- Fresh Nutmeg Vs. Ground Nutmeg: SPICEography Showdown
- How does fresh nutmeg differ from ground nutmeg?
- Can you use fresh nutmeg in place of ground and vice versa?
- When should you use fresh nutmeg and when should you use ground nutmeg?
- Modern Use
- Grinding Fresh
- Mulled Wine
- Sweet on Spice
- Whole Nutmeg
- How to Grate Nutmeg
- Organic Ground Nutmeg
- History of Ground Nutmeg
Fresh Nutmeg Vs. Ground Nutmeg: SPICEography Showdown
Fresh nutmeg is nutmeg that you grind yourself from the whole seed of the nutmeg fruit. Pre-ground nutmeg is the same things but comes pre-ground and packaged. Both have the same source: the nutmeg tree. Each form of the spice has different characteristics that will affect how they work in your food. We will consider the differences between fresh nutmeg and pre-ground nutmeg in the SPICEography Showdown below.
How does fresh nutmeg differ from ground nutmeg?
Fresh nutmeg is more flavorful and aromatic than the commercial variety. The reason is that whole nutmeg gets its flavor and aroma from volatile oils that will evaporate quickly after grinding. Because of how quickly the oils evaporate, it is best that you use ground nutmeg right away to ensure that you get as much of the flavor as possible. Ground nutmeg is likely to have lost much of its oil content and therefore much of its flavor.
The potential for lost flavor affects how long you can store fresh nutmeg when compared to the pre-ground variety. You can store fresh nutmeg for much longer. Simply grind the amount that you need and return the remaining whole nutmeg to an airtight, container. Ground nutmeg has a much shorter shelf-life — try to use it as soon as you open the container.
Nutmeg that you grind on a microplane or rasp grater — the preferred tools for grinding nutmeg at home — will not have uniform particles like commercially ground nutmeg. Usually, freshly ground nutmeg will be more similar to shavings than to a true powder. The irregular particle size means that more air is contained in freshly ground, which gives it the appearance of greater volume. In comparison, pre-ground nutmeg will be more densely compacted.
Can you use fresh nutmeg in place of ground and vice versa?
Freshly ground nutmeg and pre-ground nutmeg are the same spice, which means that they are the best possible substitutes for each other. The fact that they are the best substitutes does not mean, though, that they are perfect.
Because of the previously mentioned differences in flavor intensity, you will need to adjust your measurements when using one in place of the other. If you are using fresh nutmeg in place of pre-ground, use less of it to avoid over-flavoring; use more pre-ground nutmeg when using it in place of fresh. The longer pre-ground nutmeg has been in your spice cabinet, the more of it you will need to use when replacing the fresh spice; you will need to compensate for the diminished flavor and aroma due to evaporated volatile oils.
When using freshly ground nutmeg in a recipe that requires pre-ground, be sure to pack it down in your measuring spoon. By compressing it, you remove some of the air and get a more accurate measurement.
When should you use fresh nutmeg and when should you use ground nutmeg?
Use fresh nutmeg wherever you want the full, unfettered flavor of nutmeg in your food. It is the spice you need wherever you want nutmeg at the forefront.
If fresh nutmeg is out of the question and you only have access to the pre-ground stuff, use it in dishes where the muted flavor will not be as much of a problem. Use it in strongly spiced desserts like carrot cake where nutmeg is just one of an ensemble rather than the star of the show.
Of all the spices the world has to offer, nutmeg was once hailed as “worth its weight in gold.” Procuring a small bag would afford its owner enough wealth to last a lifetime, which leads me to ask, ”Who said ‘money doesn’t grow on trees’?”
Native to the Mallucas Islands in the South Pacific, a.k.a. the “Spice Islands,” nutmeg is treasured for its flavor, aroma, and medicinal properties.
Lightweight and easily transported, nutmeg, like other spices, was popular on trading vessels. Other items of trade (like pottery, jewels, and silk cloth) were more cumbersome to transport. Thus, spices were far more valuable commodities.
Myristica frangans growing in an orchard on Jeju-do Island, Republic of Korea
Growing amidst the pristine reefs and white sands of their native island setting, the nutmeg tree (Myristica frangans) can reach a height of 66 feet. It produces fruit, which resembles a peach in shape, known as the nutmeg apple.
The fruit of the tree is discarded more often than not, although some Indonesian countries utilize it in making jams and candies.
Nutmeg, as we know it, is found in the seed (nut), which after drying produces two different spices, nutmeg and mace.
A bit of amusement can be found in the fact that the Dutch traders who monopolized the spice trade in the 1600s requested that the planting of nutmeg trees be decreased, in deference to the popularity of mace. They had no idea…
In this photo, you can see the nutmeg “apple” which surrounds the mace (the thin red bands), and finally the actual nut that is ground to make the spice.
When ripen, the fruit of the tree splits in half, revealing a nut the size of a pecan that’s embraced by a netting of red, waxy bands. The netting (or aril) produces mace, very similar to nutmeg in taste, and perfect for consumers who prefer a subtle hint of pepper in their dishes.
The nut produces nutmeg, an integral item that’s found in kitchens everywhere.
Although the spice is affordable for today’s consumers, historically it would only have been found in the homes of titled nobility or affluent merchants. During the first century, Arabs kept the source a secret, spinning tales of its origin, which were cloaked in danger and mystery.
The spice’s first appearance in history dates back to the first century, when Arab writers touted its uses as an aphrodisiac and digestive aid.
Pliny, a famous Roman author, naturalist, philosopher, and naval commander, was one of the first to question Arab claims.
His observation: “All these tales have been evidently invented for the purpose of enhancing the price of these commodities.” Pliny was no man’s fool.
After Rome’s fall, trading routes were cut off and trade with Europe dissipated. Europeans lost the memory of the spice for hundreds of years, until it was introduced once again by Arab traders in the 11th Century.
Ironically, the Arabs hadn’t lost their talent for storytelling, and Europeans again believed the same previously debunked tales. Needless to say, only the rich could afford it.
Nutmeg and other spices being sold in a traditional market in Egypt.
In April, 1191, Henry VI was crowned Holy Roman Emperor. In preparation, it is said that Henry had the route cleansed with nutmeg before traveling the path to his coronation.
Explorers rang in the 16th century with bigger and better ships, and the known world for these explorers expanded with each expedition. Spices were embraced for their medicinal properties above all else. And the Portuguese, who’d monopolized the trade for years, suddenly found themselves in conflict with England.
Nutmeg was rumored to be a “miracle cure” for the dreaded plague, which caused already high prices to skyrocket. England’s solution would be to take over the trade, thus beginning the “Spice Wars.”
The “Spice Wars” would span a two-hundred-year period, and involve five different major trade countries. The Dutch would eventually take control of both the trade and the city of Malacca.
Although the Dutch would take over the trade of spices, their monopoly did not last, thanks to seeds being smuggled out of their territory and planted elsewhere.
Unfortunately, expansion in trade made spices more readily available, which in turn caused prices to plummet. The Dutch response was to destroy large plots of existing sources with fire in a bid to increase profits.
Soon after, the French would plant their own trees on islands they controlled in the Indian Ocean.
Ironically, France was the one major European country that hadn’t financed exploration, and the seeds they planted to produce the high demand crops of cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg were smuggled out from their competitors’ plantations.
In our modern world, nutmeg is valued as a potently aromatic spice. Components found in its essential oil include myristicin (anti-inflammatory), camphene (antifungal), geraniol (antioxidant), and borneol (antibacterial, analgesic, anti-inflammatory).
It also contains numerous fatty substances, protein, starch, and traces of potassium and calcium.
Nutmeg 100% Pure, Best Therapeutic Grade Essential Oil available on Amazon
Therapeutically, it is said that using nutmeg as a seasoning can stimulate the cardiovascular system, lower blood pressure, improve focus, reduce joint pain, alleviate inflammation, and calm the occasional upset stomach.
A dash in a glass of warm milk can be used to counteract overactive bowels, whereas mixing the same amount into a hot cup of peppermint tea can help to calm an upset stomach.
For those of you who suffer from joint inflammation and pain, the benefits found in nutmeg’s essential oil can be deployed both internally and topically.
Fortunately, either choice makes for a satisfying treat. If you prefer to gratify your palate, try mixing four or five drops of essential oil into a teaspoon of honey, and add this to warm milk or tea. If you don’t care for honey, a sugar cube makes an excellent alternative.
When used topically, a nutmeg oil blend can serve the same purpose in relieving sore joints and muscles, possibly providing more immediate relief. Let’s face it, there’s nothing like a good massage.
The recipe below calls for almond oil as its base for no other reason than the fact that it’s my personal favorite. Carrier oils are numerous and should be chosen according to personal preference. Other favorites include jojoba, hazelnut, and walnut. Read more about cooking with essential oils.
- 20 drops Nutmeg
- 20 drops Ginger
- 10 drops Rosemary
- 3 ounces Almond Oil (Base)
Blend oils in a four-ounce bottle and warm before use.
Nutmeg’s antibacterial properties are reputed to dramatically reduce symptoms of halitosis (i.e. bad breath) and rid your mouth of unwanted bacteria. As a result, the spice is commonly used in a number of different toothpastes.
It is also utilized to provide relief from toothache pain. Simply place a drop of oil onto a cotton swab and dab it on the gum area surrounding the culprit. Repeat when necessary.
A Note of Caution
The health information in this article is not intended to assess, diagnose, prescribe, or promise cure. Consult with your health care professional before using essential oils for your health and wellness.
Do not use this remedy for infants, young children, or pregnant women. Healthy adults should use caution as well. You should not consume more than ten drops of essential oil or two tablespoons of the spice in a twenty-four hour period. High doses can be toxic.
So, how do we choose exactly which nutmeg to purchase while perusing the aisles in our local markets, spice shops, or grocery stores? Fortunately, the spice comes ready to use in a variety of different products that are perfect, affordable, and easily used in our day to day lives.
I admit, there’s nothing I love more than to bake on a chilly afternoon.
Okay, any afternoon.
Although freshly grated or ground nutmeg is tastier, dried and powdered varieties do have their place as convenient options.
But like most of you, I’m often rushing about, doing errands, and attempting to catch up on everything I’ve put aside until tomorrow, as tomorrow somehow consistently seems to allude me.
Thus, ground nutmeg has a permanent home in the spice rack alongside the rest of my “can’t live without” spices. Note that prepackaged is not the best, but it’s a reasonable quick alternative.
Whole Nutmeg Tin available on Amazon
When you purchase the ground variety, something is lost. In this case, you lose the indescribably pleasant, spicy, sweet aroma of freshly ground nutmeg. Whole nuts aren’t difficult to locate for purchase, and are even available on Amazon.
They keep indefinitely. In addition, they are easily ground by using the fine side of a cheese grater (best for sprinkling spices into a hot drink), or a coffee grinder (I have a grinder purchased specifically for things other than coffee). I have been considering picking up a Moscata Nutmeg Grater, as its reviews on Amazon are outstanding.
No matter how you skin the cat, as much as we all complain about being busy, freshly ground isn’t really that time consuming to produce, and the results are worth it.
GEFU 34670 Nutmeg Grater by Moscata
Many people view nutmeg as nothing more than a baking spice, such as for gingerbread and other goods. Well, they would be wrong.
Pumpkin pie is one of my favorite holiday desserts, but think about that glorious, roasted butternut squash, thick and creamy pumpkin soup, eggnog, or a delicious hot buttered rum while sitting around the fire.
An irreplaceable part of pumpkin spice mixes, nutmeg is also a tasty addition to foods like chai tea, or even fresh blackberry or pumpkin spice scones.
It’s also great in or sprinkled atop roasted pecans, cookies, spice cakes, biscotti, or a piping hot bowl of oatmeal.
Its uses are endless.
Throw a pinch into your white sauce for some extra zest, or enhance the flavor of meat-based dinners with the same. This spice will round out your meat’s flavor with nutty nuances, giving favorite recipes a touch of something new and exciting.
Fruit salads become true desserts, and the world of hot beverages just might become your favorite mode of experimental adventure.
Glaze for Fresh Fruit Dessert
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| Glaze for Fresh Fruit Dessert
- 1/4 cup maple syrup pure
- 1/8 tspn ground nutmeg
- 1/8 tspn ground cinnamon
Servings: Units: Instructions
Mulled wine is generally considered a holiday drink, but I’d have to ask, why? We don’t stop entertaining when the holidays come to a close. Winter gatherings continue, and evenings spent with loved ones are countless.
A nice warm cup of mulled wine or buttered rum promotes feelings of well-being, comfort, and a joining of spirits. Hot beverages create an ease so often lost in the midst of our busy lives.
Characterized by their citrusy taste that’s produce by lemon zest, they generate a sense of warmth and intimacy rarely produced by other alcoholic drinks.
Ingredients for mulled wine.
Many people are intimidated by the word “mulled,” not understanding it entails nothing more than heating and spicing. In the Middle Ages, mulling was popular for its health benefits, not to mention a belief in its power as an aphrodisiac.
Today, science has proven that many of these beliefs were in fact accurate. Documentation states that red wine promotes sleep, helps to lower cholesterol, potentially helps to decrease the risk of certain cancers, works as an anti-inflammatory, and supports heart and brain health, when consumed in moderation.
Think about how much more potent these benefits become with spices added to the mix!
There are countless recipes available for mulling wine, as well as any number of pre-prepared mulling kits that include nutmeg – along with its other characteristic warming spices. If you enjoy making gift baskets at home, mulling kits are easily compiled, and are guaranteed to produce more than just the great results they provide, with smiles on the faces of their recipients as well.
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| Mulled Wine
- 1 bottle of dry red wine
- 2 to 4 ounces brandy to taste
- 1/4 cup sugar or sugar substitute
- 2 cinnamon sticks add more or less to taste
- 6 cloves whole
- 1/8 tspn ground nutmeg
- 1/8 tspn allspice
- 1 lemon zested
Servings: Units: Instructions
For those who don’t consume alcoholic beverages, nutmeg also serves as a delicious addition to a hot cup of tea, apple cider, or even hot cocoa.
Sweet on Spice
It is easy to see that whatever our mood or individual craving, nutmeg has the cure. From the sweets we love to comfort foods and entertaining, this spice is as valuable today as it was at its first recorded use.
Little did our grandmothers know that the goodness contained in the pies so lovingly made for family during the holidays went beyond our taste buds, to benefit our bodies as well.
Try a new recipe, experiment with one of your favorites, or simply shave a little nutmeg onto your morning coffee. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised, and ready to explore your options.
“Spice trade.” Encyclopedia Britannica. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/559803/spice-trade
The staff at Foodal are not medical professionals and this article should not be construed as medical advice. Foodal and Ask the Experts, LLC assume no liability for the use or misuse of the material presented above. Always consult with a medical professional before changing your diet, or using supplements or manufactured or natural medications.
About Jill Renee
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We gave my Mom a set of those jars as a gift when we were kids – what memories that pic’ brought back.
Have you ever tried grating your own ginger for homemade ginger ale? Yummmmmmmmy!
Happy New Year’s Eve.
I love nutmeg. (And Nutmeg.) I’ve never grated it, but I think I’ll give it a try. I made Grandmother Bread yesterday and almost succeeded! It’s still a little heavy, but I’m going to keep trying! You should have seen my first attemp. Not a pretty sight.
What a great idea. I love to bake and using fresh nutmeg would be awesome. Thanks for the suggestion.
HAPPY NEW YEAR’S EVE
I do love to grate whole nutmeg, but I just have to say that the real Nutmeg is about the cutest thing I’ve ever seen!!
Rachel from Maine
That makes me want to try it.
And it just so happens that I ran out of nutmeg.
And it just so happens that I need some for my eggnog tonight.
I hope I have a grater already because I don’t do W-Mart. I like the measurements on that one. Maybe I can order one online.
Okie Sister–the one I have is by Farberware, if you want to get one just like it. (I do love the attached measuring tray!) I’m sure they sell Farberware at other stores and probably online!
Suzanne, you might get me interested in cooking again. Well, maybe. I can get my baking thrills vicariously through you! I’d rather look at the 4-legged Nutmeg – she looks so sweet and patient in the photo that I suspect it’s a stand-in. A stunt Nutmeg!! :catmeow:
Nancy in Atlanta
I have grated fresh nutmeg and I swear it’s so wonderful that it’s an aphrodisiac. Isn’t there some way that they can make a cologne from it? I love the other nutmeg too but I can guess that she’s not quite as pleasantly aromatic.
– Suzanne, the Farmer’s Wife
How did you get my mom’s nutmeg jar? She didn’t even tell me she’d gotten rid of it. If it is vintage she should have given it to me. Hey, what’re you doin callin my mom’s spice jar vintage anyway? A friend gave me a grinder with nutmeg in it from Harry & David that is nice too.
I have never seen whole nutmeg. It’s one of those things you use and just don’t think about where it comes from.
Thanks for enlightening me. I will have to try it in it’s whole form, just to see the difference in the flavor.
Happy New Year, Suzanne to you and everyone at Stringtown Rising Farm!
yes! I have grated whole nutmeg (and my finger nails!!) I finally broke down and bought some when it was on sale. It makes everything it touches taste like Christmas!
Thank you for a wonderful year of stories, recipes, pictures, and many-many-many laughs! Happy New Year!
just stopping by to wish you a late merry christmas and an on time happy new year!
I grate nutmeg at least once a year for a Christmas jam cake. My grater is very old, tapered in shape, can be hung up, and even has a hinged compartment at the ‘top’ to store the whole nutmegs!
My grandmother has those spice jars! I don’t remember seeing them the last few times I was there. I wonder if she’s packed them away? I should try to get my hands on them. Hmmm…
I love nutmeg, too. It’s great in fresh alfredo sauce, too. Wow, I’m hungry now
I havent’ ever grated my own nutmeg – but the vintage spice jar that you pictured really picqued my interest. Just to show you how “vintage” I am, at one point in time I had an entire set of those jars with that same type of label. 32 jars I believe. In my young “wifehood” (Is there such a word?) I purchased new containers and sent all the “vintage” ones to the second-hand store. Maybe you have one of that set (snicker)!
I haven’t used anything but whole nutmeg in years. I love that fresh-ground taste! I use a nutmeg thingy from Microplane. It’s a little tear-shaped plastic container with a built in grater for a lid. The container holds a few nuts. You take one out, grate what you need and then either spoon out the gratings or shake them out over your eggnog, etc. I love it! I had to buy mine directly from Microplane…couldn’t find one locally. It is one of my favorite kitchen gadgets.
:biggrin: Happy New Year!! Best wishes for a happy, safe, fun, prosperous 2009!!! Freshly grated nutmeg is like freshly grated horseradish or cheese… it makes a world of difference. Throw a couple in a simmering pot with cinnamon sticks and orange slices, yummy!!! P.S. Good use for freshly grated nutmeg. The painkiller!!!!! 2 oz. rum, dark, 2 oz. pineapple, 2 oz. orange juice, 2 oz. coconut juice. Mix well, and top with grated nutmeg!!! Cheers!!!!!
I’m a huge fan of whole spices, they are just so much better than that ground dirt that they sell for spices in grocery stores. I buy my whole spices at the International Grocery store in Kanawha City. They are extemely cheap there and have a great selection. I just got a pound of whole nutmeg for $1.24. I also am a big fan of whole green cardamom. I was hesitant to go in the store but now I love it.
P.S. Coconut MILK, not juice!
I have not grated fresh nutmeg either. but I love it too. I really like your grater too – so convenient.
HAPPY NEW YEAR –
I have grated fresh nutmeg before. I have to admit that I am not a big fan of the taste of nutmeg but I use it when it is called for in recipes anyway because my family likes it. But I do like your four legged Nutmeg. Cute! Happy New Year!
I had no idea too much nutmeg is toxic. But a little is all it takes anyway.
Suzanne, the Farmer’s Wife: Wow you really do like nutmeg, huh? Aphrodisiac, you say? Interesting.
Working hard at http://www.sccworlds.com
I learn something new on your site everyday,thank you…..
All my spices, dry ingredients for baking are in the cabinet above the stove/oven. Maybe I should rethink and move them some place drier.I know…I need help!Happy New Years Eve!! :friday: Everyone be safe.
I love nutmeg (the spice, not the goat. Though the goat is cute, too, but I wouldn’t cook with goat-Nutmeg, that would just be wrong). Yum. Now I have the need to go make beignets….
I saw the very first line and thought you’d roasted the goat.
I had no idea nutmeg was posionous. I have a nutmeg grater, but I use it for grating the rind on lemons. *G*
I always wanted to grate my own but I never came across it – I should make more of an effort to find it! I like to put nutmeg and cin. on my french toast.
I am intrigued. I’m going to have to buy some now. I’ll bet the Mennonite store here has it. I love any excuse to go in there and get the bulk cocoa and flavored licorice laces and other cool stuff. Now I’m going to look for stuff like whole nutmeg and other stuff I’ve probably looked right over. I have learned so much on this blog!
We always grate our own nutmeg. I’m glad you did this post to show how easy it is to do!
The New Year brings the promise of hope and change. May all the changes be great and may hope go with you always! Happy New Year!
If you can’t find or don’t like the made specifically for it nutmeg grater or microplaner, an ordinary rasp (or file) from the hardware store will work. They come in small sizes which are much handier in the kitchen. If you want to have some real fun, ask the hardware guy for a bastard rasp… :rockon:
I have never ground nutmeg!!! Didn’t even know you could!
Just wanted to say I have been enjoying your site for a while but I really liked your holiday & Christmas posts. Your tree and decorations were wonderful and meaningful. I also enjoyed Morgan’s American Girl story. My mom always ‘put things up’ for us, so we wouldn’t destroy them… She also “kept” these things for us because they were important or special. But now, I have no memory of them!
Happy New Year!!
Vintage spice jars had plastic stoppers? You guys must REALLY be young! :rotfl:
Or…. is that ground glass?
Woah! Leave Miss Nutmeg in her pen or new goat house! Love the Goatly photos. The babies are gettin’ big. I love nutmeg the spice. Not enough to buy a grater and grate it. I would consider making my own cinnamon if it was cheaper, ’cause my Chef (hubby) uses cinnamon in everything. One of the next little goats should be called Cinnamon.
HAPPY NEW YEAR! It’s already 2009 somewhere so I’m going to bed soon. I’m bushed after watching the very expensive repair guy install a new hot water heater so my chubby hubby won’t be grouchy and can have his shower with warm water. The dishes, clothes and everyone appreciates the hot water heater now. Not the cat, she doesn’t like hot water… but everyone else. And then my WORK LAPTOP committed suicide. It would display my puppy & kitten wallpaper but GO NO FURTHER! I had to drive into work and give it to the nice ‘geek squad’ that we have to fix stuff.
I am again inspired by you, Suzanne! Thanks for the demo. Toxic, you say? There’s an idea you could use in a book down the road!!!
Hope you have a fab New Year! Looking forward to reading all about it. We got your calendar in the mail the other day and 49 and I will enjoy all the critters throughout 2009! There were a lot of “Awwws” as we looked through it!
I do wanna try it! I’ve been wanting to grind my own spices, I had no idea I could get a cheap grinder at
That is the only way I have ever used nutmeg. I have an old fashioned nutmeg grater, with no fancy measuring device, so I just guestimate. Learned it as the only way to do it from my mom years ago.
Try grating a little into the coffee ground basket of your coffee maker in the morning. VERY yummy!
I rec’d a whole nutmeg in a spice gift basket. It has the red mace around it. I can not find how to separate them and or how to open the nut?
Can you help me?
Marie, I don’t know, I’m sorry. I’ve never had whole nutmeg that way.
Well this is way after the post but I learned from my grandmotheer who was a Chef that to keep Nutmeg indefently store the glass jar in the freezer. I put the glass jar with nutmegs, grater in freezer bag and it always taste fresh.
I have always hated nutmeg until I tried fresh.Your right when you say it doesn’t even compare. And I just use a microplane to grate mine.
Marie in PA, just hammer the nut gently and remove the hard shell (with mace – unless you use mace of course.. which you can!). The interior nut is grated. I use a regular grater for mine.
The last time I was in Barbados my cousin and I went to Welcshman Hall Gully, which is this very tropical, moist area where hundreds of nutmeg trees are. I picked up about 50 (the mace makes them easy to spot) and brought them back to Miami. Unfortunately, every time I reach for one, it’s rotted!! Those must have been on the ground for a long time so last night I bought (grated for 79c compared to $6.99 for 3 or 4 whole! Outrageous!!
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How to Grate Nutmeg
If you’re wondering how to grate nutmeg your prayers are answered! Nutmeg reminds me of the holidays. I use it in Eggnog, Pumpkin Pie, and Cookies. This warming spice is full of nutrient-rich antioxidants and is helpful for sleep and digestion.
I hadn’t seen whole nutmeg until my husband and I went to Grenada in the early 1990’s and toured a nutmeg processing facility. Yes I’ve been a foodie for decades! Nutmeg grows on an evergreen tree in warm tropical climates around the world. Scientifically known as myristica fragrans, these are the only trees to bear two distinct spices, nutmeg, the seed, and mace, a spice that comes from its dried shell.
After our trip, I began making small batches of freshly ground nutmeg. Grated and ground nutmeg are the same thing. My younger son and I made this video in 2011 when he was 11 years old.
I grate a batch of fresh nutmeg every few weeks and keep it in a small glass jar. You can grate nutmeg each time you need it, but I find that I don’t want to stop to grate spices when I’m cooking.
Buying ground nutmeg at the store is convenient but it doesn’t have the wonderful aroma of freshly ground. That’s because it is ground, then shipped to a store where it sits on a shelf and begins to degrade. That doesn’t mean it’s rotten or inedible, just that the nutmeg isn’t as fragrant or nutritious. This is similar to an apple that is cut versus a whole apple. Once you chop an apple it begins to turn brown as it oxidizes and decomposes.
I purchase most of my spices such as cinnamon pre-ground because I use them in great quantities and go through them very quickly.
Ready to learn how to grate nutmeg? Here’s what you’ll need!
- whole nutmeg
- microplane zester
- mini spice jar
Organic Ground Nutmeg
History of Ground Nutmeg
The first written record of nutmeg comes from Constantinople, in 540 A.D. Romans used nutmeg as incense and it was also used in sachets, or small bags that acted as perfume for unpleasant smells. These sachets would be carried around in pockets or sometimes even sewn into clothes. They would also use nutmeg to fumigate their streets, leaving them both fresher smelling and a little bit more sanitary. The eugenol in nutmeg has antibacterial properties.
During the Middle Ages, Arab spice traders would keep the location of their nutmeg sources very obscure to keep control over the prices. People of this time, particularly fashionable Europeans, carried their own graters and nutmegs as a status symbol.
The islands where nutmeg was grown was conquered in the 1500s by the Portuguese, who then tried to keep the growth of nutmeg to two islands The Dutch were part of these shenanigans, and eventually they became the sole owners of the nutmeg trade industry.
There were no smartphones or hoverboards in the 1600s, but there was nutmeg, which was close enough in terms of hype. Nutmeg was very rare upon discovery and managed to maintain its scarcity thanks to some sly businessmen. To keep prices high, the Dutch would intentionally destroy portions of their crops, much like they did with cloves. The British had control over a few nutmeg trees that the Dutch wanted, so they decided they would trade their territory (modern day Manhattan) for control of the British nutmeg trees. The appeal to the wealthy was outrageous and everyone needed to have the exotic spice at their table.
Eventually, nutmeg seeds were stolen and planted elsewhere. Luckily our friend Pierre Poivre (Peter Pepper) was able to steal nutmeg and cloves at the same time and distribute them to other tropical regions of the world. By the late 1700s, the trees could be found growing in Africa and parts of the Caribbean.
When it finally made its way to America in the 1800s, people were confused by nutmeg at first. As the story goes, some merchants were supposedly selling wood carved to look like nutmeg to unsuspecting victims. What happened was more than likely buyers being unaware that they had to grate nutmeg and probably thought they had to crack it like a walnut. When they couldn’t crack it, they would dismiss it as being fake or wooden.
The myristicin in nutmeg has been said to cause hallucinations for some people, and was supposedly used when people wanted to get high in the middle ages. The danger only arises when a person consumes an enormous amount in a short period of time. After the hallucinations, people would usually suffer from some serious side effects, like stomach problems. Death was also a common side effect. Due to the hallucinations and awful physical side effects, nutmeg was banned in Saudi Arabia, where it remains illegal today.
Nutmeg, (Myristica fragrans), tropical evergreen tree (family Myristicaceae) and the spice made of its seed. The tree is native to the Moluccas, or Spice Islands, of Indonesia and is principally cultivated there and in the West Indies. The spice nutmeg has a distinctive pungent fragrance and a warm slightly sweet taste; it is used to flavour many kinds of baked goods, confections, puddings, potatoes, meats, sausages, sauces, vegetables, and such beverages as eggnog. The fleshy arils surrounding the nutmeg seed are the source of the spice mace.
Historically, grated nutmeg was used as a sachet, and the Romans used it as incense. Around 1600 it became important as an expensive commercial spice in the Western world and was the subject of Dutch plots to keep prices high and of English and French counterplots to obtain fertile seeds for transplantation. The nutmegs sold whole were dipped in lime to prevent their sprouting.
Nutmeg trees may reach a height of about 20 metres (65 feet). They yield fruit eight years after sowing, reach their prime in 25 years, and bear fruit for 60 years or longer. The fruit is a pendulous drupe, similar in appearance to an apricot. When fully mature it splits in two, exposing a crimson-coloured aril, the mace, surrounding a single shiny brown seed, the nutmeg. The pulp of the fruit is eaten locally. After collection the aril-enveloped nutmegs are conveyed to curing areas where the mace is removed, flattened out, and dried. The nutmegs are dried gradually in the sun and turned twice daily over a period of six to eight weeks. During this time the nutmeg shrinks away from its hard seed coat until the kernels rattle in their shells when shaken. The shell is then broken with a wooden truncheon and the nutmegs are picked out. Dried nutmegs are grayish brown ovals with furrowed surfaces.
- nutmeg; maceThe feathery reddish aril that covers each nutmeg seed is removed to make mace.W.H. Hodge
- nutmegLeaves and fruits of nutmeg (Myristica fragrans).G.R. Roberts
Nutmeg and mace contain 7 to 14 percent essential oil, the principal components of which are pinene, camphene, and dipentene. Nutmeg on expression yields about 24 to 30 percent fixed oil called nutmeg butter, or oil of mace, the principal component of which is trimyristin. The oils are used as condiments and carminatives and to scent soaps and perfumes. An ointment of nutmeg butter has been used as a counterirritant and in treatment of rheumatism. When consumed in large amounts, nutmeg has psychoactive effects and is reported to be a deliriant and hallucinogen. Nutmeg poisoning is rarely fatal but can cause convulsions, palpitations, and pain.
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The name nutmeg is also applied in different countries to other fruits or seeds: the Jamaica, or calabash, nutmeg derived from Monodora myristica (family Annonaceae); the Brazilian nutmeg from Cryptocarya moschata (family Lauraceae); the Peruvian nutmeg from Laurelia aromatica (family Atherospermataceae); the Madagascar, or clove, nutmeg from Ravensara aromatica (family Lauraceae); and the California, or stinking, nutmeg from Torreya californica (family Taxaceae).
The 10 tiny Banda islands bask in the scattered, dazzled confusion of western Melanesia. There isn’t much nearby. Java is 2,000km west, and other Indonesian islands are a protracted, bobbing boat trip away. An almost entirely Muslim population of around 15,000 clings to these beautiful volcanic rocks, the oceans plunging 6km beneath them. Waves lap the white beaches and sea winds buffet the palms.
If it wasn’t for nutmeg, nobody would have heard of the Bandas. Nutmeg was these islands’ making, breaking and remaking. The spice very likely evolved here, and for centuries this was the only place it grew on the planet. The luckless archipelago has therefore suffered an importance in wild disproportion to its size, tossed and tussled over by European powers since its “discovery” in the 16th century. Run, the smallest island, had the hardest time of it, flicking between English and Dutch control like a metronome.
Nutmeg is the rarest of spices. Its woody balls are the stones or pips of fruits that plump from the nutmeg tree, the beautifully named Myristica fragrans. You can eat the fruit, too, if you’re lucky enough to get it: in Sulawesi they sugar it, then dry it in the sun so it partially ferments. It’s said to taste a bit like crystallised ginger. Mace is the vividly red, lacy covering that creeps like ivy round the nutmeg stone. The trees can live to 100 and will yield up to 20,000 nutmegs a season, but that fecundity has never lowered the cost of the spice.
The history of nutmeg is remarkable and illuminating. By the sixth century, the spice had reached Byzantium, 12,000km away. Around 1,000AD, the Persian physician Ibn Sina described the “jansi ban” or Banda nut. The Arabs traded nutmeg through the dark and middle ages, latterly funnelling it through Venice to season the tables of the European aristocracy. It was always fantastically expensive: a 14th-century German price table reveals that a pound of it cost as much as “seven fat oxen”.
It’s no exaggeration to say that the hunt for nutmeg helped build the modern commercial world. In 1453, the Ottoman Turks conquered Constantinople (modern Istanbul), embargoing trade across the sole sliver of land through which a few merchants had evaded the Arab-Venetian spice monopoly and forcing Europeans to find new eastern trade routes. Columbus sailed the blue Atlantic looking for a passage to India; and Vasco da Gama rounded the Cape of Good Hope in 1497, his men charging on to the shores of Kerala crying, “For Christ and spices!” The Portuguese military genius Afonso de Albuquerque annexed the Indonesian Molucca islands, of which the Bandas form part, in 1511. The fortresses he built there established and then consolidated a Portuguese monopoly over the world’s nutmeg that lasted almost a whole cushy century.
But nutmeg was always worth fighting for. The Dutch East India Company (VOC), that most scrupulous and fair-minded of organisations, seized all but one of the Bandas in the early 1600s, swiftly enslaving the native occupants. In 1603, the English gained a toehold in the trade by arranging to export Run’s nutmeg, seemingly without force or guile. The Dutch and English then fought skirmishes, punctuated by faltering truces, over tiny Run for the next 60 years. Eventually, they settled on a compromise. The English agreed to “swap” Run for a Dutch holding in the far west, a fur trading post named Manhattan …
The Netherlanders enforced their nutmeg monopoly with paranoid brutality, banning the export of the trees, drenching every nutmeg in lime before shipping to render it infertile, and imposing the death penalty on anyone suspected of stealing, growing or selling nutmegs elsewhere. When some Bandanese failed to appreciate the VOC’s God-given right to control the nutmeg trade – it’s possible the islanders hadn’t understood the “contract” to which they’d “agreed” – the then head of the Company, Jan Pieterszoon Coen, ordered the systematic quartering and beheading of every Bandanese male over the age of 15. The population of the Banda islands was around 15,000 when the VOC arrived. 15 years later, it was 600.
With this militarised vision of ruthless capitalism, the VOC became the richest corporation in the world. By 1669 it was paying its shareholders an annual dividend of 40% while sustaining 50,000 employees, 10,000 soldiers and around 200 ships, many armed. The Dutch perpetuated their nutmeg monopoly by obdurate force and pathological secrecy, never revealing to traders the islands’ location. Then, in 1769, the impeccably named Pierre Poivre, a kind of roving French horticulturalist somewhere between the Scarlet Pimpernel and Alan Titchmarsh, swooped on to the archipelago under the noses of the Dutch and smuggled out nutmegs and nutmeg trees. The French planted the seeds on their colony Mauritius, and the Dutch monopoly was broken.
Finally, the British occupied the islands from 1796 to 1802, and were then able to grow nutmeg in Penang and Singapore and thereafter in their other possessions. The Caribbean island of Grenada, a longstanding British colony, eventually became the world’s second leading nutmeg exporter.
What made nutmeg so captivating, so costly, for so long? One factor was its sheer rarity: you can see a similar effect today in £10,000-a-kilo beluga caviar and in a few red wines glugged mainly by boorish oligarchs. But nutmeg was always more than a flavouring. In its early history, like most spices, the Arabs traded it as scent, aphrodisiac and medicine. During the Black Death, nutmeg commanded hysterical prices because desperate people believed it might ward off plague. Perhaps it did: fleas seem to dislike (pdf) the smell of nutmeg, so it’s just possible that someone carrying the spice might have avoided that fatal, final bite.
But the old apothecaries were more cautious with nutmeg than with other spices. The Salerno School, the leading European medical establishment during the early Middle Ages, decreed: “One nut is good for you, the second will do you harm, the third will kill you.” That isn’t strictly true, but in large doses nutmeg can be intoxicating. Its oil contains myristicin: in large doses this acts as a deliriant, while causing palpitations, convulsions, nausea, dehydration and pain. It’s fatal to a number of animals, including dogs.
In the appendix to Naked Lunch, William Burroughs’s hilarious, spasmodic and harrowing novel of excess and ecstasy, he writes that South American “medicine men” snorted powdered nutmeg to “go into convulsive states. Their twitchings and mutterings are thought to have prophetic significance.” Malcolm X described US prisoners taking nutmeg in his autobiography; the authorities soon discovered and banned the practice.
Nutmeg’s hallucinogenic reputation survives, and thanks to the wonders of modern technology we can all join the most boring party in the world by watching videos of gangly teenagers trying to get high on it. Most of the time it doesn’t work, but some thrillseekers report positive effects, while this gothy emo type declares woozily after his dose, “I can’t really feel my heart and my back hurts a little bit.” Heroin, move over.
Historically, mace was more common in cooking: it tended to be cheaper than nutmeg because it’s rather more pungent, as well as easier to sell in small quantities. 16th and 17th century French flâneurs would commission engraved portable nutmeg graters: they’d bring these to dinner parties and get down to some fashionable sprinkling. But the French taste for nutmeg fell away in later centuries, and now, in that cuisine, the spice is largely restricted to white sauces such as béchamel. Thanks to Venice, the Italians still have a taste for nutmeg, particularly in Tuscany.
The Dutch, who had time to get to know nutmeg, add it to most of their vegetable dishes. It’s also popular in Québec, that gastronomically forsaken province which retains a number of eating habits from 17th century France. The spice is popular in historical spheres of Moorish influence but not, oddly, in India. In England, nutmegs are essential to the spiced foods of Christmas, to custard tarts and to the mealy, stodgy brood of national puddings. It has an affinity with cinnamon and can often take its place, and I like it with – but not instead of – chocolate on a cappuccino. It’s lovely in mashed potato.
Of course, the spice is almost universally available today, and not particularly expensive. Dinky, rattling jars on supermarket shelves don’t begin to hint at its past, and most people grate it without a thought. But the story of food can sometimes be the story of humanity, and nowhere does that seem more true than in the case of nutmeg, the headiest, most alluring, most blood-soaked of the spices.
Description of Nutmeg
Nutmeg is one of the more popular spices in use today. The term nutmeg applies to both the spice itself and the tree from which it is derived. Though it is not a commonly known fact, the nutmeg tree actually gives forth two slightly different spices. Obviously one of them is nutmeg. Nutmeg (the spice) is actually the inner part of the seed, the kernel. The other one is mace, which is derived from the inner covering of the seed.
Nutmeg trees actually come in different varieties. They are basically members of the evergreen family of trees. Of the many different varieties of nutmeg trees, the most significant is probably the Fragrant Nutmeg. It is also called the Common Nutmeg. Its scientific name is Myristica fragrans and it is native to Asia, specifically the Banda Islands of Indonesia. The Common Nutmeg also grows in the Moluccas Islands and other parts of the world. Other species occur all over the world.
In general, the nutmeg tree grows up to about 25 feet tall. It has smooth bark which is somewhat brown or gray in color. The nutmeg tree grows flowers but it is the seed that interests spice lovers all over the world. As mentioned earlier, the two parts of the seed are used as spices. The seed kernel is fleshy, white, and veined. This seed kernel (or simply nutmeg) is full of oil, which plays an important role in its being a sought after spice.
The History of Nutmeg
The use of nutmeg as a spice can be traced way back before the Middle Ages. During those times, the Arabs had the monopoly of the spice trade. However, in 1951, the Europeans struck gold when the famed explorer Vasco de Gama discovered the Moluccas Islands. He then claimed it in the name of his country, Portugal. Nutmeg being native to this area, Portugal suddenly had a goldmine in their hands. Realizing the value of nutmeg as a spice, Portugal tried to contain the growth of the tree. About a century later, the Dutch took over the area and were even more possessive of the monopoly in spices. They even went as far as to treat the seeds so that no one else could plant and cultivate nutmeg trees. Nature, however, has its own way of dealing with things. Nutmeg trees were able to grow in different islands due to the birds that scattered the seeds.
The Dutch monopoly ended when a Frenchman by the name of Pierre Poivre was able to smuggle nutmeg seeds. Thus the French started their own nutmeg plantations in their own colonies. Their colony Mauritius served as the site for these plantations. Later on, the rest of the world was able to get their hands on the nutmeg tree.
Uses for Nutmeg
Much like other spices, nutmeg has a wide variety of uses. As a spice, fresh nutmeg is widely used in dishes that tend to be on the sweet side. Fresh nutmeg is usually grated and then used for culinary purposes. To test whether the nutmeg is still fresh or not, prick the seed with a needle. If some oil oozes out then you’re good. Otherwise, the nutmeg has probably gone bad or is too dry to give off a good flavor.
Desserts such as pies, puddings, tarts, custards, and cakes are common dishes which make use of nutmeg. Coffee lovers would definitely know nutmeg as one of the spices added to their favorite drink to enhance its flavor. Nutmeg is also used to flavor dips and cheeses. However, its close relative, the mace, is favored when it comes to these concoctions because of its more delicate flavor and slight coloring properties. Nutmeg is also used in soups and curries. Furthermore, drinks such as eggnog, mulled, and spiced wines are not complete without a dash of nutmeg.
Essential oils extracted from the nutmeg seed are quite useful as well. Baked goods are one of the common uses of nutmeg oil. Syrups, such as those used in sodas, also contain nutmeg essential oils. Other commercial products that contain essential oils from nutmeg are toothpaste and cough syrups. The advantage of essential oils over grated nutmeg is that they do not leave any grit or particles. Nutmeg, in butter form, also finds another use in commercial applications. It is sometimes used as a substitute for cocoa butter.
Nutmeg is also used for medicinal purposes. Nutmeg is known to treat stomach related illnesses such as diarrhea and flatulence. It is also purported to be able to treat nausea, bad breath, indigestion, and vomiting. Orally, nutmeg oil can be used to ease a toothache or even muscle pain. The aroma of nutmeg further helps in the treatment. Nutmeg oil may be used alone or mixed with other essential oils to achieve a stronger effect.
Not many people know it but nutmeg has some dangers associated with it. It can actually be toxic in large amounts. However, average consumption is not likely to cause dangerous effects. Another negative effect of over consumption of nutmeg is hallucination. In fact, some have drawn a link between nutmeg’s effects to that of the drug ecstasy’s. Other effects are mild euphoria and psychosis. The latter effect can only occur if a really large quantity of nutmeg is ingested. It is manifested by extreme agitation and the sense of impending death or doom. This is also called Nutmeg Psychosis. Milder effects of nutmeg are palpitations, convulsions, nausea, and dehydration. Though these effects seem extreme, there is really no danger when nutmeg is used for culinary purposes as only tiny amounts are used in cooking.
Culinary experts prefer freshly grated nutmeg when whipping up their dishes but nutmeg is also available in prepackaged form, or ground nutmeg. Ground nutmeg is widely available in supermarkets and grocery stores. It can be used the same way freshly grated nutmeg is used. In fact, coffee shops usually provide ground nutmeg for use in their coffees. Though definitely more convenient to use, ground nutmeg is generally considered to be inferior to freshly grated nutmeg because the essential oils are lost during the process of making ground nutmeg.