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NUTMEG & MACE

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.

Botany

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.

Culinary use

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.

 

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