Nutmeg tree is one of the several species of trees in genus Myristica and the most important commercial species is Myristica fragrans and evergreen tree native to Banda Islands in the Moluccas of Indonesia or Spice Islands. The nutmeg tree is important as for two spices derived from the fruit that includes the nutmeg and mace.
The nutmeg is known to be a prized and costly spice in the European medieval cuisine and used as a flavoring, medicinal and preservative agent. The small Banda Islands was the source of nutmeg and mace in the whole world. Nutmeg was traded by Arabs during the middle Ages and sold to the Venetians for very high prices, but the traders did not divulge the exact location of their source in the profitable Indian Ocean trade.
In August 1511, Afonso de Albuquerque conquered Malacca, which at the time was the hub of Asian trade, on behalf of the king of Portugal. In November 1511, after having secured Malacca and learning of the Bandas’ location, Albuquerque sent an expedition of three ships led by his friend António de Abreu to find them. Malay pilots, either recruited or forcibly conscripted, guided them via Java, the Lesser Sundas and Ambon to Banda, arriving in early 1512. They were the first Europeans to reach the Bandas and the expedition remained in Banda for about a month, purchasing and filling their ships with Banda’s nutmeg and mace, and with cloves in which Banda had a thriving entrepôt trade. Later in the 17th century the trade in nutmeg was dominated by the Dutch. It is aid that the British and Dutch struggled to gain control of Run Island for the only source of nutmeg. At the end of the Second Anglo-Dutch War, the Dutch gained control of Run, while Britain controlled New Amsterdam (New York) in North America. The Dutch managed to establish control over the Banda Islands in 1621. Thereafter, the Banda Islands were run as a series of plantation estates, with the Dutch mounting annual expeditions in local war-vessels to extirpate nutmeg trees planted elsewhere.
As a result of the Dutch interregnum during the Napoleonic Wars, the English took temporary control of the Banda Islands from the Dutch and transplanted nutmeg trees to their own colonial holdings elsewhere, notably Zanzibar and Grenada. The national flag of Grenada, adopted in 1974, shows a stylised split-open nutmeg fruit.
Nutmeg is actually a dried seed of the tree, egg shaped about 20 to 30mm long and 15 to 18mm wide weighing between 5 and 10 g while mace is the dried “lacy” reddish covering or aril of the seed. The first harvest of nutmeg trees takes place 7–9 years after planting, and the trees reach full production after 20 years. Nutmeg is usually used in powdered form. This is the only tropical fruit that is the source of two different spices.
Several other products are also produced from this tree which includes essential oils, extracted oleoresins and nutmeg butter. The outer surface of the nutmeg bruises very easily. Apart from the Banda Islands of Indonesia, nutmeg is also grown in Penang Island in Malaysia and Caribbean in Grenada. It is also grown in the state of Kerala, southern India. Other species of nutmeg include Papuan nutmeg M. argentea from New Guinea, and Bombay nutmeg M. malabarica from India, called jaiphal in Hindi; both are used as adulterants of M. fragrans products.
Nutmeg and mace are used mainly for flavoring the dishes and have similar sensory qualities, with nutmeg having a slightly sweeter and mace a more delicate flavor. Mace is often preferred in light dishes for the bright orange, saffron-like hue it imparts. Nutmeg is always used in ground or grated form, and is best grated fresh.
Nutmeg is predominantly used in Mughlai cuisine in India and also used in making of many sweets as well as savory dishes. Nutmeg is commonly known as jaiphal in Hindi in most parts of India and also called Jaayikaaya or Jaaipatri in Kannada and Jathikai in Tamil and nutmeg is known as Jaajikaaya and mace as Jaapathri in Telugu. It is added in small quantities as a medicine for infants (janma ghutti) It may also be used in small quantities in garam masala. Ground nutmeg is also smoked in India. In north India, nutmeg is used in preparing the most popular dish called the Sarson ka subzi, candied yams, puranpoli, bebinca and in the south India it is used in Bisibelebath, Banana pie and Junni (Milk pudding). Few people also use the fresh grated nutmeg for flavoring the cake.
In Middle Eastern cuisine, ground nutmeg is often used as a spice for savory dishes. In Arabic, nutmeg is called jawzat at-tiyb. Originally European cuisine, nutmeg and mace are used especially in potato dishes and in processed meat products; they are also used in soups, sauces, and baked goods. In Dutch cuisine, nutmeg is added to vegetables such as Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and string beans. Nutmeg is a traditional ingredient in mulled cider, mulled wine, and eggnog. Japanese use the nutmeg as an ingredient in the curry powder.
In the Caribbean, nutmeg is often used in drinks such as the Bushwacker, Painkiller, and Barbados rum punch. Typically it is just a sprinkle on the top of the drink.
The essential oils extracted from the nutmeg contains numerous components of interest to the oleochemical industry, and is used as a natural food flavoring in baked goods, syrups, beverages, and sweets. It is used to replace ground nutmeg, as it leaves no particles in the food. The essential oil is also used in the cosmetic and pharmaceutical industries, for instance, in toothpaste, and as a major ingredient in some cough syrups. In traditional medicine, nutmeg and nutmeg oil were used for disorders related to the nervous and digestive systems. Nutmeg has been known to poison some small animals for over consumption.
Nutmeg butter is obtained from the nut by expression. It is semi-solid, reddish brown in color, and tastes and smells of nutmeg. At one time, nutmeg was one of the most valuable spices. It has been said that in England, several hundred years ago, a few nutmegs could be sold for enough money to enable financial independence for life.
Used in small dosages nutmeg can reduce flatulence, aid digestion, improves the appetite and treat diarrhea, vomiting and nausea. Nutmeg’s flavor and fragrance come from oil of myristica, containing myristicin, a poisonous narcotic. Myristicin can cause hallucinations, vomiting; epileptic symptoms and large dosages can cause death. These effects will not be induced, however, even with generous culinary usage.
The nutritional values per 100 g of Nutmeg are:
Energy: 525 Kcal
Carbohydrates: 49.29 g
Protein: 5.84 g
Total Fat: 36.31 g
Cholesterol: 0 mg
Dietary Fiber: 20.8 g
Riboflavin: 0.057 mg
Sodium: 16 mg
Potassium: 350 mg
Calcium: 184 mg
Iron: 3.04 mg
Magnesium: 183 mg
Manganese: 2.900 mg
Phosphorus: 213 mg
Zinc: 2.15 mg