Nutmeg is the seed or ground spice of several species of the genus Myristica. Myristica fragrans (fragrant nutmeg or true nutmeg) is a dark-leaved evergreen tree cultivated for two spices derived from its fruit: nutmeg, from its seed, and mace, from the seed covering. It is also a commercial source of an essential oil and nutmeg butter. The California nutmeg, Torreya californica, has a seed of similar appearance, but is not closely related to Myristica fragans, and is not used as a spice. If consumed in amounts exceeding its typical use as a spice, nutmeg powder may produce allergic reactions, cause contact dermatitis, or have psychoactive effects. Although used in traditional medicine for treating various disorders, nutmeg has no known medicinal value.
Nutmeg is the spice made by grinding the seed of the fragrant nutmeg (Myristica fragrans) tree into powder. The spice has a distinctive pungent fragrance and a warm slightly sweet taste; it is used to flavour many kinds of baked goods, confections, puddings, potatoes, meats, sausages, sauces, vegetables, and such beverages as eggnog.
The seeds are dried gradually in the sun over a period of six to eight weeks. During this time the nutmeg shrinks away from its hard seed coat until the kernels rattle in their shells when shaken. The shell is then broken with a wooden club and the nutmegs are picked out. Dried nutmegs are grayish brown ovals with furrowed surfaces. The nutmegs are roughly egg-shaped, about 20.5–30 mm (0.81–1.18 in) long and 15–18 mm (0.59–0.71 in) wide, weighing 5–10 g (0.18–0.35 oz) dried.
Two other species of genus Myristica with different flavours, M. malabarica and M. argentea, are sometimes used to adulterate nutmeg as a spice.
Culinary Uses – Spice
Nutmeg and mace have similar sensory qualities, with nutmeg having a slightly sweeter and mace a more delicate flavour. Mace is often preferred in light dishes for the bright orange, saffron-like hue it imparts. Nutmeg is used for flavouring many dishes, and nowadays is mostly found in Western supermarkets in ground or grated form. Whole nutmeg can also be ground at home using a grater specifically designed for nutmeg.
Culinary Uses in Cuisine
- In Indonesian cuisine, nutmeg is used in various dishes, mainly in many spicy soups, such as some variant of soto, konro, oxtail soup, sup iga (ribs soup), bakso and sup kambing. It is also used in gravy for meat dishes, such as semur beef stew, ribs with tomato, and European derived dishes such as bistik (beef steak), rolade (minced meat roll) and bistik lidah (beef tongue steak).
- In Indian cuisine, nutmeg is used in many sweet, as well as savoury, dishes (predominantly in Mughlai cuisine). In Kerala Malabar region, grated nutmeg is used in meat preparations and also sparingly added to desserts for the flavour. It may also be used in small quantities in garam masala. Ground nutmeg is also smoked in India.
- In traditional European cuisine, nutmeg and mace are used especially in potato dishes and in processed meat products; they are also used in soups, sauces, and baked goods. It is also commonly used in rice pudding.
- In Dutch cuisine, nutmeg is added to vegetables such as Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and string beans. Nutmeg is a traditional ingredient in mulled cider, mulled wine, and eggnog.
- In Scotland, mace and nutmeg are usually both ingredients in haggis.
- In Italian cuisine, nutmeg is used as part of the stuffing for many regional meat-filled dumplings like tortellini, as well as for the traditional meatloaf.
- Nutmeg is a common spice for pumpkin pie and in recipes for other winter squashes, such as baked acorn squash.
- In the Caribbean, nutmeg is often used in drinks, such as the Bushwacker, Painkiller, and Barbados rum punch. Typically, it is a sprinkle on top of the drink.
Culinary Uses – Fruit
The pericarp (fruit covering) is used to make jam, or is finely sliced, cooked with sugar, and crystallised to make a fragrant candy. Sliced nutmeg fruit flesh is made as manisan (sweets), either wet, which is seasoned in sugary syrup liquid, or dry coated with sugar, a dessert called manisan pala in Indonesia. In Penang cuisine, dried, shredded nutmeg rind with sugar coating is used as toppings on the uniquely Penang ais kacang. Nutmeg rind is also blended (creating a fresh, green, tangy taste and white colour juice) or boiled (resulting in a much sweeter and brown juice) to make iced nutmeg juice. In Kerala Malabar region of India, it is used for juice, pickles and chutney.
Tips for Cooking With Nutmeg
Once it is ground, nutmeg soon loses the oils which provide its flavour and taste, so grating fresh, whole nutmeg is recommended to achieve the full benefit of the fresh oils. A nutmeg grater should be a part of basic equipment in every kitchen, but if you do not have one, use the finest blade on a larger hand-held manual grater. The difference between fresh nutmeg and commercially-ground is like night and day.
Testing for good quality fresh nutmegs is as easy as inserting a darning needle a centimeter into the meat; if a tiny drop of oil seeps out, the nut is good. Freshly-grated nutmeg should ideally be added at the end of the cooking process since heat diminishes the flavour.
Whole fresh nutmegs, as well as ground nutmeg and mace, should be kept in a tightly sealed jar or container in a cool, dark place. Wrap leftover fresh nutmeg tightly so the oils are not lost.
Cooking With Nutmeg
Slightly sweeter than mace, nutmeg is essential to bechamel sauce and also goes well with baked or stewed fruit, custards, eggnog, punches, curries, sauces (particularly onion-based and milk sauces), pasta, and vegetables (especially spinach).
One whole nutmeg grated yields 2 to 3 teaspoons of ground nutmeg. Mace may be substituted for nutmeg in a pinch and vice versa, but obviously, the flavour of the end result will be affected as with any substitution.
Mace is the spice made from the reddish seed covering (aril) of the nutmeg seed. Its flavour is similar to nutmeg but more delicate; it is used to flavour baked goods, meat, fish, vegetables and in preserving and pickling.
In the processing of mace, the crimson-coloured aril is removed from the nutmeg seed that it envelops and is flattened out and dried for 10 to 14 days. Its colour changes to pale yellow, orange, or tan. Whole dry mace consists of flat pieces—smooth, horny, and brittle—about 40 mm (1.6 in) long.
The essential oil obtained by steam distillation of ground nutmeg is used in the perfumery and pharmaceutical industries. The volatile fraction contains dozens of terpenes and phenylpropanoids, including d-pinene, limonene, d-borneol, l-terpineol, geraniol, safrol, and myristicin. In its pure form, myristicin is a toxin, and consumption of excessive amounts of nutmeg can result in myristicin poisoning.
The oil is colourless or light yellow, and smells and tastes of nutmeg. It is used as a natural food flavouring in baked goods, syrups, beverages, and sweets. It is used to replace ground nutmeg, as it leaves no particles in the food. The essential oil is also used in the manufacturing of toothpaste and cough syrups.
Nutmeg butter is obtained from the nut by expression. It is semisolid, reddish-brown in colour, and has the taste and smell of nutmeg itself. About 75% (by weight) of nutmeg butter is trimyristin, which can be turned into myristic acid, a 14-carbon fatty acid, which can be used as a replacement for cocoa butter, can be mixed with other fats like cottonseed oil or palm oil, and has applications as an industrial lubricant.
Psychoactivity – Effects
In low doses, nutmeg produces no noticeable physiological or neurological response, but in large doses, both raw nutmeg freshly ground from kernels, as well as nutmeg oil, have psychoactive effects, which appear to derive from anticholinergic-like hallucinogenic mechanisms attributed to myristicin and elemicin. Myristicin—a monoamine oxidase inhibitor and psychoactive substance – can induce convulsions, palpitations, nausea, eventual dehydration, and generalized body pain when consumed in large amounts. Nutmeg poisonings occur by accidental consumption in children and by intentional abuse with other drugs in teenagers.
Varying considerably from person to person, nutmeg intoxication may occur with side effects, such as delirium, anxiety, confusion, headaches, nausea, dizziness, dry mouth, eye irritation, or amnesia. Nutmeg intoxication takes several hours before the maximum effect is experienced, and the effects may last for several days.
Although rarely reported, nutmeg overdose can result in death, especially if combined with other drugs.
Toxicity during pregnancy
Nutmeg was once considered an abortifacient, but may be safe for culinary use during pregnancy if used only in flavouring amounts. However, if consumed in large quantities, it contains hallucinogens that may affect the fetus, and consequently nutmeg is not recommended and should be avoided during pregnancy.
Toxicity to pets
While the spicy scent of nutmeg may be attractive to pets, there is potential for toxicity if large amounts are consumed.
Nutmeg, dried, ground - Nutrition Facts
- Serving Size100 g
- Amount per serving
- Energy499 kJ
- % Daily Value*
- Total Fat36.3 g46.54%
- Saturated Fat31.51 g157.55%
- Trans Fat0 g
- Polyunsaturated Fat0.41 g
- Monounsaturated Fat4 g
- Cholesterol0 mg0%
- Sodium15 mg0.65%
- Total Carbohydrate28.5 g10.36%
- Dietary Fibre20.8 g74.29%
- Total Sugars3 g
- Added Sugars0 g0%
- Protein5.8 g11.6%
- Vitamin D (Cholecalciferol)0 mcg0%
- Calcium182 mg14%
- Iron3.04 mg16.89%
- Potassium360 mg7.66%
- Vitamin C (Ascorbic Acid)2 mg2.22%
- Vitamin E (Tocopherol)0 mg0%
- Vitamin B1 (Thiamin)0.346 mg28.83%
- Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin)0.057 mg4.38%
- Vitamin B3 (Niacin)1 mg6.25%
- Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine)0.16 mg12.31%
- Folate76 mcg19%
- Vitamin B12 (Cobalamine)0 mcg0%
- Phosphorus216 mg30.86%
- Iodine0 mcg0%
- Magnesium183 mg45.75%
- Zinc2.15 mg19.55%
- Selenium1.6 mcg2.91%
- Ash2.3 g
- Ethanol0 g
- Nitrogen0.93 g
- Retinol0 ug
- Beta carotene28 ug
- Folic Acid0 ug
- Amino Acids
- Tryptophan72 mg