Ground Nutmeg: Flavor Profile
Nutmeg delivers a woodsy and smoky flavor, with a bittersweet finish. A popular spice in Middle Eastern and Southeast Asia, nutmeg is commonly used in baking. Ground nutmeg adds a hint of tang and cinnamon-like bitter sweetness to sweet breads, muffins and spice cakes. (In fact, it’s a key ingredient in good ol’ American apple pie!)
The woody flavor of nutmeg melds with many different spices. It’s a natural pair for cardamom, cinnamon and coriander. And you’ll find nutmeg in favorite spice blends like curry powder, Garam Masala spice and Caribbean jerk seasonings.
Cooking with Ground Nutmeg
Nutmeg is a versatile spice. It complements sweet and savory dishes, and it’s found in many different world cuisines, from the Middle East, to the Caribbean.
Just remember: A little ground nutmeg goes a long way. Most recipes call for just an 1/8 of a teaspoon – it’s packs that much of a punch – and too much can overpower a dish, rendering it bitter. A few common uses for ground nutmeg include:
- Baking – A classic baking spice, nutmeg pairs best with dairy-based dishes, like custards, ice cream and pies. Thanks to its warm flavor profile, nutmeg is also commonly found in holiday-inspired desserts and it pairs with other warm-flavored spices including cinnamon and clove.
- Meat Dishes – In Middle Eastern cooking, nutmeg is a common seasoning for lamb and mutton, as it helps to balance and enhance the savory flavors.
- Ragouts and Stews – Nutmeg complements tomato-based stews and French ragouts, as it delivers a subtle sweetness and smoky flavor. Tomato-based sauces also benefit from a sprinkle of nutmeg.
- Starchy Dishes – In Europe, ground nutmeg is often added to potato, pasta and rice to develop more complex flavors.
The nutmeg tree – a tropical evergreen – is native to the Banda Islands, or the Spice Islands, in Indonesia.
The spice has much historical significance. It was popular in many spice blends due to its pungent aroma throughout history. The Romans, for example, used nutmeg as an incense, while many other ancient cultures used it in sachets and potpourris.
Yet, it didn’t become a widely distributed commercial spice until the 17th Century. During the height of the Spice Trade, nutmeg became popular among European aristocrats, as a spice, but also due to the fact it could be used to elicit hallucinations. As a result, Dutch and English traders flocked to the Banda Islands, causing many violent outbursts as they fought over the territory. Ultimately, the Dutch traded Manhattan in New York for control of the last English-occupied Spice Island.
Today, Indonesia and Grenada produce much of the world’s nutmeg (75% and 20% respectively), while Sri Lanka, Papua New Guinea and St. Vincent produce a small share, as well.
The nutmeg tree is an evergreen tree native to the tropical climates of Indonesia. The tree is small, growing to a height of about 40 feet at full maturity. And the trees feature dark green leaves and produce a bell-shaped flower.
Nutmeg trees produce a pear-shaped fruit that’s about 3 inches in length and has a pale-yellow color. The fruits are used to make two spices. When ripe, the fruit splits revealing a small purplish seed. The seed is used for nutmeg – and it’s sold whole, crushed or ground. The outer fleshy husk, or aril, is used to make mace.
Mace has a similar flavor profile to nutmeg, but with a sweeter, less bitter taste. If you find the flavor of nutmeg to be too astringent, you might consider mace as a substitute.
About Our Nutmeg
Burma Spice sources our nutmeg from growers in the Banda Islands in Indonesia. The island’s volcanic soil and lush jungles produce some of the most flavorful nutmeg in the world. Indonesian-grown nutmeg consistently has a higher essential oil content, and that’s where it gets it pungent aroma and flavor.
We purchase whole nutmeg in bulk from small farms on several islands through a growing collective. And we process the seeds in our spice shop in Florida. We make a fine flavorful grind, perfect for baking or in Middle Eastern cooking.