January 10, 2008

Nutmeg and Mace

Here are some of the nutmegs that I brought back from Grenada. Notice the lacy red outer coating? Well, that's mace, a very different and fragrant spice.

At the spice market in Grenanda:


Here they are in my kitchen:


Fortunately for Grenada today, nutmeg is an important commodity. Here's a little history about nutmeg and the other spice that the tree produces, mace.

Many centuries ago, the precious nutmeg was often carried in fancy containers of silver or wood, having a little grater attached, so the spice could always be on hand. Nutmeg is one of the oldest spices known. In the first century A.D., the Roman writer Pliny described a tree bearing a nut having two separate flavors. Nutmeg is one flavor and mace is the other, made from grinding the lacy outer covering surrounding the nutmeg. The nutmeg tree is an evergreen native to the Moluccas, or Spice Islands, near Indonesia. Quite interestingly, the Dutch East Indies Company controlled nutmeg production for hundreds of years and coveted this spice so much that even the location of the Spice Islands was kept a secret.

Nutmeg has a warm flavor that naturally complements cream sauces and cheese dishes. It tastes wonderful on fruit, vegetables, in custards, barbecue sauces, and on top of cappuccino. When using nutmeg, try to add it toward the end of cooking, as heat greatly diminishes its flavor. And to fully appreciate the appeal of nutmeg, always grind it fresh. Don't be lazy—you can get a half a teaspoon of fabulous, fragrant nutmeg in just a few seconds using a small handheld grater. Just sniff it; you'll see.