Of all the spices the world has to offer, nutmeg was once hailed as “worth its weight in gold.” Procuring a small bag would afford its owner enough wealth to last a lifetime, which leads me to ask, ”Who said ‘money doesn’t grow on trees’?”
Native to the Mallucas Islands in the South Pacific, a.k.a. the “Spice Islands,” nutmeg is treasured for its flavor, aroma, and medicinal properties.
Lightweight and easily transported, nutmeg, like other spices, was popular on trading vessels. Other items of trade (like pottery, jewels, and silk cloth) were more cumbersome to transport. Thus, spices were far more valuable commodities.
Growing amidst the pristine reefs and white sands of their native island setting, the nutmeg tree (Myristica frangans) can reach a height of 66 feet. It produces fruit, which resembles a peach in shape, known as the nutmeg apple.
The fruit of the tree is discarded more often than not, although some Indonesian countries utilize it in making jams and candies.
Nutmeg, as we know it, is found in the seed (nut), which after drying produces two different spices, nutmeg and mace.
A bit of amusement can be found in the fact that the Dutch traders who monopolized the spice trade in the 1600s requested that the planting of nutmeg trees be decreased, in deference to the popularity of mace. They had no idea…
When ripen, the fruit of the tree splits in half, revealing a nut the size of a pecan that’s embraced by a netting of red, waxy bands. The netting (or aril) produces mace, very similar to nutmeg in taste, and perfect for consumers who prefer a subtle hint of pepper in their dishes.
The nut produces nutmeg, an integral item that’s found in kitchens everywhere.
Although the spice is affordable for today’s consumers, historically it would only have been found in the homes of titled nobility or affluent merchants. During the first century, Arabs kept the source a secret, spinning tales of its origin, which were cloaked in danger and mystery.
The spice’s first appearance in history dates back to the first century, when Arab writers touted its uses as an aphrodisiac and digestive aid.
Pliny, a famous Roman author, naturalist, philosopher, and naval commander, was one of the first to question Arab claims.
His observation: “All these tales have been evidently invented for the purpose of enhancing the price of these commodities.” Pliny was no man’s fool.
After Rome’s fall, trading routes were cut off and trade with Europe dissipated. Europeans lost the memory of the spice for hundreds of years, until it was introduced once again by Arab traders in the 11th Century.
Ironically, the Arabs hadn’t lost their talent for storytelling, and Europeans again believed the same previously debunked tales. Needless to say, only the rich could afford it.
In April, 1191, Henry VI was crowned Holy Roman Emperor. In preparation, it is said that Henry had the route cleansed with nutmeg before traveling the path to his coronation.
Explorers rang in the 16th century with bigger and better ships, and the known world for these explorers expanded with each expedition. Spices were embraced for their medicinal properties above all else. And the Portuguese, who’d monopolized the trade for years, suddenly found themselves in conflict with England.
Nutmeg was rumored to be a “miracle cure” for the dreaded plague, which caused already high prices to skyrocket. England’s solution would be to take over the trade, thus beginning the “Spice Wars.”
The “Spice Wars” would span a two-hundred-year period, and involve five different major trade countries. The Dutch would eventually take control of both the trade and the city of Malacca.
Unfortunately, expansion in trade made spices more readily available, which in turn caused prices to plummet. The Dutch response was to destroy large plots of existing sources with fire in a bid to increase profits.
Soon after, the French would plant their own trees on islands they controlled in the Indian Ocean.
Ironically, France was the one major European country that hadn’t financed exploration, and the seeds they planted to produce the high demand crops of cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg were smuggled out from their competitors’ plantations.
In our modern world, nutmeg is valued as a potently aromatic spice. Components found in its essential oil include myristicin (anti-inflammatory), camphene (antifungal), geraniol (antioxidant), and borneol (antibacterial, analgesic, anti-inflammatory).
It also contains numerous fatty substances, protein, starch, and traces of potassium and calcium.
Nutmeg 100% Pure, Best Therapeutic Grade Essential Oil available on Amazon
Therapeutically, it is said that using nutmeg as a seasoning can stimulate the cardiovascular system, lower blood pressure, improve focus, reduce joint pain, alleviate inflammation, and calm the occasional upset stomach.
A dash in a glass of warm milk can be used to counteract overactive bowels, whereas mixing the same amount into a hot cup of peppermint tea can help to calm an upset stomach.
For those of you who suffer from joint inflammation and pain, the benefits found in nutmeg’s essential oil can be deployed both internally and topically.
Fortunately, either choice makes for a satisfying treat. If you prefer to gratify your palate, try mixing four or five drops of essential oil into a teaspoon of honey, and add this to warm milk or tea. If you don’t care for honey, a sugar cube makes an excellent alternative.
When used topically, a nutmeg oil blend can serve the same purpose in relieving sore joints and muscles, possibly providing more immediate relief. Let’s face it, there’s nothing like a good massage.
The recipe below calls for almond oil as its base for no other reason than the fact that it’s my personal favorite. Carrier oils are numerous and should be chosen according to personal preference. Other favorites include jojoba, hazelnut, and walnut. Read more about cooking with essential oils.
- 20 drops Nutmeg
- 20 drops Ginger
- 10 drops Rosemary
- 3 ounces Almond Oil (Base)
Blend oils in a four-ounce bottle and warm before use.
Nutmeg’s antibacterial properties are reputed to dramatically reduce symptoms of halitosis (i.e. bad breath) and rid your mouth of unwanted bacteria. As a result, the spice is commonly used in a number of different toothpastes.
It is also utilized to provide relief from toothache pain. Simply place a drop of oil onto a cotton swab and dab it on the gum area surrounding the culprit. Repeat when necessary.
A Note of Caution
The health information in this article is not intended to assess, diagnose, prescribe, or promise cure. Consult with your health care professional before using essential oils for your health and wellness.
Do not use this remedy for infants, young children, or pregnant women. Healthy adults should use caution as well. You should not consume more than ten drops of essential oil or two tablespoons of the spice in a twenty-four hour period. High doses can be toxic.
So, how do we choose exactly which nutmeg to purchase while perusing the aisles in our local markets, spice shops, or grocery stores? Fortunately, the spice comes ready to use in a variety of different products that are perfect, affordable, and easily used in our day to day lives.
I admit, there’s nothing I love more than to bake on a chilly afternoon.
Okay, any afternoon.
But like most of you, I’m often rushing about, doing errands, and attempting to catch up on everything I’ve put aside until tomorrow, as tomorrow somehow consistently seems to allude me.
Thus, ground nutmeg has a permanent home in the spice rack alongside the rest of my “can’t live without” spices. Note that prepackaged is not the best, but it’s a reasonable quick alternative.
Whole Nutmeg Tin available on Amazon
When you purchase the ground variety, something is lost. In this case, you lose the indescribably pleasant, spicy, sweet aroma of freshly ground nutmeg. Whole nuts aren’t difficult to locate for purchase, and are even available on Amazon.
They keep indefinitely. In addition, they are easily ground by using the fine side of a cheese grater (best for sprinkling spices into a hot drink), or a coffee grinder (I have a grinder purchased specifically for things other than coffee). I have been considering picking up a Moscata Nutmeg Grater, as its reviews on Amazon are outstanding.
No matter how you skin the cat, as much as we all complain about being busy, freshly ground isn’t really that time consuming to produce, and the results are worth it.
Many people view nutmeg as nothing more than a baking spice, such as for gingerbread and other goods. Well, they would be wrong.
Pumpkin pie is one of my favorite holiday desserts, but think about that glorious, roasted butternut squash, thick and creamy pumpkin soup, eggnog, or a delicious hot buttered rum while sitting around the fire.
Its uses are endless.
Throw a pinch into your white sauce for some extra zest, or enhance the flavor of meat-based dinners with the same. This spice will round out your meat’s flavor with nutty nuances, giving favorite recipes a touch of something new and exciting.
Fruit salads become true desserts, and the world of hot beverages just might become your favorite mode of experimental adventure.
Mulled wine is generally considered a holiday drink, but I’d have to ask, why? We don’t stop entertaining when the holidays come to a close. Winter gatherings continue, and evenings spent with loved ones are countless.
A nice warm cup of mulled wine or buttered rum promotes feelings of well-being, comfort, and a joining of spirits. Hot beverages create an ease so often lost in the midst of our busy lives.
Characterized by their citrusy taste that’s produce by lemon zest, they generate a sense of warmth and intimacy rarely produced by other alcoholic drinks.
Many people are intimidated by the word “mulled,” not understanding it entails nothing more than heating and spicing. In the Middle Ages, mulling was popular for its health benefits, not to mention a belief in its power as an aphrodisiac.
Today, science has proven that many of these beliefs were in fact accurate. Documentation states that red wine promotes sleep, helps to lower cholesterol, potentially helps to decrease the risk of certain cancers, works as an anti-inflammatory, and supports heart and brain health, when consumed in moderation.
Think about how much more potent these benefits become with spices added to the mix!
There are countless recipes available for mulling wine, as well as any number of pre-prepared mulling kits that include nutmeg – along with its other characteristic warming spices. If you enjoy making gift baskets at home, mulling kits are easily compiled, and are guaranteed to produce more than just the great results they provide, with smiles on the faces of their recipients as well.
For those who don’t consume alcoholic beverages, nutmeg also serves as a delicious addition to a hot cup of tea, apple cider, or even hot cocoa.
Sweet on Spice
It is easy to see that whatever our mood or individual craving, nutmeg has the cure. From the sweets we love to comfort foods and entertaining, this spice is as valuable today as it was at its first recorded use.
Little did our grandmothers know that the goodness contained in the pies so lovingly made for family during the holidays went beyond our taste buds, to benefit our bodies as well.
Try a new recipe, experiment with one of your favorites, or simply shave a little nutmeg onto your morning coffee. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised, and ready to explore your options.
“Spice trade.” Encyclopedia Britannica. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/559803/spice-trade
The staff at Foodal are not medical professionals and this article should not be construed as medical advice. Foodal and Ask the Experts, LLC assume no liability for the use or misuse of the material presented above. Always consult with a medical professional before changing your diet, or using supplements or manufactured or natural medications.