A fierce battle once raged over the trade of the flower and seeds of the nutmeg tree. Today, its resinous, sweet flavor is found predominantly in festive baked goods.
Nutmeg as a Spice
Both the seeds (nutmeg) and the seed covering (mace) from this plant are used as spices. It’s impossible to imagine European and Asian cuisine without the warm, resinous and sweet flavor of nutmeg. When the Portuguese discovered the Indonesian Banda Islands in the 16th century, they kept the source of nutmeg secret. One hundred years later, they were ousted by the Dutch, who held the monopoly on the spice for some time. However, the pigeons that accompanied the sailors carried the seeds from the tree to neighboring islands, and so the spice spread.
Nutmeg is known as a festive spice, alongside cinnamon, star anise and cloves. It is mainly used in cakes, baked goods and other sweet treats. but can also be used to add flavor to mashed potatoes, ragouts, sausages and various Mediterranean, Indian and Arabic vegetable and meat dishes. Even the classic béchamel sauce needs a pinch of ground nutmeg. Nutmeg goes exceptionally well with cardamom, pepper, ginger, cloves and cinnamon — to be honest, it goes well with virtually all spices! Mace is traditionally used for sweet dishes, while nutmeg is excellent for adding flavor to savory dishes and milk products.
Don't add nutmeg to meat and fish before frying, as the spice can quickly become bitter if exposed to higher heats.
The nutmeg tree grows to up to 20 meters tall and bears 1500 to 2000 peach-sized fruits a year. Each fruit contains the seeds—nutmeg—enclosed in an orangey red covering — mace. After being left to dry for several weeks, nutmeg is removed from the seed covering and used as a spice. The nutmeg tree is endemic to the islands of the Banda archipelago in eastern Indonesia, though there are no longer wild nutmeg trees growing on the islands today. Although mace is frequently referred to as the flower of the nutmeg tree, it is actually just the seed covering — the actual flower of the tree is not used as a spice.
- Scientific Name
- Myristica fragrans
- Nutmeg family (Myristicaceae)
- Other Names
- Nutmeg seeds (for nutmeg), mace
- Indonesia, Grenada