About Nutmeg

About Nutmeg

 About Nutmeg
 

About Nutmeg

Description of Nutmeg Nutmeg is one of the more popular spices in use today. The term nutmeg applies to both the spice itself and the tree from which it is derived. Though it is not a commonly known fact, the nutmeg tree actually gives forth two slightly different spices. Obviously one of them is nutmeg. Nutmeg (the spice) is actually the inner part of the seed, the kernel. The other one is mace, which is derived from the inner covering of the seed.

Nutmeg trees actually come in different varieties. They are basically members of the evergreen family of trees. Of the many different varieties of nutmeg trees, the most significant is probably the Fragrant Nutmeg. It is also called the Common Nutmeg. Its scientific name is Myristica fragrans and it is native to Asia, specifically the Banda Islands of Indonesia. The Common Nutmeg also grows in the Moluccas Islands and other parts of the world. Other species occur all over the world.

In general, the nutmeg tree grows up to about 25 feet tall. It has smooth bark which is somewhat brown or gray in color. The nutmeg tree grows flowers but it is the seed that interests spice lovers all over the world. As mentioned earlier, the two parts of the seed are used as spices. The seed kernel is fleshy, white, and veined. This seed kernel (or simply nutmeg) is full of oil, which plays an important role in its being a sought after spice.

The History of Nutmeg
The use of nutmeg as a spice can be traced way back before the Middle Ages. During those times, the Arabs had the monopoly of the spice trade. However, in 1951, the Europeans struck gold when the famed explorer Vasco de Gama discovered the Moluccas Islands. He then claimed it in the name of his country, Portugal. Nutmeg being native to this area, Portugal suddenly had a goldmine in their hands. Realizing the value of nutmeg as a spice, Portugal tried to contain the growth of the tree. About a century later, the Dutch took over the area and were even more possessive of the monopoly in spices. They even went as far as to treat the seeds so that no one else could plant and cultivate nutmeg trees. Nature, however, has its own way of dealing with things. Nutmeg trees were able to grow in different islands due to the birds that scattered the seeds.

The Dutch monopoly ended when a Frenchman by the name of Pierre Poivre was able to smuggle nutmeg seeds. Thus the French started their own nutmeg plantations in their own colonies. Their colony Mauritius served as the site for these plantations. Later on, the rest of the world was able to get their hands on the nutmeg tree.

Uses for Nutmeg
Much like other spices, nutmeg has a wide variety of uses. As a spice, fresh nutmeg is widely used in dishes that tend to be on the sweet side. Fresh nutmeg is usually grated and then used for culinary purposes. To test whether the nutmeg is still fresh or not, prick the seed with a needle. If some oil oozes out then you're good. Otherwise, the nutmeg has probably gone bad or is too dry to give off a good flavor.

Desserts such as pies, puddings, tarts, custards, and cakes are common dishes which make use of nutmeg. Coffee lovers would definitely know nutmeg as one of the spices added to their favorite drink to enhance its flavor. Nutmeg is also used to flavor dips and cheeses. However, its close relative, the mace, is favored when it comes to these concoctions because of its more delicate flavor and slight coloring properties. Nutmeg is also used in soups and curries. Furthermore, drinks such as eggnog, mulled, and spiced wines are not complete without a dash of nutmeg.

Essential oils extracted from the nutmeg seed are quite useful as well. Baked goods are one of the common uses of nutmeg oil. Syrups, such as those used in sodas, also contain nutmeg essential oils. Other commercial products that contain essential oils from nutmeg are toothpaste and cough syrups. The advantage of essential oils over grated nutmeg is that they do not leave any grit or particles. Nutmeg, in butter form, also finds another use in commercial applications. It is sometimes used as a substitute for cocoa butter.

Nutmeg is also used for medicinal purposes. Nutmeg is known to treat stomach related illnesses such as diarrhea and flatulence. It is also purported to be able to treat nausea, bad breath, indigestion, and vomiting. Orally, nutmeg oil can be used to ease a toothache or even muscle pain. The aroma of nutmeg further helps in the treatment. Nutmeg oil may be used alone or mixed with other essential oils to achieve a stronger effect.

Not many people know it but nutmeg has some dangers associated with it. It can actually be toxic in large amounts. However, average consumption is not likely to cause dangerous effects. Another negative effect of over consumption of nutmeg is hallucination. In fact, some have drawn a link between nutmeg's effects to that of the drug ecstasy's. Other effects are mild euphoria and psychosis. The latter effect can only occur if a really large quantity of nutmeg is ingested. It is manifested by extreme agitation and the sense of impending death or doom. This is also called Nutmeg Psychosis. Milder effects of nutmeg are palpitations, convulsions, nausea, and dehydration. Though these effects seem extreme, there is really no danger when nutmeg is used for culinary purposes as only tiny amounts are used in cooking.

Ground Nutmeg
Culinary experts prefer freshly grated nutmeg when whipping up their dishes but nutmeg is also available in prepackaged form, or ground nutmeg. Ground nutmeg is widely available in supermarkets and grocery stores. It can be used the same way freshly grated nutmeg is used. In fact, coffee shops usually provide ground nutmeg for use in their coffees. Though definitely more convenient to use, ground nutmeg is generally considered to be inferior to freshly grated nutmeg because the essential oils are lost during the process of making ground nutmeg.

 
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