Joy the Baker

A Lesson in Nutmeg

November 4, 2008

We need to talk. It’s important.

I can’t have you using that Ground Nutmeg you have in your pantry. I know it’s easy. I know it’s cheap. I just can’t in good conscience let this continue.

Let’s talk about nutmeg. I have The Internets so I know everything I need to know.

Nutmeg comes from a type of evergreen tree in southeast Asia and Australasia. Now, before I continue, am I the only one that didn’t know what Australasia was? Australasia includes Australia, New Zealand and Papua New Ginuea. True. Fun fact!

So two important culinary items come from this magical evergreen type tree:  nutmeg and mace.  Nutmeg is actually the seed of the tree.  It’s slightly smaller than an egg, solid and hard, but when grated, has an interesting lace like design.  Mace is the dried, reddish covering of the arillus seed. Huh?  Yea. Pay attention, we’re still learning.  Mace has a slightly more delicate flavor than nutmeg and when baked, imparts an almost saffron like orange glow.

The beauty of nutmeg is that it’s so versatile.  It’s an integral part of a spice cake like carrot cake, or my beloved Sugar and Spice Cinnamon Rolls, but also shines when sprinkled over sauteed spinach or mixed into cheese sauces.  The key to nutmeg is to always (always! always!) go for the fresh stuff.  It’s easy.  I promise.  It’s not a pain in the ass.  All you’ll need is a jar of the nutmeg seeds (they often come in a jar with between 6 and 8 ) and a microplane.  Microplanes are just about the handiest zester/grater ever!

When a recipe calls for freshly grated nutmeg, you’re good to go.  If a recipe simply calls for 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg, you might want to use a dash less.  Go for 3/4 teaspoon of the fresh stuff instead.  Fresh nutmeg is stronger, more aromatic and more forward that the pre-ground, dusty nutmeg.

Pre-ground nutmeg is a poor excuse for such a beautiful spice.  Go fresh.  It’s the only way to go.


32 Comments Add A Comment

  • Thanks so much for the great info. I do have a couple of questions: Where is a good place to purchase fresh nutmeg. I am not sure where to look. And second, what is the self life of the seeds? When is fresh not considered “fresh” anymore? Again, thanks for the nutmeg lesson.

  • not gonna lie … i thought australasia was a typo

  • Thank you for this beautiful picture and your delightful ode to nutmeg. It really is one of the great (but underrated) flavors of the kitchen – and you’re right, fresh is the only way to go!

  • Last year around this time I bought this “Nutmeg Mill,” which has chunks of nutmeg (but not the whole seed) and a little grinder at the top. Something tells me this is not the fresh nutmeg you are going for… :)

  • Fresh nutmeg is absolutely amazing, I am completely obsessed with it. I grate it onto my steel cut oats every morning with some banana and cinnamon. Mmm… delicious

  • Quick question: how long should you keep the fresh nutmeg? I’ve had a jar of the whole nutmegs for about six months now and I’m starting to think I may need to get some new ones.

  • Fresh nutmeg is the best! I love it!

  • I’ve been using fresh nutmeg for a while now, only because I didn’t read the jar closely enough and accidentally got them whole when I wanted to get them ground. It’s good to know my lack of attention in the grocery store is paying off!

  • Hear hear!!! I couldn’t agree more! I love my little microplane nutmeg-grater, your can store the nutmegs in it, so they’re always handy. Did you know if you use a lot of (and I mean a lot!) you’ll start hallicinating?!

    • Lien, now you have me SOOO curious. Did you learn this from experience? hehe
      You posted this 5 years ago so I doubt you will respond. Sigh.

      • I’ve read up on the hallucination it can cause a while back. it takes something like 16 hours to kick in and the hangover from it has been said to be “like god has taken a dump on your soul”.. not exactly something fun to try lol

  • The best thing about fresh nutmeg is that you get a sufficient amount in a very short amount of time. It REALLY doesn’t take much more time than measuring out the pre-ground stuff but it makes an incredible difference. In a hurry? Just store the microplane (or a nutmeg grater like I have) right next to the nutmeg.

  • I converted to fresh this year! I actually bought enough for me, my mom and my stepmother as well…and the microplanes to match! I have to say, it has made a really serious difference in some of my baked goods.

  • I have to tell you that I love your blog. Your recipes all look great, but above that it is a good read! Thanks for all the info!

  • Ok you’ve convinced me- I have to admit that I mostly use pre-ground spices because it’s hard for me to find time (with an 8 month old) to bake at all, let alone grind my own spices. But I know you’re right- I can always tell the difference when I do use fresh- so I need to bite the bullet and do it!!

  • Nutmegs are so pretty on the inside. I have several in my cupboard and I LOVE my microplane!!

  • I with you on this one. I only go fresh when it comes to nutmeg. The freshness bring out such a wonderful flavor than the ground.

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