Nutmeg is the kernel (or albumen) of the seed of the nutmeg tree, Myristica fragrans, belonging to the Myristicaceae family, which includes nearly 500 species of trees that grow in humid tropical regions, especially in South Asia -East and Oceania. Resembling a yellowish apricot, the fresh fruit of the nutmeg tree contains a seed wrapped in an aril forming a network of red filaments, also called “nutmeg flower” or mace, when dried and ground into a powder.

Originally from the south of the Moluccas, a large Indonesian archipelago prolific in spices, the nutmeg tree is known only in the cultivated state, in particular in the islands of Amboyna and Banda. Nutmeg and mace were first discovered by the Indians, who adopted them when they conquered Malaysia in the Middle Ages. Nutmeg is sold at very high prices to European traders (especially Venetian), who equate its scent with that of musk and call it “nux moschata”.

For a long time, Europeans believed that mace and nutmeg came from different plants, asking their colonies to produce more mace than nutmeg, because it was considered even more precious. It wasn’t until the end of the 13th century that Marco Polo discovered where nutmeg came from and that both spices came from the same tree. Now also grown in Mauritius, Sri Lanka and Grenada in the West Indies, the nutmeg tree can reach 15 meters in height and has a “commercial” lifespan of 80 years.

Popular

Rare and expensive in the past, nutmeg (powerful, warm, musky and slightly sweet aroma) and mace (more delicate, fine and slightly bitter) are now part of everyday cooking. Mace is very present in charcuterie, nutmeg is essential in béchamel, gratin dauphinois, fondue or quiches, and appreciated in soups or cocktails. It is used in the composition of Indian curries and Coca-Cola.

Dangerous

Harmless in low doses, nutmeg, especially ground from fresh almonds, becomes toxic and hallucinogenic in high doses, which can cause convulsions, palpitations, nausea. “Unica nux prodest, nocet altera, tertia necat” (“one nut benefits, two harms, the third kills”), goes a medieval proverb. So consume nutmeg in moderation!

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