Learn more about this widely used, warm, wholesome spice.
Origins, Appearance, and History of Nutmeg
Nutmeg is a warm, rich, somewhat sweet, brownish-red spice that comes from the evergreen nutmeg tree, which produces both nutmeg and mace. This spice comes from the seed of the fruit of the nutmeg tree, which looks similar to a walnut. Although the outside of the seed is very hard, it's surprisingly easy to grate. The lacy reddish membrane of the seed can be dried and used as the spice called mace. In the early 1500s the seed was spread and many areas began growing nutmeg, much to the dismay of those who tried to keep it to themselves and make a profit off its trade in the early days.
Some people believe nutmeg symbolizes luck, money, health, and fidelity.
Ground nutmeg is similar in flavor and appearance to ground cinnamon, although not as sweet and red, and nutmeg is a bit more savory and rich. This spice is very aromatic, with rich, sweet, savory, warm tones.
Medicinal Uses of Nutmeg
Nutmeg has antibacterial properties that can help rid the body of dangerous germs, especially in the mouth. This spice has been used to prevent flatulence, aid digestion, improve appetite, help control asthma, relax muscles, and is also used in some cultures as an aphrodisiac. Nutmeg has been used to treat depression, anxiety, impotence, and liver disease in some cultures. Essential oils that have many uses, from natural flavorings to perfumes, are also produced from this spice to make nutmeg oil. Spices.Suite101.com claims that "this oil has been known to support the adrenal glands. Also, nutmeg oil has aided in the recovery of gout, arthritis, aches, pains, nausea and aid in sleep issues."
Some claim nutmeg mixtures can help with diarrhea; eczema, acne, and other skin conditions; and to help relieve insomnia, among many other uses. Nutmeg is good for the cardiovascular system and helps lower blood pressure when ingested regularly at safe intervals.
Because nutmeg is known to also have anti-inflammatory properties, its essential oils have been used to treat muscles and joint pain as well as increase blood circulation. It has also been used for ages to detoxify the body. InDepthInfo.com states that in "wholistic medicine it is considered an excellent liver tonic which can help remove toxins. Nutmeg oil is also a good herb for the kidney, helping it dissolve kidney stones as well as relieve infections."
Nutmeg rapidly loses its flavor once ground, so it's recommended to buy whole nutmeg and grate as needed. Also, nutmeg should be added after cooking is complete so it's not heated to further lose or change its flavor. Nutmeg should be stored in cool, dark, dry areas. According to TheEpiCentre.com, one "whole nutmeg grated equals 2 to 3 teaspoons of ground nutmeg." Spices.Suite101.com states that you may use "mace in place of nutmeg and vice versa in recipes. Due to mace's delicate flavor, you may need to double the amount of mace used in recipes that ask for nutmeg, and half the amount of nutmeg used in recipes that request mace."
This spice is very versatile. It can be used to compliment the flavor of many foods. Since it has sweet and warm undertones, it very well compliments apples, pies, custards, coffees, eggnog, and other hot drinks, puddings, pumpkin dishes, sweet breads, cakes, and more. And because it is rich and savory, it also works well with a number of other foods, including greens, cabbage, curries, chicken dishes, ham, shellfish, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, squash, and many more foods.
Allergies to nutmeg are very rare and it's a very safe spice. Although small doses are safe, nutmeg contains something called myristicin, which can produce hallucinations and other psychiatric conditions, and, according to CompleteWellBeing.com, can result in "convulsions, palpitations, generalised body pain, vomiting, nausea and eventual dehydration. Followed by long, deep almost coma-like sleep, it can even cause death." On the other hand, small doses of myristicin are thought to improve memory and help curb Alzheimer's disease.
Pregnant women may want to avoid the spice as well because it is thought to possibly trigger miscarriages. This spice may also be unsafe for a number of different types of pets.
Always remember that nutmeg, like many other spices, can be toxic in high doses, so never use it in excess. A little goes a long way in terms of flavor as well as health benefits!