Muskatnuss / nutmeg / noix de muscade /

18 Interesting Facts About Nutmeg

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Nutmeg is a popular spice made from the seed of Myristica fragrans, an evergreen tree native to Indonesia. This warm, nutty spice has been used for centuries in both sweet and savory dishes across the globe.

Facts About Nutmeg

File:Nutmeg fruit with kernel and mace.jpg
File:Nutmeg fruit with kernel and mace.jpg by Slashme is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 .

1. Nutmeg is not a nut.

Despite its name, nutmeg is the seed from the fruit of the nutmeg tree. The fruit looks like an apricot or a large plum. Inside is the crimson mace “aril” surrounding the single hard brown seed – the nutmeg.

2. Indonesia and Grenada dominate production.

Indonesia produces 75% of the world’s nutmeg supply, primarily from the Banda Islands. Grenada is the second largest producer, responsible for 20% of global production. Its nutmeg industry suffered after Hurricanes Ivan and Emily but is now recovering.

3. Wars were fought over nutmeg.

In the 1600s, the Dutch waged a bloody war for control of the Banda Islands to monopolize nutmeg production and trade. Nutmeg was once considered more valuable than gold.

4. Nutmeg was once believed to ward off the plague.

During the Elizabethan era, nutmeg was believed to ward off the bubonic plague. People carried nutmeg in small boxes with built-in graters.

5. Nutmeg has a dark history of being abused.

In the past, people have abused nutmeg for its psychoactive effects. The compounds myristicin and safrole can cause hallucinations, nausea, dizziness and agitation when taken in excess.

6. Mace comes from the same fruit.

Mace is the dried aril surrounding the nutmeg seed. It imparts a spicier, more peppery flavor compared to nutmeg’s sweetness.

7. The essential oil is used in food and cosmetics.

Nutmeg essential oil is extracted from the seeds. It’s used commercially to add flavor to sweets, baked goods, ice cream, beverages and tobacco. It’s also found in perfumes and soaps.

8. Nutmeg butter has many uses, too.

About 75% of a nutmeg seed can be pressed to produce nutmeg butter. It’s used as a substitute for cocoa butter and coconut oil in products like soaps, cosmetics and pharmaceuticals.

9. Nutmeg takes years to produce.

It can take up to eight years for a nutmeg tree to produce fruit after planting. Trees reach peak production at 25 years old and bear fruit for 60+ years.

10. Sexual propagation is tricky.

Only female nutmeg trees bear the valuable seeds. As there’s no way to determine sex before growth, farmers propagate trees via grafts to ensure female plants.

11. Nutmeg can improve digestion.

Nutmeg has been used traditionally to treat digestion issues like diarrhea, nausea and gas. Studies show it enhances the release of gastric juices to improve the digestion process.

12. It contains compounds that help reduce inflammation.

The essential oil contains compounds like sabinene that demonstrate anti-inflammatory activities. This can help with inflammatory conditions like arthritis, gout and asthma.

13. Nutmeg may boost brain function.

Animal studies reveal that nutmeg extracts improve learning capacity and memory. Researchers believe this effect comes from antioxidants that support neurotransmitter function.

14. Nutmeg is added to chai tea in India.

In Ayurvedic medicine, nutmeg powder is added to chai tea along with other spices like cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, and black pepper. This mixture has many medicinal benefits.

15. It’s a key ingredient in eggnog.

Nutmeg is the signature flavor of eggnog. It adds warmth, sweetness, and fragrance to the classic holiday beverage traditionally made with milk, cream, eggs, and sugar.

16. Nutmeg pairs well with starchy vegetables.

The sweet, nutty spice is delicious when paired with starchy roasted veggies like sweet potatoes, squash, carrots and parsnips. It brings out their natural sweetness.

17. A little goes a long way.

You only need 1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon of ground nutmeg to flavor an entire dish. Start with a small amount when adding it to recipes until you determine desired taste.

18. Buy whole nutmeg and grate fresh.

Whole nutmeg retains its flavor and aroma better than pre-ground. For optimal flavor, grate only as much as you need right before adding it to your dish using a fine grater or microplane.

In conclusion, nutmeg is a versatile spice that has been prized globally for centuries. Today, it continues to flavor both sweet and savory dishes thanks to its warm, nutty taste and enticing fragrance. Indonesia dominates production, but Grenada’s nutmeg industry is recovering after natural disasters. From its intriguing history to its many uses and health benefits, nutmeg remains a beloved ingredient in the kitchen.

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