See G. Milton, Nathaniel's Nutmeg (1999).
Nutmeg (Myristica fragrans)
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Nutmeg is the actual seed of the tree, roughly egg-shaped and about 20 mm to 30 mm (1 inch) long and 15 mm to 18 mm (¾ inch) wide, and weighing between 5 g and 10 g (¼ ounce and ½ ounce) dried, while mace is the dried "lacy" reddish covering or arillus of the seed. This is the only tropical fruit that is the source of two different spices.
The outer surface of the nutmeg bruises easily.
The pericarp (fruit/pod) is used in Grenada to make a jam called "Morne Delice". In Indonesia, the fruit is sliced finely, cooked and crystallised to make a fragrant candy called manisan pala ("nutmeg sweets").
The most important species commercially is the Common or Fragrant Nutmeg Myristica fragrans, native to the Banda Islands of Indonesia; it is also grown in the Caribbean, especially in Grenada. Other species include Papuan Nutmeg M. argentea from New Guinea, and Bombay Nutmeg M. malabarica from India; both are used as adulterants of M. fragrans products.
Nutmeg and mace have similar taste qualities, nutmeg having a slightly sweeter and mace a more delicate flavour. Mace is often preferred in light-coloured dishes for the bright orange, saffron-like colour it imparts. Nutmeg is a flavorful addition to cheese sauces and is best grated fresh (see nutmeg grater).
In Indian cuisine, nutmeg powder is used almost exclusively in sweet dishes. It is known as Jaiphal in most parts of India and as Jatipatri and Jathi seed in Kerala. It may also be used in small quantities in garam masala. Ground nutmeg is also smoked in India.
In European cuisine, nutmeg and mace are used especially in potato dishes and in processed meat products; they are also used in soups, sauces and baked goods. In Dutch cuisine nutmeg is quite popular, it is added to vegetables like Brussels sprouts, cauliflower and string beans.
A Norwegian bun called kavring includes nutmeg.
In the Caribbean, Nutmeg is often used in drinks such as the Bushwacker, Painkiller and Barbados Rum Punch. Typically it is just a sprinkle on the top of the drink.
The essential oil is obtained by the steam distillation of ground nutmeg and is used heavily in the perfumery and pharmaceutical industries. The oil is colourless or light yellow, and smells and tastes of nutmeg. It contains numerous components of interest to the oleochemical industry, and is used as a natural food flavouring in baked goods, syrups, beverages, and sweets. It replaces ground nutmeg as it leaves no particles in the food. The essential oil is also used in the cosmetic and pharmaceutical industries, for instance, in toothpaste, and as a major ingredient in some cough syrups. In traditional medicine nutmeg and nutmeg oil were used for illnesses related to the nervous and digestive systems.
There is some evidence to suggest that Roman priests may have burned nutmeg as a form of incense, although this is disputed. It is known to have been used as a prized and costly spice in medieval cuisine. Saint Theodore the Studite (ca. 758 – ca. 826) was famous for allowing his monks to sprinkle nutmeg on their pease pudding when required to eat it. In Elizabethan times it was believed that nutmeg could ward off the plague, so nutmeg was very popular. Nutmeg was traded by Arabs during the Middle Ages in the profitable Indian Ocean trade.
In the late 15th century, Portugal started trading in the Indian Ocean, including the trade of nutmeg, under the Treaty of Tordesillas with Spain and a separate treaty with the sultan of Ternate. But full control of this trade was not possible and they remained largely participants, rather than overlords since the authority Ternate held over the nutmeg-growing centre of the Banda Islands was quite limited. Therefore, the Portuguese failed to gain a foothold in the islands themselves.
The trade in nutmeg later became dominated by the Dutch in the 17th century. The British and Dutch engaged in prolonged struggles to gain control of Run island, then the only source of nutmeg. At the end of the Second Anglo-Dutch War the Dutch gained control of Run in exchange for the British controlling New Amsterdam (New York) in North America.
The Dutch managed to establish control over the Banda Islands after an extended military campaign that culminated in the massacre or expulsion of most of the islands' inhabitants in 1621. Thereafter, the Banda Islands were run as a series of plantation estates, with the Dutch mounting annual expeditions in local war-vessels to extirpate nutmeg trees planted elsewhere.
As a result of the Dutch interregnum during the Napoleonic Wars, the English took temporary control of the Banda Islands from the Dutch and transplanted nutmeg trees to their own colonial holdings elsewhere, notably Zanzibar and Grenada. Today, a stylised split-open nutmeg fruit is found on the national flag of Grenada.
Connecticut gets its nickname ("the Nutmeg State", "Nutmegger") from the legend that some unscrupulous Connecticut traders would whittle "nutmeg" out of wood, creating a "wooden nutmeg" (a term which came to mean any fraud)
World production of nutmeg is estimated to average between 10,000 and 12,000 tonnes per year with annual world demand estimated at 9,000 tonnes; production of mace is estimated at 1,500 to 2,000 tonnes. Indonesia and Grenada dominate production and exports of both products with a world market share of 75% and 20% respectively. Other producers include India, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, Sri Lanka and Caribbean islands such as St. Vincent. The principal import markets are the European Community, the United States, Japan and India. Singapore and the Netherlands are major re-exporters.
At one time, nutmeg was one of the most valuable spices. It has been said that in England, several hundred years ago, a few nutmeg nuts could be sold for enough money to enable financial independence for life.
The first harvest of nutmeg trees takes place 7–9 years after planting and the trees reach their full potential after 20 years.
Comparisons between nutmeg intoxication and MDMA have been made, however this remains speculative.. This has recently been disproved by the 2006 paper "Abuse of nutmeg (Myristica fragrans Houtt.): studies on the metabolism and the toxicologic detection of its ingredients elemicin, myristicin, and safrole in rat and human urine using gas chromatography/mass spectrometry" by Hans Maurer et al at University of Saarland. However, use of nutmeg as a recreational drug is unpopular due to its unpleasant taste and its side effects, including dizziness, flushes, dry mouth, accelerated heartbeat, temporary constipation, difficulty in urination, nausea, and panic. A user will not experience a peak until approximately six hours after ingestion, and effects can linger for up to three days afterwards.
A risk in any large-quantity (over 25 g, ~5 teaspoons) ingestion of nutmeg is the onset of 'nutmeg poisoning', an acute psychiatric disorder marked by thought disorder, a sense of impending doom/death, and agitation. Some cases have resulted in hospitalization.
Fatalities occur with lower doses with children. An 8-year-old boy who consumed just two nutmegs fell into a coma, only to die 20 hours later.