Getting to Know Nutmeg & Mace is part of FBC's The Spice Box series, where we aim to help you build a well stocked spice cabinet that takes your cooking to the next level! What are nutmeg and mace? Are they the same thing or different? Read on to find out!
Latin Name of Nutmeg: Myristica fragrans
With the holiday season upon us, I'm reaching for some of my favourite fragrant spices: nutmeg and it’s companion spice, mace.
For me, nutmeg is probably the spice of the season, followed closely by cinnamon, star anise and cloves (it may or may not be a co-incidence that these spices are usually used in boozy eggnog and mulled wine.) The fragrance of nutmeg, for me, is indelibly associated with my home in India, and my mom’s famous flan. We also used to have a nutmeg tree in the garden, and we spent hours dangerously balanced on rickety ladders, harvesting these fruits for their precious kernels.
Are Nutmeg & Mace the Same Thing?
Are nutmeg and mace the same thing? Yes and no. As you may have noticed, there was only one latin name at the top of this article. Nutmeg and mace come from the same tree - in fact from the same fruit. The spice we know as nutmeg comes from the seed and mace comes from the seed covering.
Once the fruits of the nutmeg tree are harvested, the pulp is discarded to reveal the bright red covering of mace that surrounds the nutmeg seed. The mace gently slides off the kernel, and is carefully dried, at which point the colour changes to the amber/ orange we know it by.
The nutmeg seed is dried whole and, once dried, the hard outer covering can be cracked off to reveal the nut that we grate for culinary uses.
Where Does Nutmeg and Mace Come From?
Nutmeg and mace were originally from the Molucca Islands in Indonesia, but are currently grown all over the tropics. The major source for these spices is Indonesia, with Grenada following closely.
Flavour Profile of Nutmeg & Mace
Both nutmeg and mace have a very characteristic warm, woody fragrance.
The flavour of mace is lighter and more delicate and is usually used as a complement to nutmeg or when the flavour of nutmeg is too strong to be used by itself.
Nutmeg, on the other hand, is an assertive spice that holds it’s own in a lot of dishes. It has a strong, warm, woody aroma, and has slightly bitter tones that add character to many dishes.
Using Nutmeg and Mace In Your Cooking
Both mace and nutmeg are used in a wide variety of cuisines.
Mace, in particular, is an important component of several spice mixes, the most popular being Indian garam masala. It is best kept in its whole, dried form, and ground when required. A few blades of mace can make a big difference.
Unlike nutmeg, mace should be lightly dry roasted before blending, to activate its essential oils and intensify its fragrance.
Nutmeg, on the other hand, does not need to be toasted before using in your cookingd. Always use whole nutmeg and grate as required. Nutmeg is a spice that has a very short shelf life when ground, and while it is still fragrant, it loses a lot of its flavour. Freshly grated nutmeg is far superior to the ground versions, and a little goes a long way.
Nutmeg has been used both in sweet and savoury cuisines all over the world, for a long time. In Asian cuisines, it is used in spice mixes and to add a spicy, woody, flavour to sweet dishes. In the West, it is a very common spice, and is used in everything from béchamel sauces to mulled wines and eggnog to cakes and cookies to the quintessential Scottish haggis.
It pairs well with both fruits, vegetables and meats and is a staple in holiday baking, including pumpkin and fruit pies.
Non Culinary Uses of Nutmeg
Along with culinary uses, nutmeg is also used as an essential oil in pharmaceuticals and as a flavouring in the food industry. Once the oil has been extracted from the nutmeg, the resulting seed is added to commercially ground nutmeg. This is because whole nutmeg has too much oil and it makes it difficult to grind – one of the reasons fresh ground nutmeg is preferred in most cuisines.
Nutmeg & Mace Trivia
And finally, did you know that the compound that gives nutmeg its flavour – myristicin – is also a narcotic? In large quantities, it has been known to cause hallucinations and trigger epilepsy. However, it is perfectly safe to use in the quantities we use for cooking.
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The Spice Box is written by Michelle Peters-Jones, author of the The Tiffin Box blog where she writes about East Indian, British and Canadian food, with a strong focus on using fresh, local and sustainable ingredients. She stumbled into the world of food after competing on the BBC’s Masterchef UK. She is a freelance recipe tester and food writer and teaches Indian cooking classes in Edmonton. Michelle was born and brought up in India and lived in England for several years before moving to her current home in Edmonton.