Know Your Spices

Nutmeg and Mace – The delicate and unique spices 

Giving a unique taste to your dish

The unique spiciness and a hint of the sweet warm taste of nutmeg are mainly used for confections and cakes, soups, stews, preserves and baked delicacies. The most famous Christmassy special punch eggnog is sprinkled with nutmeg to give it the festive taste.  It goes well with melted cheese.  Mace has a flavour that blends well with all spices. Similar to black pepper it is used in doughnuts, cakes, and pies. 

Nutmeg is the seed of the genus Myristica fragrans. The genus is a perennial tree which boasts of dark-leaves. The tree is cultivated for two spices which originate from its fruit. The two spices are nutmeg (obtained from the seed of the fruit) and mace (obtained from the reddish skin or aril of the seed.) The nutmeg seed is dried in the sun for more than six weeks to get the spice. 

Setting it apart 

Similar in flavour to nutmeg, mace has a delicate flavour that lends itself to pickles, fish and meat dishes. Nutmeg has a pungent, warm sweet spicy aroma that lends itself to various dishes including the holiday special, eggnog. 

Cultivation

Myristica fragrans gives two separate spices – nutmeg and mace. Nutmeg is the dried seed kernel and mace is the dried aril around it. 

Nutmeg is indigenous to tropical places like Indonesia (over 50% of the world’s exporters of nutmeg and mace,) followed by Grenada. Malaysia and the Caribbean also cultivate these two spices. In India, nutmeg is mainly cultivated in various districts of Kerala and parts of Tamil Nadu. 

Nutmeg blossoms in warm humid conditions in areas where the rainfall is more than 150cm. Both, dry weather and water-logged areas, are not suitable. Hence planting is done at the start of the monsoon season. Nutmeg is cross-pollinated and can be grown as an intermediate planting in gardens where ideal shade conditions are available. Coconut gardens near river beds can be a good location for nutmeg cultivation. The young plants in their early stages need to be protected from the sun. If nutmeg is grown as a single crop, monocrop, then a permanent shade is best suited, that too on a hilly slope. The perfect soil for its cultivation is clay loam, sandy loam and red laterite soils. A good tree yield varies hugely from a few hundred to about 10,000 fruits. Fertilisers should be applied in shallow pits around the plants. Summer months are set aside for irrigation. 

A healthy cheer 

Nutmeg and mace are both plant products used more as a spice for flavouring than for any medicinal purposes. Early research shows that nutmeg was used for cavities in the first set of teeth in children. They were used for other conditions as well as nutmeg and mace are also known to kill bacteria and fungi. 

Trivia

Nutmeg oil is used as a fragrance in soaps and cosmetics. 

Nutmeg oil is filtered from nutmeg seeds which have been eaten by worms. The worms remove the starchy fat, leaving only those portions of the seed that are oil-rich. 

The best way to use nutmeg flavouring is to buy it whole and grate it just before you add them to the food. Nutmeg oil evaporates rapidly. 

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