Botanical Name: Myristica fragrans

Family: Myristicaceae

Hindi Name: Jaiphal

Nutmeg is native to the Molucca Islands, Banda islands and the Malay archipelago. It is cultivated in Indonesia, West Indies, Java, Sumatra and French Guyana. In India, it is grown in the Nilgiris, Kerala, Karnataka and Assam. The nutmeg from New Guinea is more pungent and has more fragrance than the Indian nutmeg.

Although nutmeg was available in Europe since the thirteenth century, significant trade started not before the sixteenth century, when Portuguese ships sailed to India and further, to the famed Spice Island - Moluccas. During the seventeenth century, the Dutch succeeded in monopolising the nutmeg trade, as they did with cloves.

The trees may grow to a height of 20 metres or more. When the apricot-like fruit breaks open, the mace is the bright red coloured cage that clothes the thin, black, shining shell of the seed called nutmeg.

The composition of the nutmeg is as follows:

  • Moisture: 14.3 %
  • Protein: 7.5 %
  • Ether extract: 36.4 %
  • Carbohydrates: 28.5 %
  • Fibre: 11.6 %
  • Minerals: 1.7 %
  • Calcium: 0.12 %
  • Phosphorus: 0.24 %
  • Iron: 4.6 mg/100g

Nutmeg also contains a volatile oil, starch, pentosans, furfural and pectin. It contains about 10 percent essential oil, which is mostly composed of terpene hydrocarbons, terpene derivatives and phenylpropanoids. It is myristicin, which is responsible for the hallucinogenic effect of nutmeg.

Nutmeg is strongly aromatic, resinous and warm in taste. It quickly loses its fragrance when ground, therefore, the necessary amount should be grated from a whole nut immediately before usage. The pulp of the nutmeg fruit is tough almost woody, and very sour.

In Indonesia, it is used to make a delicious jam with the pleasant nutmeg aroma. In Arab countries, Iran and northern India, nutmeg appears in delicately flavoured meat dishes. The northern Indian spice mixture (garam masala) has nutmeg. It is also found in the Moroccan ras el hanout, Tunisian galat dagga, and Saudi Arab baharat-all spice mixtures.

In Western cuisine, nutmeg is used for Bechamel sauce, cakes and biscuits, stewed fruits and cheeses. The combination of spinach with nutmeg is popular in Italy for stuffed noodles, e.g., ravioli. The Dutch use it for cabbage, potato and other vegetables, besides meat, soups, stews and sauces.

Nutmeg is the characteristic flavouring of Bechamel sauce which is used in the preparation of baked foods and lasagna that is very popular in Italy and the United States and the Greek mousaka. It is an important ingredient in the French spice mixture, quatre epices, which is used for flavouring meat dishes, stews and ragouts, sausages and pastries.

Since quite a fraction of nutmeg is grown today in Grenada, it has also entered several Caribbean cuisines.

Nutmeg butter, obtained from damaged or worm-eaten kernels, contains a volatile oil, a small amount of resin, and glycerides. This butter is used as a mild external stimulant in ointments, hair lotions and plasters. It is applied in cases of rheumatism, paralysis and sprains It is also used in the manufacture of soaps, candles, and perfumes.

The oil of nutmeg, a colorless or pale yellow liquid, is employed for flavoring food products and liquor. It is also used in perfumery, dental creams, tobacco and scented soaps.

Nutmeg is carminative, stoma chic and stimulant. Nutmeg powder is used to relieve flatulence, nausea and vomiting. It is used in preparations for dysentery, malaria, rheumatism and sciatica. It is also useful in insomnia, skin and digestive disorders, and in treating dehydration. Nutmeg should be taken in small quantities, otherwise large doses can be toxic, producing double vision, disorientation and convulsions.

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