Nutmeg, a delicious spice that was used as both a drug and an aphrodisiac. How to use it in the kitchen?

In the Middle Ages, it was worn as an amulet to ward off injury, illness and evil forces.

It was considered a powerful aphrodisiac in India and China.

Nutmeg has been much more than just a spice since time immemorial.

Learn to work magic with it in a modern kitchen.

How is the nut, which is actually a seed, actually obtained?

Can it really be used as a drug?

Discover all the secrets of this aromatic spice with us.

What is nutmeg?

Nutmeg, like mace, comes from a tropical tree called myristica fragrans. As the name suggests, this tree is characterized by a strong fragrance that comes from its pale yellow flowers. Nutmeg fruits resemble apricots in their shape, color and size.

The fruit of the fragrant nutmeg, which hides the nutmeg and the flower.

Unlike them, however, the most valuable part of this fruit is hidden inside, the seed or nutmeg and its red medulla or nutmeg flower. More precisely, the actual nutmeg is still hidden in the shell, which is removed after drying. Both spices have long been highly valued and sought after.

What does nutmeg look like?

Nutmeg is therefore not a nut from a botanical point of view, but the core of the seed of the fleshy fruit of the fragrant nutmeg tree. It is egg-shaped, light brown in color and its surface is wrinkled. The size is usually between 2 and 4 cm. It should be whole inside, without any cavities. It is available whole and ground.

What does nutmeg taste like?

This spice is known for its distinct flavor and aroma. Its taste is burning, slightly bitter. Due to the fact that essential oils are quite sensitive to high temperature, it is advisable to add to dishes just before the end of their preparation. After grinding or grating, the nut acquires a warm and aromatic taste with notes of cloves.

Nutmeg is a typical autumn spice that often appears in autumn desserts and drinks. But you can also flavor meat, sauces, fish, rice, vegetables or soups with it. Last but not least, it is part of various spice mixes, such as gingerbread spice or ground curry.

In France, it is part of the popular quatre-epices mixture, which contains ground pepper, nutmeg, cloves and ginger. In Morocco, together with cumin, cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, anise, cloves and turmeric, we find it in the spice mixture ras el hanout.

Nutmeg whole vs. milled

Although ground nutmeg seems like a more convenient variant of this spice, the tastiest and most fragrant is nutmeg freshly ground or grated from whole seeds. One whole grated nutmeg will usually yield 2 to 3 teaspoons of ground nutmeg.

Wooden cutting board with whole and ground nutmeg.

What is the difference between nutmeg and flower?

Both the nutmeg and the flower come from the fruit of the nutmeg tree. While the nut is its kernel, the nutmeg is the dried shell that is originally found around the shell that hides the kernel. The flower is usually dried for only a few hours, while the seeds from which nutmeg is obtained are dried for six to eight weeks. In terms of taste and use, both spices are similar in many ways.

Comparison between nutmeg and flower.

What does nutmeg contain?

This spice contains a whole range of valuable substances and plant compounds that, in addition to its taste, give it exceptional effects. It is interesting to compare the nutritional value of nutmeg with mace. The table shows a comparison of one teaspoon or 1.7 grams of both spices.

Nutmeg Mace  
Energy 11.4 kcal 8.08 kcal
Water 0.137 g 0.139 g
Carbohydrates 1.08 g 0.859 g
Proteins 0.128 g 0.114 g
Fats 0.799 g 0.551 g
Fiber 0.458 g 0.343 g

In terms of vitamins, nutmeg mainly contains group B vitamins and vitamin C, and it contains a large amount of copper, manganese and iron as minerals.

Nutmeg Mace
Vitamin B1 0.008 mg 0.005 mg
Vitamin B2 0.001 mg 0.008 mg
Vitamin B3 0.029 mg 0.023 mg
Vitamin B6 0.004 mg 0.003 mg
Vitamin C 0.066 mg 0.357 mg
Potassium 7.7 mg 7.87 mg
Phosphorus 4.69 mg 1.87 mg
Magnesium 4.03 mg 2.77 mg
Copper 0.023 mg 0.042 mg
Calcium 4.05 mg 4.28 mg
Zinc 0.047 mg 0.039 mg
Iron 0.067 mg 0.236 mg

How to use nutmeg?

This distinctive aromatic spice can be found in many Asian and European cuisines. Ground or grated nutmeg is always used in dishes. It is better to grate it just before use, and since it loses some of its flavor and aroma due to temperature, it is advisable to add it only at the end of cooking.

Nutmeg grater.

It is also important to use only a very small amount of it. Otherwise, there is a risk that not only will its strong taste and aroma overpower everything else, but an excessive amount of nutmeg can also cause nausea and hallucinations.

  • In the United States, nutmeg is an important ingredient in the famous apple pie. Try using it when preparing apple pies . They go especially well with cinnamon.

  • If you like stuffing in various forms, not only the Easter stuffing, you can’t do without nutmeg. Use it when preparing stuffed chicken .

  • Adding nutmeg to a variety of ground meat recipes is popular. With its taste and aroma, it can enliven meatballs, meatballs, meatloaf and stuffed pepper pods.

  • In Italy, this spice it is often used in the preparation of stewed vegetables, it goes particularly well with recipes with spinach , Brussels sprouts, cauliflower or Swiss chard.

  • You will also appreciate the taste and aroma of this spice when making homemade pâtés , sausages and when pickling meat before grilling.

  • Last but not least, this spice is used to garnish various hot drinks, such as cappuccino and eggnog, to give them flavor and aroma.
A slice of apple pie with nutmeg.

What to replace nutmeg with?

Due to its unusual taste, it is not easy to replace nutmeg in recipes with other spices. It also depends to a large extent on the specific dish you are preparing. In general, anise, cumin, cloves, cinnamon, allspice or ginger are mentioned as possible substitutes for nutmeg.

Nutmeg storage

Whole and ground nuts should be stored in an airtight container in a dry and dark place. A whole nutmeg can last up to four years if stored properly.

Nutmeg and health

Although this spice is used more for its flavor than for its health benefits, it contains an impressive array of active ingredients that can help prevent disease and promote our health.

  • Antioxidants – this spice is rich in plant compounds that act as antioxidants in our body and protect cells from damage caused by free radicals. It contains a large number of antioxidants, including plant pigments such as cyanidins, essential oils such as phenylpropanoids and terpenes, and phenolic compounds, including protocatechuic and ferulic acids.

  • Anti-inflammatory properties – chronic inflammation is associated with many adverse health conditions, such as heart disease, diabetes and arthritis. Nutmeg is rich in anti-inflammatory compounds called monoterpenes, which may help reduce inflammation in the body and benefit people with inflammatory conditions. In one study, rats were injected with an inflammatory solution and then some of them were given nutmeg oil. There was a significant reduction in inflammation in the rats that consumed the oil.

  • Antibacterial Properties – Nutmeg has been shown to have antibacterial effects against potentially harmful strains of bacteria such as Streptococcus mutans and Aggregatibacter actinomycetemcomitans, which can cause tooth decay and gum disease. It has also been found to inhibit the growth of harmful strains of E.coli.

  • Heart Health and Blood Sugar – Animal studies show that using nutmeg reduces risk factors for heart disease, such as high cholesterol and triglycerides, as well as blood sugar and pancreas function.

  • Digestive system – this spice relieves digestive problems such as nausea, stomach cramps or ulcers. Its anti-diarrheal properties are very well known and appreciated.

  • Brain Health – Nutmeg is often associated with neuroprotective properties. Studies suggest that the oils contained in nutmeg can help prevent and treat neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and Huntington’s.

  • Liver Health – Since this spice is rich in myrislignan, it can help alleviate liver damage. In the study, mice were given thioacetamide, a chemical compound that causes chronic liver diseases such as fibrosis and cirrhosis, and nutmeg. Its extracts may help reduce liver inflammation as well as free radical activity in the liver.

  • Insomnia – Nutmeg has been recommended for generations as a home remedy for insomnia. A pinch of this spice in warm milk is said to always help.

  • Antidepressant effects – in Ayurvedic medicine, the nut has long been valued for its healing properties when it comes to depression. Studies have confirmed that nutmeg extract does indeed exhibit possible antidepressant activity. Moreover, it may have fewer side effects than common allopathic medicines.

  • Skin Health – In traditional medicine, this spice has long been used to improve the appearance and health of the skin. It is most often applied as a paste mixed with water or honey, for example for acne problems. According to research, nutmeg has shown a positive response in the treatment of skin infections and at the same time delays premature aging caused by long-term exposure to ultraviolet radiation.

  • Aphrodisiac – some studies show that this spice can increase sexual appetite and performance. These effects are believed to be due to its ability to stimulate the nervous system along with its high content of active plant substances. In traditional Asian medicine, this spice is also used to treat sexual disorders.

Nutmeg as a drug

Although nutmeg is not harmful when consumed in small amounts, consuming it in high doses can cause unwanted side effects. This is because it contains the compounds myristicin, safrole and elemicin, which in our body turn into compounds similar to amphetamine and mescaline. In the past and today, nutmeg is sometimes used as a relaxation drug.

When ingested in large quantities, it causes symptoms such as hallucinations and loss of muscle coordination. Research shows that as little as 5 grams of ground nutmeg is enough to produce hallucinogenic effects similar to LSD.

However, nutmeg toxicity can cause serious symptoms such as rapid heartbeat, nausea, disorientation and vomiting. In combination with other drugs or a very high amount of about 25-30 grams, which corresponds to approximately seven nutmegs, it can even lead to coma and death.

Where does nutmeg come from?

The evergreen fragrant nutmeg originally grew only on the Indonesian islands of Banda and Ambon. On the territory of Asia, nutmeg was used as early as BC. It reached Europe only later, probably during the sixth century thanks to Arab and Indian spice traders. Throughout the Middle Ages, this spice was highly valued and expensive in Europe.

A special tool for harvesting the fruits of the nutmeg tree.

The high price was due to the fact that its cultivation was still limited to the area of Indonesia at that time. In the 16th century, however, the area fell to Portugal and later to the Netherlands. It was Holland that became the country that had a monopoly on the nutmeg trade for several hundred years. Today, nutmeg is grown not only in Indonesia, but also in the Caribbean and southern India.

Milan & Ondra

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