Ground or grated nutmeg has a warm and sweet smell but in its original form is a large hard oval seed, which is brown in colour.
It is traditionally associated with cosy and warming winter food and drink but actually grows in much warmer climates.
Nutmeg is the inner seed of the peach like fruit of a tree (myristica fragans). It is covered with a bright red shell (Mace) which is also used in cooking.
The trees typically grow in tropical and humid environments, with sixty eight percent of production coming from Guatemala and Indonesia. Although, nutmeg is also grown in Malaysia, the Caribbean and Kerala in India.
Nutmeg came to Indian cooking from ancient trade routes with Indonesia.
The earliest known use of nutmeg was three and a half thousand years ago.
Uses for nutmeg
In Indian cooking nutmeg is used in both sweet and savoury dishes. In Mughlai style dishes, known for their aromatic richness nutmeg is a common ingredient.
Nutmeg can also be used in small quantities in garam masala (a blend of ground spices used extensively in Indian recipes).
It is best used when ground fresh from the whole seed in order to have the full benefit of its sweet, nutty, spicy aroma.
Whole nutmegs will keep for years in a cool, dry place which is away from bright light, but once grated should be used immediately or the taste and aroma will quickly fade.
When grating nutmeg, the general rule is to use half of the amount a recipe calling for ground nutmeg requires.
Medical uses for nutmeg
The leaves and other parts of the nutmeg tree are used for essential oils and it contains high quantities of minerals such as magnesium, manganese and copper. It is high in vitamins B1 and B6.
Nutmeg oils are said to have anti-inflammatory properties and can be used for treating joint and muscle pain.
Its antibacterial qualities have been used to treat bad breath by removing bacteria from the mouth, and is frequently used as a skin treatment for clogged pores, acne and blackheads.
It can have a calming effect when consumed in small doses and has been used in traditional medicine as an aid to sleep and de-stressing.
The essential oils are considered to have a calming effect on the digestive system, and a pinch of nutmeg in a soup or drink may give relief for bloating, constipation or diarrhoea. It may also help in removing excessive gas.
Nutmeg is also known as an aphrodisiac! It stimulates nerves in the brain and is considered to be an effective ingredient for treating depression and anxiety. There are studies that suggest nutmeg also helps concentration.