Nutmeg State: Penang Island, Malaysia

I love nutmeg. I have grown to love it more and more since being at Tropical Spice Garden. After reading Nathaniel’s Nutmeg by Giles Milton – I named my new born son, Nathanael. The name is Hebrew meaning ‘Gift of God’ also. Yep, I love nutmeg!

Line drawing of nutmeg as featured in our garden map at Tropical Spice Garden

As I lay on my post-maternity bed, I was in the thick of doing research on nutmeg and clove for our new spice garden map. The horrible bitter wars fought. The incredibly small size of the isle of Run in the Moluccas in Indonesia. The remarkable worth of this fruit and spice in the days gone. The fact that nutmeg changed the history of New York and the world – is all just so fascinating.

Here are a few things we have learnt along the way about this fabulous spice.

Nutmeg, cinnamon and other spices glowing in their gunny sacks

Nutmeg

Myristica fragrans

NUTMEG / ˈnʌtmɛg/ Origin: late Middle English: notemuge, partial translation of Old French nois muguede [meaning “nut smelling like musk”] based on Latin nux ‘nut’ + late Latin muscus ‘musk’

The nutmeg tree must be the only species to produce 2 spices – nutmeg (the seed) and mace (the red lacy aril covering the kernel). Nutmeg and mace are similar in aroma and taste but the mace is more refined and delicate. Nutmeg is added to a vast array of dishes the world over including meat stews, egg dishes, pie fillings and in Grenada, it is even used to make a liqueur and added to syrup to produce a genuine Caribbean rum punch. Medicinally, nutmeg is used in the manufacture of inhalants to relieve nasal congestion and the extracted oil is also commonly used for arthritic pain and stomach disorder including flatulence!

Very few are aware of the powerful narcotic properties of nutmeg and if consumed in significant amounts can induce strong hallucinations. Due to this, I have been told by our Arab visitors that nutmeg is banned in Saudi Arabia. The older generation I was told used to use a bit of nutmeg and sprinkle it in babies milk so they would induce better sleep. This would be a punishable offense these days in some countries of the Middle East.

Fresh Nutmeg showing the red mace and seed

In Penang, the harvesting months are in March and September and the island has gained the reputation as being the nutmeg state of Malaysia. The nutmeg farmers here have long been famous for pickling the fruit flesh by first skinning and soaking the flesh in salt water followed by sugar syrup. The sugared variety of this snack is another popular choice amongst visitors. Other products that have been associated with the island are the many nutmeg oils, ointments and balms – a popular household choice for topical application for aches and pains. Fresh nutmeg juice and syrup are delightfully refreshing and can be ordered in most local coffee shops.

Learn to cook with nutmeg at our very own Tropical Spice Garden Cooking School today. Here we unveil all the fabulous secrets of the enigmatic spice. Penang prides itself on once having the best nutmeg in the world. May I add we still do…?

1 thought on “Nutmeg State: Penang Island, Malaysia

  1. Hi,
    I am crating my own business importing things from South East Asia where I was last year.
    I’d like to import some nutmeg balm that I bought in Penang and that I use every day.
    I’ve already found a few manufacturers but could you give me a list of some you know . I’d like to have a few more prices before I order.
    Thanks in advance for you reply,
    Terima Kasih,
    Catherine Jaskot
    676 Rue de Piccolay
    74500 Evian France

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