Nutmeg-Adding Spice to the Season

November 20, 2015

Nutmeg is one of the signature spices of the holiday season. We associate its earthy flavor with eggnog, spice cakes, cookies and seasonal lattes.

This simple spice has an interesting history that isn’t exactly the stuff of holiday celebrations. One of the saddest stories in food history, nutmeg  was the subject of torture and bloodshed with the Dutch massacring the people of the Banda Islands in Indonesia, where nutmeg was produced, in an attempt to monopolize the trade of this spice.

I know what you’re thinking. Nutmeg was so valuable people killed for it? The eggnog sprinkle? Why would nutmeg be so valuable? Simply stated, it was fashionable among the wealthy-exotic and reputed to induce hallucinations so it was in great demand.

Nutmeg was also considered medical, said to cure the common cold, enhance sight and support the function of the stomach and spleen. Modern science tells us that nutmeg has chemical compounds that do, indeed, help us feel good, warming the body and warding off head colds and stomach aches.

Nutmeg is the seed of an evergreen tree, “Myristica fragrans,” native to Indonesia. The spice mace comes from a thin protective layer that encloses that seed.

Nutmeg can prove valuable to our wellness as it contains many essential  oils which give a sweet aromatic flavor to the spice but have many therapeutic applications in traditional and natural medicines as an anti-fungal, anti-depressant, aphrodisiac and digestive treatments.

This spice is a good source of minerals like copper, potassium, calcium, manganese, iron, zinc and magnesium. Potassium is an important component of cell and body fluids that helps control heart rate and blood pressure. Manganese and copper are used by the body as co-factors for the antioxidant enzyme, superoxide dismutase. Iron is essential for red blood cell production.

Nutmeg is also rich in many vital B-complex vitamins, vitamin C, folic acid, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin A and anti-oxidants like beta-carotene and cryptoxanthin, essential for optimum health.

Since ancient times, nutmeg and its oil have been used in traditional medicines for illnesses related to the nervous and digestive systems, as well as thought to be soothing and stimulating to the brain.

Nutmeg oil contains eugenol, which has been used in dentistry for toothache relief.

Whew, powerful stuff!

When buying nutmeg you can choose between the nutmeg kernel or its finely ground powder. I recommend buying whole nutmeg because once ground, it loses its flavor and can be of poor quality. Once at home, store whole nuts as well as ground powder inside an airtight container and place in a cool dry place where it will stay fresh for months.

Here is one of my favorite ways to use nutmeg.

Lemon-Nutmeg Shortbreads