What is Nutmeg?
The nutmeg tree is a large evergreen native to the Moluccas (the Spice Islands) and is now cultivated in the West Indies. It produces two spices — mace and nutmeg.
Nutmeg is the seed kernel inside the fruit and mace is the lacy covering (aril) on the kernel. The Arabs were the exclusive importers of the spice to Europe up until 1512, when Vasco de Gama reached the Moloccas and claimed the islands for Portugal. To preserve their new monopoly, the Portuguese (and from 1602, the Dutch) restricted the trees to the islands of Banda and Amboina. The Dutch were especially cautious, since the part of the fruit used as a spice is also the seed, so that anyone with the spice could propagate it. To protect against this, the Dutch bathed the seeds in lime, which would prevent them from growing. This plan was thwarted however, by fruit pigeons who carried the fruit to other islands, before it was harvested, scattering the seeds.
The Dutch sent out search and destroy crews to control the spread and when there was an abundant harvest, they even burned nutmeg to keep its supply under control. Despite these precautions, the French, led by Pierre Poivre (Peter Piper) smuggled nutmeg seeds and clove seedlings to start a plantation on the island of Mauritius, off the east coast of Africa, near Madagascar.
In 1796 the British took over the Moloccas and spread the cultivation to other East Indian islands and then to the Caribbean. Nutmeg was so successful in Grenada it now calls itself the Nutmeg Island, designing its flag in the green, yellow and red colours of nutmeg and including a graphic image of nutmeg in one corner.
Nutmeg has long been lauded as possessing or imparting magical powers. A sixteenth century monk is on record as advising young men to carry vials of nutmeg oil and at the appropriate time, to anoint their genitals for virility that would see them through several days. Tucking a nutmeg into the left armpit before attending a social event was believed to attract admirers. Nutmegs were often used as amulets to protect against a wide variety of dangers and evils; from boils to rheumatism to broken bones and other misfortunes. In the Middle Ages carved wooden imitations were even sold in the streets. People carried nutmegs everywhere and many wore little graters made of silver, ivory or wood, often with a compartment for the nuts.
Smell: sweet, aromatic and nutty
Flavour: Nutty, warm and slightly sweet
Hotness Scale: 1
Preparation and Storage
Whole nuts are preferable to ground nutmeg, as flavour deteriorates quickly. Whole nuts will keep indefinitely and can be grated as required with a nutmeg grater. Nutmeg is poisonous and should be used in moderation, a pinch or two is safe. Store both ground and whole nutmeg away from sunlight in airtight containers.
Health Benefits of Nutmeg
Used in small dosages nutmeg can reduce flatulence, aid digestion, improve the appetite and treat diarrhea, vomiting and nausea. Nutmeg’s flavour and fragrance come from oil of myristica, containing myristicin, a poisonous narcotic. Myristicin can cause hallucinations, vomiting, epileptic symptoms and large dosages can cause death. These effects will not be induced, however, even with generous culinary usage.
French: noix muscade
Italian: noce moscata
Spanish nuez moscada
Indian: jaiphal(l), jaiphul, taiphal, taipmal
Indonesian: pala Malay: buah pala