Silly Food Fact
Nutmeg caused a war! We think of nutmeg as a simple eggnog spice, but its production was supremely valuable several hundred years ago. Back then, nutmeg trees—50’ tall tropical evergreen trees that take 8 years to yield a first harvest—only grew on a few Indonesian islands. In 1621 the Dutch waged a war to control the islands just for their nutmeg production. They even sent out warships to destroy nutmeg trees planted elsewhere.
Why Our Bodies Love It
Oil obtained from nutmeg is used in the pharmaceutical industry and is often found toothpaste and cough syrup. Nutmeg has a long history of medicinal uses, including treating indigestion, nervous disorders, and toothaches. Today, there are still proponents of using nutmeg for such ailments, but too much nutmeg can be dangerous. It contains a narcotic component with toxic side effects if overused. Using nutmeg in typical quantities as a spice, however, is certainly safe.
Care and Picking
Nutmeg trees grow fruit about the size of an apricot, and inside this fruit is a 1” long egg-shaped seed—that’s the nutmeg. Covering the seed is a reddish membrane, which is a second spice: mace. Yes, nutmeg and mace are sister spices, both from the same tree. In flavor, nutmeg is slightly sweeter, and it is typically ground or grated to enhance both sweet and savory dishes.
Tips and Warnings
To truly enjoy the warm, sweet-spicy flavor of nutmeg, purchase whole nutmeg and grate it yourself. Store the whole nutmeg in an airtight container, ideally in a cool, dark place, and it will keep for months. Ground nutmeg can quickly lose the intrinsic oils that provide flavor. Here’s a quick test to determine the quality of a whole nutmeg: poke a sewing needle a half inch into the nutmeg; if a tiny drop of oil appears, the nutmeg is fresh, flavorful, and ready to be grated.
Watch this video and learn how to grate nutmeg.
Check out our favorite recipes using nutmeg