Skip to Content

What is Nutmeg?

What is Nutmeg?

In the realm of spices, only a few really stand out to me. One of them is nutmeg. 

Historically, the nutmeg spice was used in sachets and incense. It was highly sought after by the Dutch, and the trees can grow 65 ft. tall! (Brittanica)
Its legendary status couldn’t be more evident. 

Say you use your spice grater and run a few of them on top of it, you’ll suddenly catch that whiff of warmth and sweetness. 

This same aroma then allows you to daydream of your favorite cakes, pies, or even the most spirited of drinks. 
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Today is nutmeg day, as I’ll be dedicating this entire space to all things about this revered spice. 

From its taste, uses, and storage tips, down to its origin, I’m sure you’ll come to appreciate it even more by the end of this discussion, especially if you’re fond of cooking with nutmeg.
Still, is nutmeg a nut? We’ll get to that later.

Nutmeg refers to the seed of an evergreen tree native to Indonesia, India, and Malaysia. 

This versatile spice, with the scientific name myristica fragrans, is also now grown quite extensively in the Caribbean.
That same seed grows inside a larger pale green fruit. 

It’s also covered with a scarlet-colored aril which, when removed and dried, becomes the spice you may know as mace.
When used as a seasoning, the nutmeg seeds are dried gradually in the sun for six to eight weeks. 

This is when the nutmeg would shrink away from the hard seed coat. 

You’ll know that the spice is ready when the kernels rattle in the shells when you shake them. 

You’ll then separate it from its outer coat or the mace. Nutmeg can be purchased whole or ground. 

Nutmeg is so fragrant that a little goes a long way and can overwhelm a dish. 

Especially in savory sauces, try just a little nutmeg at a time. The spice will continue to flavor the dish overnight.

In the middle of cooking and find yourself out of nutmeg? Here’s our list of nutmeg substitutes.

What does nutmeg taste like?

The nutmeg spice features this intense, warm flavor with varying profiles of sweetness and nuttiness. 

Nutmeg has a musky aroma of pepper, pine and a hint of cinnamon too.

Where does nutmeg come from?

The nutmeg spice originated from the Banda Islands of Indonesia, known locally as the Spice Islands. 
The spice gets harvested from the dried fruit (the inner seed I was telling you about earlier), which is then produced by the nutmeg tree or myristica fragrans, its scientific name.

What is nutmeg used in cooking?

Generally, using nutmeg spice adds depth in sweet AND savory dishes when lightly ground fresh. 

On the other hand, a freshly grated pinch of nutmeg can infuse that richness to ground beef dishes like Bolognese or chili con carne.
That familiar aroma of nutmeg is also used in many dishes that feature rich meats, desserts, sauces, curries, baking, and even fruit dishes. 

Many Mediterranean dishes, like Pastitsio and Moussaka, use nutmeg in their meat sauce.
Easily the most noted use of the nutmeg spice can be found in desserts, especially muffins and apple or pumpkin pies. 

This Spiced Banana Bread from AllRecipes is highly reviewed and adds a half teaspoon of nutmeg.
You can also find nutmeg flavor in beverages such as eggnog or, quite obviously, nutmeg tea.
Cooks around the world have also used nutmeg spice in their alfredo or bechamel sauce.

Is nutmeg a nut?

Now, onto that question earlier. Is nutmeg a nut? No.
Despite the term using “nut” in it, nutmeg isn’t a nut. It’s not even related to peanuts. Nutmeg is essentially a dried seed.

How to store nutmeg

When it comes to storage, you have to know first whether you’re keeping ground nutmeg or whole nutmeg seeds.
For ground nutmeg, store them in an airtight container, away from heat, light, and moisture. 

When these are followed, this type of nutmeg should retain its freshness for around six months.
How about whole nutmeg seeds? Whole nutmeg seeds should be able to stay fresh indefinitely. 

But like their ground counterpart, they should be stored away from heat and moisture.

The bottom line

Nutmeg is very fragrant and a little goes a long way, especially if you are grinding it fresh with a nut/seed grinder like this simple grater or this spice mill

It is often combined with other scents and spices classified into fall/autumn profiles, like pumpkin pie spice, apple pie spice, and more. 

Looking to fill your house with that amazing nutmeg scent? Here are some candles we found that should fill the bill.

Do you have a favorite recipe that uses nutmeg? Let us know!