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Black pepper, nutmeg, allspice, cinnamon, cloves. Wilmsen, 1821.
Sorting Nutmeg, Grenada. Photo: Axel Steenberg. Flickr.

Nutmeg is one of the classic spices.

Nutmeg is light brown and woody, with the wrinkly shape of quail's eggs. When ungrated, nutmegs exude some aroma of the camphorous, pine-like flavours, but the taste and smell only really become rich after lightly grating when it gives out a warm woodiness, with hints of clove.

Grind nutmeg as you need it, which releases its volatile oils from the oil-containing veins within the nut (you can see these developing as you grind them through a symmetrical light and dark-brown pattern through the seed lengthways). Nutmeg's aroma is warm, aromatic and gently pleasing, while its flavour is also warming but has some sweetness.

Nutmeg's warm flavour complements sweet dishes, e.g. milk puddings, and savoury dishes including fish, cheese dishes, soufflés andgreen vegetables, e.g. spinach. In the Middle East, nutmeg is used to flavour lamb and mutton stews. However, nutmeg has a strong flavour that should be used sparingly.

The nutmeg fruit looks like a nectarine. When the fruit is ripe, the fruit is picked and the flesh cut off the shell, making sure the shiny, blood-red mace on the outside is not removed or damaged. After the mace has been peeled from the nutmeg shell, the nutmeg nutcase is dried further; once it is dry, the nutmeg seed rattles within the smooth outer shell. The nut rattling in the outer shell is the spice nutmeg; as above, the nutmeg is dull brown, wrinkled and hard.

Further reading

  • Hemphill, I., Hemphill, K. (2014) The Spice and Herb Bible, Robert Rose. ISBN: 9780778804932.
  • Norman, J. (2015) Herbs & Spices: The Cook's Reference, DK Publishing. ISBN: 9781465435989.