Nutmeg is a spice native to Indonesia. The warm, nutty flavor of nutmeg is very versatile, as it is suitable for both sweet and savory dishes.
- Myristica fragrans (scientific name)
- Pala (Indonesian)
What is Nutmeg?
Nutmeg is a spice made from the seed of the nutmeg tree, a native to the Moluccas or Spice Islands in Indonesia. To make nutmeg for seasoning, the nutmeg seeds are dried in the sun over a period of six to eight weeks. During this time, the nutmeg shrinks away from its hard seed coat.
The spice is ready when the kernels rattle in their shells when shaken. It is separated from the outer coat (the mace) and sold whole or ground up and packaged. Dried nutmegs are grayish-brown oval-shaped with furrowed surfaces.
What Does Nutmeg Taste Like?
Nutmeg is a warm spice with slightly nutty, sweet, woody flavors. It’s reminiscent of clove and tobacco and can even have subtle citrusy notes. It is quite aromatic and is generally best used in small amounts. If added too much, this intense spice can easily overpower the flavors of the dish.
Whole vs Ground Nutmeg
Nutmeg is in both whole and ground form. Like all spices, nutmegs begin to lose their aromatics and flavors quickly once ground. You will get the best, most intense flavor if you buy the seeds whole and grate them fresh for the recipe.
Where to Buy
Whole and ground nutmeg can be found in the spice aisle of any major grocery store. Ground nutmeg is easily found in the spice section of the grocery store. It has been milled into a rough powder form and, although convenient, tends to lose its flavor and aroma quickly. For this reason, ground nutmeg is generally sold in very small quantities. Whole nutmeg can be found in well-stocked supermarkets, gourmet shops, and online.
How to Store
Just like you would other spices, ground or whole nutmeg needs to be stored in an airtight container away from heat and light, like in your pantry, cabinet, or spice drawer. Whole nutmeg can last up to 3-4 years when stored properly. Meanwhile, ground nutmeg will last around up to 2 years, but can lose its potency and flavor well before this.
The best substitute for nutmeg is, unsurprisingly, mace. They come from the same tree and since they have similar flavor profiles, that would be your best bet in case you don’t have nutmeg.
If you don’t have mace, however, you can try swapping the nutmeg out for garam masala, pumpkin pie spice, cinnamon, allspice, ginger, or ground cloves. As all of these alternatives tend to have more intense flavor profiles, use them sparingly.