete. Seriously, what a great post, Chef! The history of spices is just fascinating, and wow, I didn’t know that Mace and Nutmeg came from the same fruit–and the nutmeg tree gets that big–I had no idea! (No I understand why whole nutmegs seem to expensive!) I “discovered” how superior freshly-ground nutmeg is compared to the pre-ground stuff years ago when my daughter-in-law shared some nutmegs with me, and I’ve only used freshly-ground since. Great stuff!
    Amy recently posted..Need to spread some cheer? Make these Butter-Dips!My Profile

    • Chef William says:

      I really enjoy researching foods and reading about their history, I have a couple
      of very old books in my collection about herbs and spices. One is their history as
      the actual product, the other is how our great grandmothers, here and in Mexico used
      these herbs and spices to care for the family health needs, due to a lack of medical
      doctors and medicines available. Even today on travels to Mexico, I know people that
      use “twigs and branches” to cure common ailments.
      Chef William recently posted..NutmegMy Profile

  2. Caro Ness
    Twitter:
    says:

    Yet another tour de force William….I always think that nutmeg does need using judiciously, because it CAN overwhelm, but it IS exquisite…
    Caro Ness recently posted..Fruits de MerMy Profile

    • Chef William says:

      A little nutmeg goes a long ways but it does add to so many foods that we enjoy.
      This is one spice where fresh is better, there is such a difference in both aroma
      and flavor.
      Chef William recently posted..NutmegMy Profile

  3. you hit the nail on the head chef. A little does go a long way and one of my favourite ways to use it is in spinach soup. I love my little diddy email grater too :)
    Anita-Clare Field recently posted..Fiesta Of Flavours Blog Carnival: Valentines Day – Love’s LiqueurMy Profile

  4. Debbie
    Twitter:
    says:

    So stealing nutmeg didn’t get the French any where fast. I found that funny. We like using the whole nutmeg with a grater as the flavor stays much longer. Thank you for all your wonderful information.
    Debbie recently posted..Making Butter from Goat MilkMy Profile

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