Nutmeg has a warm, sweet, slightly pungent aroma and taste. Ground nutmeg is a clumpy, light colored, orange-brown powder. In this form, nutmeg will lose its potency more quickly than when stored as a whole kernel. Using ground nutmeg when fresh will yield highly aromatic dishes with nutty, warm and slight sweet flavors. Its layered pungency has notes of citrus.
Ground nutmeg is a bakery staple and familiar component of fall baked-good spice combinations that often include cinnamon, allspice, ginger, and clove. It is also an exotic addition to autumn root vegetable or squash dishes, or on ice creams and custards.
Nutmeg is an ingredient in the Pumpkin Spice blends that are so ubiquitous in fall lattes, ciders, cocoas, and coffees.
Nutmeg seed kernel
PROCESSING / FORM
nutmeg seed fragrant nutmeg true nutmeg
Nutmeg is the kernel of the edible fruit of the Myristica fragrans tree. When fully mature the fruit will split in half to reveal a seed encased in a crimson-colored fleshy wrapper. This wrapper, called an aril, is dried (sometimes also ground) and is itself used as the spice called mace. The seed and aril are collected together, then separated so that the mace can be flattened out and sun-dried. The kernels too are left in the sun to dry until the kernel within the hard seed coat pulls away from its housing and rattles when shaken. The seed is then broken and the nutmeg kernel is retrieved.
This tropical evergreen is a prodigious producer, it can yield up to 20,000 nutmeg seeds in a season and can live up to 100 years. It is native to the Moluccas (aka Spice Islands) and is still mainly cultivated there and areas surrounding there. As with so many spices, ownership and cultivation of nutmeg became a contention between with the Dutch and English in the 1600s. This struggle embroiled the region, and other areas of the globe, with violent skirmishes and attempts at peace for 60 years. This tension and warfare ultimately culminated in the Treaty of Breda in 1664. If the treaty is unfamiliar the outcome won't be. The treaty featured a swap compromise: control of the islands went to the Dutch; control of a fur-trading post in the new world went to the English, who renamed this claimed land Manhattan.
At the time the Dutch capitalized on their spice holdings by banning export of the trees, and drenching seeds in lime to ensure infertility before shipping them off the islands. They further ensured their monopoly by not only hiding the location of the island but by slaughtering locals by the hundreds to discourage unsanctioned trade. In 1769 a French horticulturist was able to successfully smuggle out and replant nutmeg trees, thus ending the monopoly.
Cardamom is a strong spice with equal parts menthol, floral, and sweet flavor. It is widely used in traditional Indian, Middle Eastern and Nordic cuisines as well as a popular flavoring for tea and coffee.