Nutmeg and mace

Other Names: Nutmeg: Basbasa (Arabic); chan thet (Thai); djus hendi (Farsi); egoz musqat (Hebrew); gabz (Amharic); hindistancevizi (Turkish); jaiphal (Hindi); jou tou kou (Chinese); moschokarido (Greek); muskatnuss (German); muskatny oryekh (Russian); noce moscata (Italian); noix de muscade (French); noz-moscada (Portuguese); nuez moscada (Spanish); pala (Indonesian). Mace: Besbase (Turkish); dok chand (Thai); fleur de muscade or macis (French); fuljan (Arabic); javatri (Hindi); macis (Spanish, Portuguese); muskatblomme (Danish); muskat-bluete (German); muskatnyi tsvet (Russian); sekar pala (Indonesian).

General Description: Nutmeg is the large, light grayish brown, speckled, wood-hard kernel that grows inside the apricot-like fruit of a tropical tree (Myristica fragrans). Surrounding nutmeg in the fruit is a web of mace, called the aril, that is brilliant scarlet when harvested but changes to a dull reddish orange after drying. Both spices are strongly aromatic, with a warm and slightly musky flavor. Nutmeg is a bit spicier with a sharper aroma, while mace is gentler, fresher, and more rounded in flavor. Nutmeg quickly loses its fragrance when ground, so it’s best freshly grated. Whole nutmeg, though hard on its surface, is easy to grate by hand. Note that the myristicin contained in nutmeg and mace is narcotic and may be harmful if ingested in large quantities.

Europeans believed that nutmeg originated in India, though actually it came from the famed Spice Islands (the Moluccas) in eastern Indonesia. In the sixteenth century, Portuguese ships sailed to India and further, bringing back large quantities of the hugely popular nutmeg. For 150 years starting in the seventeenth century, the Dutch monopolized the nutmeg trade, as they did with cloves. In the eighteenth century, the French smuggled nutmeg trees out from the Banda Islands and broke the monopoly.

In the Arab world and northern India, nutmeg and mace flavor delicate meat dishes. In Europe and North America, these spices flavor cakes, crackers, poached fruits, and cheese sauces. The Dutch favor nutmeg, using it to season cabbage, potatoes, meat, soups, stews, and sauces. Mace complements seafood and lighter meat dishes as well as pickles and ketchup. Many spice mixtures contain nutmeg and mace. Nutmeg and mace can be used interchangeably in many dishes.

Purchase and Avoid: Whole nutmeg is preferable. Good quality whole nutmegs will be hard and heavy for their weight with no tiny holes, a sign of insect damage. Buy powdered nutmeg in small quantities, because it quickly loses flavor. Mace is more expensive than nutmeg because it takes 400 pounds of nutmeg to make 1 pound of mace. Whole blade mace is the most expensive form; mace is most often found ground.

Storage: Whole nutmeg and mace will keep quite well. Powdered nutmeg and mace are more perishable.

Serving Suggestions: Grate fresh nutmeg into creamed or buttered spinach. Grate nutmeg over steamed potatoes, winter squash, carrots, or cauliflower. Flavor pumpkin pie, sweet potato pie, and gingerbread with nutmeg. Sprinkle mace on seafood before grilling or pan-frying. Season stock with mace and use it to steam shellfish. Sprinkle mace over applesauce and baked apples.

Food Affinities: Nutmeg: Apple, butter, carrot, cream, parsnip, pear, ricotta cheese, sage, spinach. Mace: Cabbage, chicken, curry, fish, pâté, shellfish, spice cakes, terrines, veal.

from Quirk Books: www.quirkbooks.com