Nutmeg is a spice that can transform your culinary creations into a symphony of flavors. But precisely what is nutmeg? Is it a nut?
And what makes it so flavorful and aromatic?
Just a dash of nutmeg packs a wallop of flavor, but how?! This article will answer those questions for you.
I’ll tell you what nutmeg is, what it tastes like, how to use it, and more. I’ll even highlight the differences between mace and nutmeg and ground and whole nutmeg.
Want to learn all there is to know about this popular holiday spice? Stick around.
What Is Nutmeg?
Despite its name, nutmeg is not a nut. Instead, it is the seed of the native, evergreen Indonesian nutmeg tree.
(Scientific name: Myristica fragrans.)
So, if you’ve been avoiding nutmeg because of nut allergies, you’re in luck. It will not hurt you a bit! (Unless, of course, you are allergic to nutmeg itself.)
Nutmeg is only part of the nutmeg tree seed. In fact, it is the inner portion of the seed. (The outer portion is used to make another spice – mace.)
Most often, people separate the seeds, dry them, then grind them into a fine powder.
The powder is the ground nutmeg spice common in eggnog and other holiday recipes.
You can also purchase whole nutmeg. (Again, you will only get the inner portion of the seed. The mace layer is already separate.)
Then, you can use a nutmeg grater to grate it onto your dish.
People cultivate nutmeg in many tropical areas worldwide, including:
- Sri Lanka
- Various South Indian locations
You can find it in the baking aisle of your local grocery store.
Nutmeg vs. Mace
Nutmeg and mace come from the seed of the Myristica fragrans tree. When you crack the shell (pericarp), you expose the seed (nutmeg) and its aril.
Mace comes from the aril- or the outer part- of the seed. (Seed covering.) The aril is bright red and looks somewhat waxy before it dries.
After it dries, it fades to a dimmer reddish-orange color. This dried aril is then ground into mace.
Nutmeg comes from the inner part of the seed. It’s brown and oval-shaped.
The spices do not taste the same, despite being physically close in seed form. Mace is spicier (hotter), peppery, and much more potent.
Nutmeg is sweeter, less spicy, and milder. Its flavor is more delicate.
You won’t often find both spices used in the same dish. However, you can sometimes substitute half as much mace for nutmeg in some recipes.
Whole Nutmeg vs. Ground Nutmeg
Ground nutmeg is the ground and powdered version of the whole nutmeg.
If you have whole nutmeg, you’ll have to grate it to use it. You cannot add whole nutmeg to food.
Because they’re the same thing, they taste the same.
However, fresh-grated nutmeg (from a whole seed) tastes better than pre-ground nutmeg. It is fresher and more fragrant.
Whole nutmeg will also last longer than pre-ground nutmeg.
What Does Nutmeg Taste Like?
Nutmeg has a warm, sweet, woodsy flavor. Some describe it as “sweetly nutty.”
It smells terrific, and a little goes a long way. Too much (more than a teaspoon) will cause a bitter taste.
It isn’t particularly spicy (unlike mace). But if you’re spice-sensitive, you may notice a bit of heat.
How to Use Nutmeg
Nutmeg is delicious in both sweet and savory recipes.
You can even add it to drinks and cocktails! It is very popular in fall-themed recipes and holiday dishes.
People often grate it (or shake it if pre-ground) directly on top of dishes. They also use it as a garnish, in marinades, or other spice blends.
You can even boil whole nutmeg to make nutmeg tea!
The following are some of the most common recipes that include nutmeg:
- Sweet potato pie
- Pumpkin pie
- Buttermilk pie
- Tea cakes
- Pumpkin pie spice
- Garam Masala
- Irish coffee
- Banana bread
- Banana nut muffins
Where to Buy Nutmeg
You can find ground nutmeg anywhere spices are sold.
Check out the baking (or spice) aisle of your local grocery store or mass merchandiser.
Some grocery stores also sell whole nutmeg. If you can’t find it in your store, check out a specialty grocery store. Or, order it online.
How to Store Nutmeg
You can store ground nutmeg in its original airtight container in your pantry or cabinet. (Anywhere away from moisture, direct light, and heat.)
It has a shelf life of about 6 months.
You’ll store fresh nutmeg the same way. Use an airtight container, and put it somewhere cool, dark, and dry. In theory, it could last forever.
- As mentioned earlier, you can substitute mace for nutmeg in many recipes. Just remember to use only half as much as the recipe requires.
- (1 teaspoon nutmeg = 1/2 teaspoon mace)
- Allspice is another suitable substitute in most recipes. You can swap it out teaspoon-for-teaspoon.
- If you need a replacement for a savory recipe, try ground ginger or garam masala. (Equal substitution ratios.)
- Equal swaps of cinnamon and pumpkin pie spice work well for sweet recipes.
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