Everything You Need to Know About Nutmeg
Nutmeg (scientific name: Myristica Fragrans) is the seed of an evergreen tree native to Indonesia, Malaysia, and India. It is also now grown extensively in the Caribbean. The seed grows inside a larger pale green fruit. Interestingly, the seed is also covered with a lacy scarlet colored aril that, when removed and dried, becomes the spice we know as mace. Mace and nutmeg have similar flavor profiles… a warm, spicy, but also sweet, flavor, combined with an unmistakable perfume. Grated nutmeg is a bit more pungent, while mace is more delicate and, many feel, sweeter.
RELATED: What Is Mace?
As with many spices, it’s best to buy whole nutmegs and grate only the amount you need when you need it. The only proof you will ever need is to grate some fresh and to smell it next to an open container of the pre-ground stuff; there is no comparison. Until recent years, nutmeg graters and grinders were specialized tools adding to the clutter in the kitchen drawer. But now, the microplane has pretty much replaced them (and is, of course, used for any number of kitchen jobs). Whole nutmegs can, literally, last for years.
In a way similar to cinnamon, nutmeg has come to represent holiday baking in the U.S. But many cuisines employ nutmeg in a much wider and more varied way, in both sweet and savory dishes. A dusting of this intensely aromatic spice serves as the perfect finishing touch on a glass of holiday eggnog, and it can also make a dish of tortellini sing—nutmeg’s versatility knows few bounds. Which is likely why it is an integral part of spice blends around the globe, lending both its fragrance and sweet warmth.
So, while I will always recommend freshly grated nutmeg for my family’s sugar cookies, I urge you to explore some savory options as well. Try incorporating a dash of fresh nutmeg in dishes involving: beef, pork, chicken, tomatoes, potatoes, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, winter squash, pumpkin, greens, rum, cream sauces, cheese sauces, and pasta.
Here are a few recipes highlighting nutmeg you may want to try:
And, just in case you have ever heard the rumor that nutmeg is hallucinogenic—you’d have to ingest literal cupfuls, and you’d poison yourself in the process anyway, so don’t try it! But don’t forget to try a grating or two in some of the above mentioned savory applications. You’ll be glad you did.