Latin name: Myristicae Fragrans
Other names: Jaiphal, Pala
Uses: spice, medicine
Imagine four mighty European empires fighting ruthlessly over a group of tiny islands in the Indonesian archipelago. In 1667, the Dutch even traded Manhattan to the British for land that was barely a square mile. All this was for the Myristica fragrans trees that give not one, but two spices, both harvested from the hard-shelled seed of its apricot-like fruits. Mace is the lacy aril over the seed; the kernel inside is nutmeg. After some sun drying, the mace comes off and reveals the glossy deep brown nutmeg, which ultimately hardens and looks like a miniature wooden egg.
Why is nutmeg healthy?
Nutmeg has a diverse nutrient profile: it’s a source of multiple vitamins, minerals (manganese, thiamine, folate, magnesium, copper), and dietary fiber. Nutmeg can freshen your breath and may also reduce inflammation and support brain, bone, and digestive health.
What does nutmeg taste like?
Nutmeg is an intense spice; add too much and the dish can be inedible, even causing nausea and hallucinations. The spice has a rich, sweet, almost cloying aroma and has flavor notes of clove, heat of pepper and a deeper, bittersweet, woody flavor.
Where does nutmeg grow?
The tropical nutmeg tree likes plenty of heat, but not too much of the blazing sun. Native to the Banda Islands, the trees thrived in the shade of giant volcanoes. Eventually, despite zealous efforts by the Dutch colonizers, the British and the French managed to get some saplings off these islands and planted them in their colonies. Indonesia remains a principal producer of the world’s crop, along with Grenada.
How do I prepare nutmeg and what do I pair it with?
The best way is to grate a little from a whole nutmeg. You can use the spice in both sweet and savory dishes, but for nutmeg to shine through, the rest of the ingredients need to be as simple as possible. The Dutch love to spice things up with nutmeg — they use it with cabbage, pumpkin, spinach, other root vegetables and in a variety of soups and stews. Add sparingly to delicately flavored meat dishes, in cakes, crackers, stewed fruits and milk-based desserts or sauces like béchamel. It goes well with cheesy dishes, too; once you try nutmeg-spiced fondue, there is no turning back!
“Wooden nutmeg” is a metaphor for cheats and came into being thanks to the unscrupulous spice traders of Connecticut, who’d often palm off pieces of wood as nutmeg. In fact, it’s how Connecticut got the (unofficial) nickname of the “Nutmeg State.”