Nutmeg is the seed of the evergreen Myristica tree, which is still found mainly on the islands of Indonesia. The Nutmeg tree is important for not only the spice Nutmeg, but also for Mace.
The fruit is light yellow with red and green markings, resembling an apricot or a large plum. As the fruit matures, the outer fleshy covering bursts to reveal the seed.
The seed is covered with red membranes called an aril, the mace portion of the Nutmeg. The nut is then dried for up to 2 months until the inner nut rattles inside the shell. It is then shelled to reveal the valuable egg-shaped nutmeat which is the edible Nutmeg. The Nutmeg can come as the whole seed, or in powdered form. As the seed, Nutmeg is egg-shaped and usually weighs between 5 and 10 grammes. It is still relatively expensive and years ago Nutmeg was kept in a special wooden container.
Nutmeg is used in many different styles of cooking. Once it is ground, Nutmeg soon loses the oils which provide its flavour and taste, so grating fresh Nutmeg is recommended to achieve the full benefit of the fresh oils. It and Mace have similar sensory qualities, with Nutmeg having a slightly sweeter and mace a more delicate flavour. Mace is often preferred in light dishes for the bright orange it imparts. Nutmeg is used for flavouring many dishes, usually in ground or grated form, and is best grated fresh in a Nutmeg grater. In general, a Nutmeg grater is a tool with a fine rasp and a slightly curved surface. By rubbing the Nutmeg over the grater’s curved surface, the seed can be ground. Some graters have back units or containers meant for storing the Nutmeg, while others have containers with turning handles that grate the Nutmeg from the inside. Antique Nutmeg boxes can be very decorative in silver or wood have become very collectable.
Nutmeg is added to other spices in curries etc in Indian and Middle Eastern cuisine, but it can also be added to sweet dishes such as rice pudding and other milk based desserts.
Nutmeg is widely used in the perfumery and pharmaceutical industries in products such as toothpaste and cough medicine. Nutmeg and Nutmeg Oil were used for disorders related to the nervous and digestive systems. The Nutmeg Oil is colourless and is used as a natural food flavouring in baked products, syrups, drinks and sweets.
In Elizabethan times, Nutmeg was believed to ward off the plague and it therefore became very expensive, especially as Indonesia was the only place that Nutmeg could be found. Once the British took control of the Banda Islands in Indonesia, they managed to transplant the Nutmeg trees to places like Malaysia and Singapore.
Records show that Nutmeg has been used for centuries as a form of snuff and a semi-drug for students, prisoners and sailors.