Nutmeg

Nutmeg is not classified as a nut. It is the dried core of a seedpod that shares many of the same properties as mace, which originates from the same fruit.
The nutmeg tree – or Myristica fragrans – is native to the Spice Islands. It produces two familiar ingredients from the harvested fruits: nutmeg and mace.

History

While nutmeg is noted as early as the first century, historically it was not until the late 1500s that its toxic effects were discovered. This is not an issue as most modern-day recipes call for such small amounts. It would be possible, however, to suffer intoxication, psychosis, and even liver damage if large quantities were consumed.

In the 1700s, Great Britain gained control of the Spice Islands and the carefully protected nutmeg crop was expanded into the Caribbean. Today, Grenada calls itself the Nutmeg Island due to successful propagation.

Varieties

Ground nutmeg is available in small glass or plastic containers.
Fresh nutmeg is sold as whole pods for which a grater is needed.
 

Buying Tips

Fresh, whole nutmeg will always have a richer flavor than the ground spice. A pod will remain fresh about twelve months while ground will lose flavor in six months or less.

Storage Tips

Use airtight storage for both whole and ground nutmeg. After grating a fresh pod, wrap it in plastic to preserve the oil content.

Usage Tips

Nutmeg is particularly popular for use in eggnog and mulled cider, but it is a flavorful addition to many dishes, from sweet to savory.

When using ground, shake the container well to break up oily accumulation. A pinch – maybe two- of the spice is all that is needed.

It can be incorporated into puddings, cakes, soups, and soufflés. Nutmeg injects a spicy, yet sweet, flavor to vegetables such as eggplant and cabbage. It also complements baked apples, pears, and sweet potatoes.

It is best to grate the whole pod only as needed. Use the smallest grater size available. One nutmeg will produce up to 3 teaspoons of ground. However, as little as 1/8 of a teaspoon is enough to delightfully season an entire dish.

Substitution Tips

Nutmeg and mace can be interchanged.
• Use cinnamon, allspice, or pumpkin pie for a slightly different flavor.

Try one of our favorite nutmeg recipes:
Applesauce Cookies
Spinach and Cheese Squares

by BigOven editorial team
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