Nutmeg – The Healing Spice

Nutmeg and the somewhat less well-known mace give dishes a warm, spicy aroma, but are also used in folk medicine for many ailments, e.g. B. in rheumatism or stress-related sleep disorders. Read everything about nutmeg, its use, and possible side effects.

Nutmeg is not a nut

Nutmeg, also known as nutmeg, is the fruit of the nutmeg tree (Myristica fragrans) and a popular spice, especially in the kitchens of Europe, India, and Indonesia. Nutmeg, with its warm, slightly earthy, and intensely spicy aroma, is particularly popular in soups, stews, potato dishes, vegetable dishes, and béchamel sauces.

From a botanical point of view, nutmeg is not a nut, since only inclosing fruits such as e.g. B. the hazelnut or the sweet chestnut count among the nuts. Nutmeg, on the other hand, is not a closed fruit, but a follicle. Even stone fruits such as almonds are not actually nuts.

Mace is not a flower

The nutmeg tree bears yellowish fruits that look similar to apricots. At the center of these fruits is the nutmeg, whose rind is surrounded by bright red “streaks” of leathery tissue. This tissue is called mace or mace and is reminiscent of flames enveloping the nutmeg. This is not a flower in the botanical sense, but the seed coat of the nutmeg. Mace is also used for seasoning.

The Harvest of Nutmeg

A nutmeg tree yields about 1500 to 2000 nutmegs per year. Once its fruits are ripe, they burst open revealing the nutmeg and mace. The fruit is then hand-picked and the nutmeg is separated from the fruit and mace (which surrounds the exterior of the husk). The fruit itself tastes quite sour – in Indonesia, it is processed into jam.

Nutmeg and mace are then dried for several months – the nutmeg until the seed inside has detached from its shell. This can be recognized by the rattling when shaking the nutmeg. The shell is then cracked open and the seed laid out again to dry. The mace is dried separately, turning orange.

Origin and cultivation of nutmeg

The nutmeg does not come from the city of Muscat in Oman, as the name might suggest, but from Southeast Asia. In 1512, the Portuguese first discovered the nutmeg tree in the Moluccas — a group of islands in Indonesia also known as the Spice Islands.

Since nutmeg was only found on these islands at the time, various nations tried to conquer them in order to secure a monopoly on nutmeg. The Portuguese were able to hold the monopoly for almost a century until they were ousted by the Netherlands. Under the bloody rule of the two countries, around 90% of the islanders were exterminated.

The British eventually got their hands on nutmeg seeds, ending the Dutch monopoly and allowing the plant to spread worldwide via sea routes. Today, nutmeg is also grown in Guatemala, Japan, China, South Africa, India, and the Caribbean islands of Trinidad and Grenada.

Grenada was once the main producer of nutmeg, which is why nutmeg graces the country’s flag. However, hurricanes killed most of the nutmeg trees. It takes about 15 years for a tree to produce larger yields. As a result, Grenada has now been overtaken by other countries when it comes to nutmeg cultivation. Today Indonesia is the main producer.

Cooking with nutmeg and mace

Nutmeg is ideal for seasoning potatoes, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, spinach, carrots, red cabbage, and kohlrabi. The mace tastes similar to nutmeg, but is a bit milder and tends towards cinnamon. It can be used for the same dishes as nutmeg, but due to its sweet aroma, it is particularly suitable for desserts, chutneys, or mulled wine.

Peel nutmeg

Whole nutmegs are usually sold already shelled. However, you can also get hold of specimens that are still in their shells from the spice trader. These should be particularly aromatic, as the aroma is protected by the skin. These nutmegs are dried in a special process so that the seed inside also becomes dry without having to remove the shell.

Since the shell is not edible, it must be cracked open before use. Like a nut, you can use the heels of your hands to press the shell against a hard surface until it pops open. Alternatively, you can carefully open the shell with a nutcracker. However, you should not press too hard so that the seed does not break.

Grind nutmeg and mace

It is best to grind the nutmeg directly before use – this way it tastes the most aromatic. A nutmeg grater is good for this because the powder is extremely fine thanks to its spikes and fine holes. If you don’t have a nutmeg grater, you can of course use a conventional grater or even a close-meshed, stable sieve if you don’t have a grater at hand.

You can also buy nutmeg mills. With these, the nutmeg is placed in a container and ground using a crank, similar to a pepper mill. Compared to a grater, a nutmeg mill offers the advantage that fingers cannot be injured.

The mace also tastes best when ground just before use. Because of their uneven shape, however, the risk of injury with a grater is too great. Therefore, it is best to grind it in a spice mill or in a mortar – although the spice mill is more suitable because the mace is relatively hard when dried.

Only add the nutmeg at the end of the cooking time

The nutmeg aroma dissipates quickly. It should therefore only be added at the end of the cooking time to taste. A pinch is often enough to give the dish a wonderful nutmeg aroma. If you take too much, the dish quickly becomes inedible.

The same goes for the mace. The whole strips can also be cooked – which will make them soft – but the mace is difficult to dose and it would be a shame about the aromas of the extraordinary spice.

Reserve the nutmeg and mace

Spices should generally be stored dry and protected from light. This also applies to nutmeg and mace. Glasses that are stored in a kitchen drawer are best suited for this.

The shelf life of nutmeg and mace

Whole spices have a much longer shelf life than those that have already been ground. For example, nutmeg and mace keep for several years, while ground only keeps for about a year. The ground spices also lose their aroma more quickly.

The health effects of nutmeg

Nutmeg consists of 8 to 15% essential oil composed of myristicin, elemicin, eugenol, and safrole. According to animal and cell studies, nutmeg has anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antidiabetic, aphrodisiac, analgesic, antioxidant and cardioprotective effects, among other things.

The traditional medicinal properties of nutmeg

Nutmeg is used as a traditional medicine in various countries such as Indonesia, India, Malaysia, Thailand, and China. For example, it is used for:

  • Digestive problems (diarrhea, stomach cramps, flatulence)
  • rheumatism
  • headache
  • Fever
  • hemorrhoids
  • erectile dysfunction
  • cholera
  • as well as bad breath

Mace is used for the same ailments as nutmeg.

Nutmeg for indigestion

Nutmeg is also used in Europe for digestive disorders. Klosterfrau Melissengeist® and Carmol® are still among the best-known medicinal products containing nutmeg. Both contain it because of its soothing effect on gastrointestinal complaints.

Nutmeg as a home remedy: For stomach cramps, flatulence, and diarrhea, you can drink a pinch of ground nutmeg mixed in a glass of warm water. In the case of diarrhea, nutmeg can also be taken with a grated apple (also a well-known household remedy). The symptoms should then improve after just one application.

Nutmeg has an antidepressant and sleep-inducing effect

An extract of 450 g of ground nutmeg was found to be effective in depressed mice. The mice were orally administered 5, 10, or 20 mg of the extract per kilogram of body weight per day for three days. The dose of 10 mg per kg showed the greatest antidepressant effect. There have been no human studies to date.

The researchers suspect that nutmeg interacts with the happiness hormones dopamine and serotonin. A previous study also showed that it improves memory, suggesting that nutmeg also affects the brain in other ways.

Nutmeg as a sleep aid

Nutmeg is also considered to calm the nerves and promote sleep. A pinch of ground nutmeg boiled in a cup of milk is said to help with anxiety, stress, and sleep disorders. The nutmeg milk is drunk half an hour before bedtime. This emerges from Indonesian folk medicine.

If you don’t eat animal milk, try the recipe with soy milk or rice milk. You can also make both of these yourself very easily. Here you will find e.g. B. the recipe for rice milk.

Nutmeg for chronic pain

In one study, nutmeg essential oil was tested against chronic pain, such as that associated with rheumatism. For this purpose, joint swelling was induced in rats. They were then given either 10 or 20 mg of nutmeg oil per kilogram of body weight and day. Another group received 30 mg of diclofenac per kg per day. Diclofenac is one of the best-known anti-inflammatory drugs.

Both doses of nutmeg oil reduced joint swelling and pain—the higher dose was even more effective than the anti-inflammatory drug. However, the researchers explicitly point out that these doses cannot be transferred to humans. Because if the rat dose were converted to humans, a human weighing 70 kg would have to consume 0.7 to 1.4 g of nutmeg oil, which is not recommended in the long term, since nutmeg can have a toxic effect in certain quantities.

External use of nutmeg oil

However, the essential nutmeg oil also has a pain-relieving effect when used externally. In aromatherapy, 1 to 5 drops of the essential nutmeg oil are mixed with 50 ml of base oil (e.g. jojoba oil) – because the oil can cause skin irritation when used on its own. This mixture is rubbed into the affected parts of the body once a day. The essential oil can, for example, provide relief for rheumatic complaints and tension.

Ayurvedic spice mixture for joint problems

The Ayurvedic spice mixture of nutmeg, cumin, and coriander is said to be effective in osteoarthritis. This was reported by the NDR in a television program in 2015. After the show, many success stories were received from viewers who had tried the mix. The mixture did not heal, but the mobility of the affected joints improved.

To do this, take a pinch or three pinches of the spice mixture with a glass of water or some yogurt once or twice a day. The effect should occur if the spices are taken daily for one to three months.

In addition, turmeric is often added to the spice mixture in the same ratio. This blend combines the anti-inflammatory effects of different spices. Since many ingredients in spices, such as the curcumin in turmeric, are fat-soluble, the spice mixture is ideally taken with something fatty – e.g. B. with yogurt (full-fat level) or a teaspoon of oil.

The substance piperine in pepper can also ensure that the curcumin in turmeric is better absorbed by the intestines, which we reported on in the article How turmeric strengthens its effect. A pinch of pepper could also have a positive effect on the spice mixture.

Buy nutmeg and mace

While nutmeg can be found in almost every supermarket, mace is almost only available in spice shops or online shops. Both can be bought whole or ground. However, the flavor of the already ground products dissipates more quickly, making them less flavorful than their whole equivalents.

Aflatoxins in ground nutmeg

Nutmegs should be bought whole, not just because of the aroma. Contamination of nutmeg with so-called aflatoxins is repeatedly reported by investigation agencies. Aflatoxins are mold toxins that form when stored improperly, e.g. B. at high temperatures and humidity. They are carcinogenic, and liver and DNA damage. Ground nutmegs are more susceptible to aflatoxins because they contain lower-quality nutmegs that would never be sold whole.

Pay attention to organic quality

Organic nutmegs are grown without the use of pesticides, which is a sign of quality. They are usually around two to three euros more expensive than conventional nutmegs. However, it is worth comparing the suppliers, because the price range for nutmegs is very large – so an organic product from one supplier can sometimes be cheaper than conventional nutmegs from another supplier.

Don’t confuse ground nutmeg with nutmeg

In supermarkets, you can sometimes buy spices labeled “Nutmeg”. It’s not just ground nutmeg, it’s a spice mix. This can, for example, consist of only 10% nutmeg, but also contain wheat bran, dry glucose syrup, spice extracts, etc.

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