Before we get to nutmeg… what is spice?
Some definitions state that spice is an aromatic or pungent vegetable substance used to flavor food, e.g., cloves, pepper, or mace. Its used as a condiment, as flavouring and seasoning our food. Have you ever sat down and jotted down all the spices that go into our meals everyday? Even Kentucky Fried Chicken uses 12 spices for that yummy fried chicken. Its simply amazing on how we rely on spices for our food. Now lets find out how nutmeg travelled all the way from the Banda Islands oven centuries to take a tiny spot in your kitchen and tables.
If it was not for the Dutch and the British and their infamous tug of war over nutmeg and other spices in the Moluccas Islands, we may have never gotten to know Nutmeg and Mace at all! For many centuries Nutmeg was only grown in the Moluccas Island and later on the British cultivated the Nutmeg in Grenada, Penang and India. The nutmeg is highly significant for Grenada as it is featured in the flag of Grenada highlighting the importance of agriculture. Long before the Dutch and the British eyed the Moluccas Islands , Nutmeg had made its way to Byzantinium in the 6th Century where a Persian physician called it the Banda Nut.Arabs traded nutmeg through the dark and middle ages chanelling it to Venice to season the table of European aristocrats. Nutmeg was crazily expensive. In the 14 century, a pound of nutmeg cost as much as 7 oxen!
Now what made nutmeg to be such a must have?
Arabs traded nutmeg for its sweet scent, as an aphrodisiac and as medicine. During the Black Death Plague, people went crazy over nutmeg thinking it could ward off the plague as there was a perception that fleas disliked the smell of nutmeg.
For those of you who are not to familiar with this spice, Nutmeg, Myristica Fragrans belongs to the Myristica genus of trees. The nutmeg is egg shaped and measures 20mm to 30mm and weighs between 5-10 grams. The first harvest of a nutmeg tree in between 7-9 years and the tree is in full production when the tree reaches 20 years. It is the only tropical fruit that has 2 different sources of spice! The nutmeg in itself is the seed of the tree and it is covered by a red lacy coating called mace.
Nutmeg and mace has many culinary uses especially in European and Chinese cuisines. Nutmeg is commonly used in powder form although it was quite a culinary trend for people to carry their own tiny nutmeg graters to restaurants to flavour their soups!
With its nutty and slightly sweet flavour, nutmeg enhances dishes such as soups, breads, cookies, puddings, muffins, pies and cakes. No eggnog is complete without the sprinkling of this spice! On the other hand, mace has a warm, spicy flavour but subtler or even similar to nutmeg. Its aroma can be simply put as a combination of cinnamon and black pepper. Mace is a favourite to be used in sauces, curries, pickling, cakes and even Worcestershire Sauce!
Nutmeg is not only handy in the kitchen but the the health benefits are surely going to make you have some nutmeg or nutmeg oil as an essential spice at home.
Nutmeg as a Brain Tonic
Did you know that Roman and Greek civilisations used nutmeg to stimulate the brain and eliminate fatigue, stress, anxiety and depression ?Now thats a great pick me up spice!
An effective sedative, and a staple ingredient in Chinese medicine, Nutmeg helps treat inflammation and abdominal pain, aching joints, muscle pain, arthritis and sores.
Nutmeg brings relief to all our tummy woes such as diarrhoea, constipation,flatulence and relieve tummy aches.
When they were no Mentos and Wrigleys chewing gum, Nutmeg was used in toothpaste in aiding the removal of built up bacteria, soothing tooth aches and gum problems.
Cleanse your liver and kidneys and be sure of the removal of toxins from your system. Nutmeg is also effective in preventing and dissolving kidney stones.
SKII not working out for you? Nutmeg helps in having smooth and healthier skin and also treats skin problems. Here is a recipe for your own homemade nutmeg facial scrub especially for those with acne.
Mix some nutmeg powder and honey to make a paste. Apply to acne marks.
Sleep Friendly Spice
Cant sleep? Drink a cup of milk with some nutmeg powder. Nutmeg helps you relax and sends you off to dreamland.
Here is a Shortbread recipe for you to test out as Christmas is not too far away!
1 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 large egg
2 1/2 cups flour
pinch of salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg (But you may want to consider adding more if you really like the taste of this spice.)
Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
Beat in vanilla and the egg.
In a separate bowl, stir together flour, salt and nutmeg.
Add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture by hand until just combined.
Divide the dough in four and roll into logs about 8″ long and 1″ in diameter. Wrap in wax paper, plastic wrap or parchment and chill until firm, from two hours to overnight.
To bake, preheat the oven to 350. Cut each log into pieces 1/2″ thick and space evenly on baking sheet. Bake for 10 minutes or until just golden.
Happy baking and on a last note, think spice, think nutmeg!