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