Getting Nutty With Nutmeg

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’?”

Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Nutmeg | Foodal.com

Habitat

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.

Nutmeg Tree - Myristica frangans | Foodal.com
Myristica frangans growing in an orchard on Jeju-do Island, Republic of Korea

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…

Fresh Mace and Nutmeg | Foodal.com
In this photo, you can see the nutmeg “apple” which surrounds the mace (the thin red bands), and finally the actual nut that is ground to make the spice.

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.

Nutmeg and Mace in Hand | Foodal.com

History

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.”[1] 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.

Spice stall in a traditional Middle-Eastern market | Foodal.com
Nutmeg and other spices being sold in a traditional market in Egypt.

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.

Nutmeg was rumored to be a “miracle cure” for the dreaded plague, which caused already high prices to skyrocket… thus beginning the “Spice Wars.”

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.

A pile of nutmeg nuts | Foodal.com
Although the Dutch would take over the trade of spices, their monopoly did not last, thanks to seeds being smuggled out of their territory and planted elsewhere.

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.

Modern Use

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.

Massage Oil

  • 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.

Grinding Fresh

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.

Nutmeg and Microplane | Foodal.com
Although freshly grated or ground nutmeg is tastier, dried and powdered varieties do have their place as convenient options.

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.

GEFU 34670 Nutmeg Grater by Moscata

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.

An irreplaceable part of pumpkin spice mixes, nutmeg is also a tasty addition to foods like chai tea, or even fresh blackberry or pumpkin spice scones.

It’s also great in or sprinkled atop roasted pecans, cookies, spice cakes, biscotti, or a piping hot bowl of oatmeal.

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.

Glaze for Fresh Fruit Dessert | Foodal.com
Glaze for Fresh Fruit Dessert
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Glaze for Fresh Fruit Dessert | Foodal.com
Glaze for Fresh Fruit Dessert
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Ingredients
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup pure
  • 1/8 tspn ground nutmeg
  • 1/8 tspn ground cinnamon
Servings:
Units:
Instructions
  1. Warm ingredients and drizzle over fresh fruit bowls.
Recipe Notes

Glaze for Fresh Fruit Dessert | Foodal.com

Mulled Wine

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.

Mulled Wine | Foodal.com
Ingredients for mulled wine.

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.

Mulled Wine with Ingredients | Foodal.com
Mulled Wine
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Mulled Wine with Ingredients | Foodal.com
Mulled Wine
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Tasty!
Ingredients
  • 1 bottle of dry red wine
  • 2 to 4 ounces brandy to taste
  • 1/4 cup sugar or sugar substitute
  • 2 cinnamon sticks add more or less to taste
  • 6 cloves whole
  • 1/8 tspn ground nutmeg
  • 1/8 tspn allspice
  • 1 lemon zested
Servings:
Units:
Instructions
  1. Combine ingredients in a large pot, set on low heat and simmer for 45 minutes.
  2. Serve warm.
  3. Recipe can be doubled for larger groups.
Recipe Notes

Mulled Wine with Ingredients | Foodal.com

 

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.

Sources:

“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.

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28 thoughts on “Getting Nutty With Nutmeg

  1. I do enjoy the tast of nutmeg – particularly in fruit cakes and cookies. It’s an ideal partner to cinnamon. I have always used pre-ground cinnamon though and have never actually seen the whole fruit. Funnily enough, like the Dutchmen in the 1600s, I didn’t know both nutmeg and mace came fromt he same fruit either!

  2. missbishe- Like you, I learn something knew everyday. Thank you for stopping by and commenting. I hope you enjoyed the article.

  3. Lovely article, very informative. The pictures are beautiful, they make me want to curl up in front of a fireplace with my laptop, a good book, and a drink topped with freshly ground nutmeg.
    Grinding nutmeg reminds me of when I was a little girl, my mom always had nutmeg around in the kitchen. The only thing that I knew to use it for was to put it on top of eggnog, but my mother, being an excellent cook, probably used nutmeg in all sorts of dishes.

    • Cuuki- My mother was never very adventurous, she loved to bake but always stayed with the tried and true. My real love for baking came from time spent with my grandmother…… she was unequaled in the kitchen. During my twenties, I spent an inordinate amount of time trying to record her recipes, as she never used them. She kept all of her recipes in her head, and all of the ingredients were measured by observation and touch. Over the years, I’ve come close but no cigar. Thank you for commenting!

    • Dear Ms. Cuuki,
      You triggered a memory! When I was a young girl my mother choked on eggnog with nutmeg dust. Now, this was during WWII so no one had the brains to help her, as my father had just left our hometown in Germany to fight with the Axis power. Now, she did not die, but she had a scare.
      With lots of love,
      Boriis Schmidt

  4. I agree very interesting I had no idea where nutmeg came from. Now I do I thought the actual seed before drying was beautiful the colors just jump out at you. I admit I do have nutmeg in my spice cabinet. I don’t use it very often just holidays.

    • karmaskeeper- I’m glad you found the article interesting! Like you, I find the seeds absolutely beautiful…… I think they’d be a beautiful addition to a centerpiece. Thank you for reading and commenting!

  5. I like this article Jill. It has lots of fascinating information and beautiful supportive pictures. This is my first time seeing how the nutmeg grows. It is actually quite beautiful. I have always been quite timid about using nutmeg, because if you use just a tad too much, it can destroy your dish. This post makes me want to use it more. I love the simple fruit glaze recipe. I will be using that. To be honest, this is my first ever hearing of mulling, and of such a thing as a specific nutmeg grinder. I really like learning new things, and Foodal never disappoints.

    • Aphil-
      Thank you for your kind words, though I cannot take any credit for choosing the photographs. Lynne gets the kudos for the finished product! 😀

      There’s nothing wrong with timidness when it comes to spices. Better safe than sorry….. you can always add more, but you can’t take it out. Unfortunately, I’d have to admit to ruining more than a few dishes.

      Thank you for reading….. let me know how you like the glaze!

  6. I’m honestly not a big fan of nutmeg. About the only thing I really like it in is eggnog. I think it’s because I’ve been to restaurants, and worked in one, where they seemed to put it in or on everything. It was too much.

    I do appreciate the information regarding the essential oil. I should definitely get some of that to use as a rub. Nutmeg does have some very useful properties. I could deal with the essential oil, as I do like the smell. I’m just kind of over the taste of it.

    Some people do love the taste though.

  7. Zyni- What kind of restaurant did you work in? I can completely understand becoming tired of a spice that is used regularly in many dishes….. too much of a good thing tends to get boring. As for the eggnog, I couldn’t agree more, and I’d add pumpkin pie. Good luck with your essential oil, and let me know how it works out for you! Thank you for taking the time to comment.

  8. I’m having a really hard time finding fresh nutmeg in my neighbourhood. By neighbourhood I’m speaking of miles surrounding too. Not just a few blocks. I’m currently getting it online but I would rather get it closer to home.

    • Joan- That’s too bad, but I often order mine online. I am a “stay-out-of-the-store-aholic!” Living in the city, I have my favorite shops and haunts, but I usually wait until I know I’m going to be in the neighborhood and plan my stops accordingly. There just aren’t enough hours in the day.

  9. What a wonderful and informative article. I really loved the photo of the actual tree. I had no idea they grew to be so large and beautiful. We always have nutmeg around at home and I knew about the nutmeg and mace connection but it was great to see a picture of the actual fruit as well.

    And thank you for the essential oil recipe. I am suffering with a lot of inflammation at the moment and can’t take NSAID’s (Non Steroidal Anti Inflammatory Drugs) so am always on the look out for natural alternatives and ironically do keep a single nutmeg for rubbing in a pocket, a tip picked up from a lady who rang the local post office years and years ago. I never really knew why she did it, but I do find rubbing it very therapeutic! It is great to look at the pattern on the nutmeg as well if you shave a touch off the surface. It has the most amazing intricate pattern to it.

    When it comes to cooking, I have to confess that outside of Indian cookery which I do a lot, the only other place I used nutmeg was in homemade tomato soup! Now I have a few more uses and the grating a touch into milk (or alternative) sounds like a great idea.

    Thank you.

  10. Nutmeg has always been a favorite of mine. I use it in chai and french toast, as well as pumpkin pie and other dishes. I knew of some of the healing properties, but not all those detailed above. I’m going to have to look into buying some of the oil, and increasing my usage of nutmeg, now that I know it will help alleviate some of my inflammation and other chronic conditions.

  11. I guess, i’ll have trash my toothpaste then and go all nutmeg-naturel 😀 A life saver for toothaches as well…hmm{rubbing chin}…who knew? 🙂 Well now i know 🙂

    I don’t indulge in alcohol but this one time that mulled wine has to be the exception and the page has been bookmarked in that regard 😉

    • Diane- I haven’t gone so far as to trash the toothpaste, but I have tried it…. 🙂 and I can definitely attest to nutmeg’s powers as a tooth pain reliever. I used it incessantly before a root canal not so long ago, and it was effective.

      As for the mulled wine……. it’s a must have, and it’s DELICIOUS…….. my son came in over the weekend, and the pot simmered all evening. Yum………. 😉

  12. I never would have thought to add nutmeg to my peppermint tea. I love both, so I’ll have to try this at my earliest convenience. A little nutmeg in my oatmeal is definitely wonderful stuff, so it’s great to know about all its beneficial properties. Loved reading all these interesting facts!

    • Leopard Jones….. Thank you for your gracious comments. Glad you enjoyed the read and the “interesting” facts. Nutmeg is without doubt my favorite addition to oatmeal….. Again, thank you for commenting! 🙂

  13. While I do enjoy using nutmeg when it comes to making sweets, I found that it is really good when it comes to baking hams and using it as part of a glaze. I mainly use nutmeg and allspice (which may contain nutmeg, I’m not to sure) in nearly all of my cooking since I like how it makes my food smell and the taste more enhanced. Is there anything nutmeg can’t do?

  14. I really enjoyed this article, thank you! I’m definitely going to be a bit more experimental with nutmeg…. Our family favorite uses is a dash in soft buttery mashed potatoes or any baked potato dish, the smell of which makes me completely nostalgic… the ultimate comfort food!

  15. I love this article, it’s so informative! I bake with nutmeg all the time and I’ve always wondered what exactly the little nuts are and where they come from. Totally making it a life goal to try some of those candies made from the actual fruit! The history of things like this is always so interesting, it’s crazy how things like trade routes still affect what kind of spices people use today and how often they’re used.

  16. I was completely unaware of the health benefits of nutmeg and just assumed that it was a rather aromatic spice and nothing else. Now I’m more curious than ever about this spice and want to incorporate it into my healthier eating lifestyle. I’m going to look for it during my next shopping trip and then see how many different recipes I can find. Thanks for all the wonderful information. 🙂

  17. This is incredible, I had no idea that the nutmeg had all of this medicinal properties on it, and such an interesting background, sometimes we need to take a little time to really get to know this type of stuff, it’s also part of general culture. Those recipes look amazing! But I think that my personal favorite one is the Mulled Wine, it seems like a perfect choice for this time of the year, rainy and delicious.

  18. What an interesting piece! I had no idea that the story of nutmeg was so full of intrigue and mystique, and yep – no idea that mace came from the same tree either. Seeing the weather here is miserable I am definitely going to give your mulled wine recipe a shot immediately, and hopefully impress the family with my newly acquired knowledge too… Thanks for a truly interesting and well researched article. Butternut soup with a generous sprinkling of nutmeg may be in order too!

  19. Notmeg is definitely a spice I associate with winter and the holidays, and I like the suggestions to use it in savory cooking. I have never tried fresh ground nutmeg, so that grater is definitely on my wish list!

  20. Hi, I’m from Penang, Malaysia and our state is the largest grower of nutmeg in Malaysia followed by the state of Malacca. We are blessed to have the fresh nutmeg apple, the fruit part itself, here. We make pickles of the fruit or blend them for fresh nutmeg juice. It’s simply delicious. The mace is dried and used as a condiment or in medicinal products. The nut is used for making massage oils or balms but never consumed. Sorry to say that I feel the people in European countries has been shortchanged into paying exorbitant prices and being duped into believing that eating the seed of nutmeg is something of privilege and premium. It’s almost like a conman who eats the flesh of a mango then sold you the seed and convinced you that the seed is edible and is far more delicious than the flesh itself. If you still have doubts about it then I would like to invite to you to come over to Penang to have a real taste of what a nutmeg supposed to taste like.

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