Contrary to what its name and round, hard shape suggest, nutmeg is not a nut but a seed kernel of the fruit of the nutmeg tree. On this seed kernel is the red lacy covering that becomes mace, a very similar but wholly different spice, and underneath the covering is the hard, brown nutmeg seed. Once believed to possess magical powers, those in the 16th century were known to tuck a nutmeg in their armpits to attract admirers or wear nutmegs in amulets to ward off dangers and evils. Today, however, nutmeg, with its warm, sweet, nutty tones, is used widely in the kitchen (and out; see “Benefits” for medicinal uses), especially to flavor sweet, spicy dishes like pies, puddings, custards, fruit desserts, beverages like eggnog and mulled wines, and sweet baking. In the savory department, nutmeg is used to season cream sauces, stews, sausages, meats (especially lamb), curries, egg dishes, and vegetables like squash, cabbage, spinach, and broccoli.
When purchasing, whole nutmeg is preferable to ground, as the flavor diminishes quickly.
Nutmeg has been known to be effective in promoting digestive health, including:
- reduction of flatulence
- aiding in digestion
- improving of appetite
- treating of diarrhea, vomiting, and nausea
The most suitable substitute for nutmeg would be mace, since the two are derived from the same fruit and impart very similar flavors. Otherwise, other warming spices may be used: clove, allspice, ginger, or cinnamon.