December 06th 2018
It’s hard not to associate nutmeg with the winter holidays. A check of Google Trends finds a significant spike in searches for the aromatic spice every December. But, the range of uses for nutmeg goes far beyond spicing up a mug of holiday cheer!
Nutmeg is an ironic spice. Once carried on one’s person for good luck in health and love, in UK soccer parlance, to be ‘nutmegged’ is to have the ball sneakily kicked between your legs as part of a deking manoeuvre. Not lucky at all.
You just got totally nutmegged!
How did the name of a tropical spice become a sports term? The best guess is “nutmegged” was once used in England to describe a situation in which one has been fooled. It started from the practice of tossing a handful of fake, wooden nutmegs into bags of the real deal for export. Nutmeg was once so valuable, it was worth the risk of sending counterfeits to stretch the supply. In fact, wars were fought over control of nutmeg, resulting in many deaths.
In 1602, the Dutch captured the Moluccas in Indonesia (better known as the Spice Islands), the sole source of nutmeg at the time, from the Portuguese who claimed them in 1512. They restricted the trees to just two islands and did everything they could to prevent it from spreading. This included soaking the seeds in lime to keep them from sprouting after harvest and destroying any naturally-occurring nutmeg trees on other islands. Incredibly, they even burned nutmeg in years of over-abundant harvests to keep prices artificially high.
The monopoly was broken by a Frenchman who smuggled nutmeg and clove seeds to Mauritius. In 1796, the British captured the Moluccas and brought nutmeg to their colonies in the Caribbean. Soon, this fragrant, warm, and nutty spice would become more readily available than ever before.
Nutmeg comes from tropical evergreen trees known by the same name. A mature tree may stand as high as 60 feet. The spice comes from seeds inside the fruit of the nutmeg tree. Interestingly, to get at the seeds, you first have to remove a layer of red webbing. The webbing once dried and ground becomes the spice called mace.
What doesn’t have nutmeg in it?
The taste of nutmeg has broad appeal - it’s aromatic but not overpowering, it’s warm but not spicy, and it straddles the line between sweet and savoury. It’s no wonder that nutmeg has so many applications and shows up in everything from meat dishes to sweet, baked desserts, and even cocktails.
A key component of many spice blends, you might find nutmeg in garam masala, jerk seasoning, ras el hanout, and pumpkin spice. Just think of how many incredible food products use these mixes! On its own, nutmeg brings comforting flavour and depth to alfredo sauces, eggnog, and curry.
Nutmeg is also seen as a functional ingredient with many healthy properties attributed to it. Lots of high-end beauty products boast nutmeg on their labels. For a food manufacturer, that means it can add perceived value to your health-forward product.
Of course, we’re right in the thick of prime nutmeg usage season in Canada. Where might you apply it for a holiday special? How about mulling that over with a nutmeg-tinged hard cider! Or, add a sprinkle to your cream cheese for an eggnog-inspired spread on a morning bagel.
We think nutmeg is a year-round flavour solution, though, so we’d love to see it adding flavour to pancake mixes and maple syrup. In Grenada, the home of nutmeg in the west, nutmeg ice cream is a favourite - why not bring this island treat to Canada?