Nutmeg spice comes from the seed of an evergreen tree native to Indonesia. Freshly picked, this seed has a red aril covering over it which is removed in production. This covering is mace.
Nutmeg was an extremely expensive yet popular spice in the Middle Ages when Europeans traded it with Arab traders who kept its source a closely guarded secret. The monopoly was later taken over by various European groups in succession and all sorts of espionage and even battles have occurred because of this fruit.
In the Americas, Connecticut traders were rumored to have whittled imitation nutmeg seeds out of wood for sale. The term “wooden nutmeg” became a common term for any fraud.
During Elizabethan times, Nutmeg developed a reputation as a cure for the plague. It has also been used to terminate pregnancies and has psychoactive and hallucinogenic effects in larger doses. Nutmeg is toxic in large doses.
Nutmeg is used mostly in sweet dishes and eggnog and mulled wine in the US but it is used on vegetables and meats in the cuisine of Southern Europe, the Middle East, and Morocco. I find a few grates of nutmeg perk up dairy dishes, such as macaroni and cheese casserole, egg-y dishes like potato salad and custards.
I prefer to grind nutmeg fresh for each use. The nuts hold their flavor much better than the pre-ground spice and the difference is very noticeable. Rumor has it that rice flour, or nutmeg seeds that have been steamed distilled of their essential oils, or other ingredients are added to ground nutmeg to keep it from clumping due to its high fat content. This may have something to do with the flavor discrepancy. Nutmeg grates easily using a special nutmeg grating tool, a nutmeg grinder, or use the finest grate on your good old-fashioned box grater. Just place the box grater on a plate and pass the nut several times over the panel with the finest grate, then tip the grated nutmeg from the plate into your measuring device, using a butter knife to direct the flow. The difficulty of transfer of the sticky powder from the plate to the measuring device is solved by the specially designed grater or grinder, so if you use a lot of nutmeg, it’s worth the investment.
If you end up with a little chunk of nutmeg that you can’t grate without grating your fingers, toss it into a pan of milk and heat slowly and retain the heat without boiling for about 5 minutes, then remove the nut bit. Add some honey and enjoy!
A whole nutmeg seed can be carried for good luck, especially in gambling.
Nutmeg is rich in manganese. Large doses of nutmeg are toxic, hallucinogenic, and dangerous to pregnancies.
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