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Botanical name: Myristica fragrans



The nutmeg tree stems originally from the Moluccas, a group of Indonesian islands, where it has been used for over 2000 years. The nut was unknown in Europe until the ninth century, and probably was introduced to Germany around 1100 a.d.


The tree prefers consistent moisture and temperatures of over 20°C and is grown today in many tropical regions north and south of the equator.


A large part of the nutmeg grown for export is cultivated in Indonesia and on the small Caribbean island of Grenada. Other significant growing areas are India, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, New Guinea, Madagascar and Brazil.



Nutmegs are available whole or ground all year round. Mace, ground from the waxy red covering, or integument, of the seed, is also sold, but is not as widely known as nutmeg.


Appearance, taste, characteristics

From a botanical point of view, the nutmeg is not a nut, but rather the kernel of a berry. It grows on an evergreen tree that can grow to 100 years old and to a height of over 20 m. To simplify the harvest, the trees with dense foliage are cut back to a height of 6-9 m.


From March to July, 6- to 8-year-old trees bloom for the first time. Male trees on the plantations are mostly winnowed out, because only female trees yield fruit. From their pale-yellow blossoms develop fleshy, light-yellow, peach-like fruits.


The ovoid berries are 3-6 cm long, about 2-5 cm thick and break open after maturing for 9 months. A seed appears, covered by a crimson-red, slit-open integument. The gold-brown to yellowish dried seed covering is the mace.


The hard, dark-brown seeds are also dried over a period of several weeks. If they rattle when shaken, this means that the kernel has loosened itself from the hard shell and the latter can then be broken open. Inside there is a brownish, ovoid to round kernel, the nutmeg. This is about 2.5 cm long and 2 cm thick and has a wrinkled, netlike surface and longitudinal grooves.


Nutmegs smell sweetly aromatic, resembling camphor and resin. The taste is bittersweet and spicy, burns slightly, and reminds one a bit of cloves. Mace smells and tastes similar to nutmeg, but it is not bitter and the flavour is more delicate and aromatic.



Nutmeg contains 7-16% essential oils, the main components of which are sabinene and pinene, as well as terpenes and terpineol. The substances myristicin and elemicin have hallucinogenic effects at high dosages. Nutmeg also contains 30-40% oil, tannins, and more than 25% starch.


At 15%, the content of essential oils in mace is also very high; over 80% of these are monoterpenes. Mace also contains more than 20% oil and about 30% starch.


Harmful substances

In large amounts nutmeg is toxic, and even deaths have been observed. Toxicity can occur in an adult who has consumed 5 g. This corresponds approximately to a small "nut". The toxicity generally subsides after 2-4 days.


When nutmeg is used as a seasoning, however, there are no health concerns.


Quality criteria, optimal storage conditions

Nutmegs are traded according to quality and size. The most valued nuts are those from Grenada, because the percentage of essential oil is high. They are graded from A to E, with grade A denoting undamaged and the largest nuts. Another classification designates the number of nutmegs per English pound, whereby a pound (lb) corresponds to approximately 454 g.


Mace from Java and the Banda Islands of Indonesia is particularly favoured.


Both nutmegs and mace should be kept in airtight containers and as cool, dry, and protected from light as possible. It is best to buy whole nutmegs and to grind them as needed, because otherwise their aroma evaporates quickly.


Presumed effect on health

Nutmeg and mace presumably stimulate the appetite and digestion owing to their aromatic flavour.

Traditional medicine employs nutmeg and its oil for diseases in the region of the intestinal tract. Due to possible risks, the German Federal Institute for Drugs and Medical Products does not endorse its use.


In India, eczemas and lichenous skin diseases are treated with a salve made of powdered nutmeg and water.


Form of consumption, use, processing, practical tips for preparation

Nutmeg is marketed either whole or as a ground spice. The intensive condiment is best when grated fresh and added to foods sparingly. It is excellent for seasoning meat dishes, especially ground meat and stews of veal and poultry. The Arabs traditionally season mutton and lamb with nutmeg.


The aroma goes well with fish and vegetables such as carrots, asparagus, spinach, leeks and all types of cabbage. Egg dishes, mashed potatoes, cheese, soups and sauces can also be enhanced with nutmeg.


Even fruit salads, pear or plum compote, gingerbread, jams, and cherry and apple cake take on a piquant touch with just a small pinch of nutmeg. You can round off the flavour of hot milk or cocoa and warm alcoholic drinks such as fruit punch and mulled wine with this spice.


Seasoning tip

Nutmeg harmonizes with bay leaf, thyme, cardamom, coriander, cloves, cumin, ginger, pepper and cinnamon. With cooked dishes it is advisable not to add the spice until they are finished.



In the 16th century, nutmeg was called the "gold of East India", because it made traders very rich. At that time there was even a rumour that nutmeg was the only effective remedy for the plague.




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