Myristica fragrans Houtt.
Family : Myristicaceae
DescriptionNutmeg is the seed
of an apricot-like fruit of the nutmeg tree and mace is its arillus,
a thin leathery tissue between the stone and the pulp. Both spices
are strongly aromatic, resinous and warm in taste. Mace is generally
said to have a finer aroma than nutmeg, but the difference is small.
Nutmeg quickly loses its fragrace when ground. Naturally, nutmeg
is limited to the Banda Islands, a tiny archipelago in Eastern Indonesia
(Moluccas). Main producing countries today are Indonesia (East Indian
Nutmeg) and Grenada (West Indian Nutmeg); the latter is regarded
as inferior. In many European countries, the name of nutmeg derives
from Latin nux muscatus "musky nut; moschate nut"; the Middle English
form is notemugge. Mace goes back to Greek makir, which was used
to denote an oriental spice, though it is not clear whether this
was identical to mace.
These spices have been appreciated
since Roman times. Because of its very limited geographical distribution,
nutmeg and mace became known in Europe comparatively late (11th
century). Although nutmeg was available in Europe since the 13th
century, significant trade started not before the 16.th century,
when Portuguese ships sailed to India and further, to the famed
spice islands (Moluccas). During the 17th century, the Dutch succeeded
in monopolizing the nutmeg trade, as they did with cloves. This
situation changed only in the 18.th century, when the Frenchman
Pierre Poivre succeeded in smuggling nutmeg trees from the Bandas
to Mauritius and thereby broke the Dutch monopoly. The British East
India Company introduced this tree to Penang, Singapore, India,
Sri Lanka and the West Indies.
The nutmeg tree is a large evergreen
native to the Banda Islands in the Moluccas and grows to a height
of about 18 m. It produces fruits fifteen to twenty years after
planting. The fruit of nutmeg tree, which is similar in colour and
size to apricot, splits when ripe revealing the brilliant red arils
encasing the brown nut. The red arils on drying become orange in
colour and are the mace of commerce. The nut is also dried until
the kernel inside rattles.
Nutmeg contains about 10% essential
oil, which is mostly composed of terpene hydrocarbons (pinenes,
camphene, p-cymene, sabinene, phellandrene, terpinene, limonene,
myrcene, together 60 to 90%), terpene derivatives (linalool, geraniol,
terpineol, together 5 to 15%) and phenylpropanes (myristicine, elemicine,
safrol, together 2 to 20%). Of the latter group, myristicine (methoxy-safrol)
is responsible for the hallucinogenic effect of large nutmeg dosages
(typically, one or more nuts). Oil of mace (up to 12% in the spice)
contains the same aroma components in slightly different amounts.
Aroma and flavour
Mace is used to flavour milk-based
sauces and is widely used in processed meats. It is also added sparingly
to delicate soups and sauces with fish or seafood. Pickles or chutneys
may be seasoned with mace. Nutmeg is a traditional flavouring for
cakes, gingerbreads, biscuits and fruit or milk puddings. Today,
nutmeg's popularity has shrunken and the spice is less used, still
most in Arab countries, Iran and Northern India, where both nutmeg
and mace appear in delicately-flavoured meat dishes.
In Western cuisine, nutmeg and mace
are more popular for cakes, crackers and stewed fruits; nutmeg is
sometimes used to flavour cheese. The combination of spinach with
nutmeg is somewhat a classic, especially for Italian stuffed noodles.
The greatest lovers of nutmeg in today's Europe, though, are the
Dutch. They use it for cabbage, potato and other vegetables, but
also for meat, soups, stews and sauces. Since quite a large fraction
of nutmeg is today grown in Grenada, nutmeg has entered several
Caribbean cuisines. In Grenada, it's omnipresent, the locals even
eating nutmeg-flavoured ice cream! Nutmeg is an optional ingredient
in a famous Caribbean spice paste, Jamaican jerk.
Medicinal and other use
In Indonesia, the (woody and very
sour) pulp is used to make a delicious jam with fine nutmeg aroma.
In Malaysia the fleshy outer husk is crystallized or pickled and
then sold as a delicious snack.Nutmeg is a narcotic in excess quantities.
It is astringent, a stimulant and an aphrodisiac. Nutmeg oil is
used in perfumes and ointments.