Spice History: Nutmeg
Nutmeg comes from the evergreen nutmeg tree and is actually the nut or seed of the tree like a walnut or pecan. The trees can grow very tall and have been known to live over 50 years. The nutmeg fruit is a pale yellow color. Inside the large round fruit is the nutmeg seed surrounded with a red aril. This aril is known as mace and is a special spice all on its own tasting like a lighter version of nutmeg. The nutmeg seed is allowed to dry and turns a deep brown gray color when fully dried. The nutmeg fruit is actually eaten as well. It’s made into jam or candy in India and Asian countries.
Nutmeg was first grown in Indonesia. It has a fascinating and long history with many twists and turns. Nutmeg was one of the spices that traveled on the spice trade routes fairly often. The Romans used it as incense. It didn’t truly reach popularity as a spice until the Middle Ages though. Using nutmeg was a way to show off your wealth. The Dutch later cornered the nutmeg trade and spread the spice around the world. Nutmeg was loved as equally as cinnamon in the American colonies. You can find it used quite often in recipes from that time period. It was often used in savory dishes as much as sweet ones.
Nutmeg is excellent for digestion and helps to stimulate the appetite. It’s also known to help detox the liver. Nutmeg is a nervine spice which means it helps to calm your nerves and relieve stress.
One very interesting fact about nutmeg is that it is toxic in high doses. This is known as “nutmeg poisoning” which is caused by the compound myristicin found in nutmeg, a known narcotic. Using only a small, culinary amount will not lead to nutmeg poisoning though.
Next to cinnamon, nutmeg is probably my most favorite spice. It’s earthy but exotic flavor really comes through in anything you add it too. I think it should find a more prominent spot in our baking!