AskDefine | Define nutmeg

Dictionary Definition



1 East Indian tree widely cultivated in the tropics for its aromatic seed; source of two spices: nutmeg and mace [syn: nutmeg tree, Myristica fragrans]
2 hard aromatic seed of the nutmeg tree used as spice when grated or ground

User Contributed Dictionary


commons Myristica fragrans


A part-translation of Old French nois mugede (modern noix muscade), from mediaeval Latin nux muscata, literally ‘musky nut’.


  • /ˈnʌtmɛg/


  1. an evergreen tree, Myristica fragrans, cultivated in the East Indies for its spicy seeds
  2. the aromatic seed of this tree, used as a spice
  3. a grey-brown colour
  4. The playing of the ball between the legs of an opponent




  1. to flavour with nutmeg
  2. (transitive) to play the ball between the legs of (an opponent)

See also

Extensive Definition

The nutmegs Myristica are a genus of evergreen trees indigenous to tropical southeast Asia and Australasia. They are important for two spices derived from the fruit, nutmeg and mace.
Nutmeg is the actual seed of the tree, roughly egg-shaped and about 20 mm to 30 mm (1 inch) long and 15 mm to 18 mm (¾ inch) wide, and weighing between 5 g and 10 g (¼ ounce and ½ ounce) dried, while mace is the dried "lacy" reddish covering or arillus of the seed.
Several other commercial products are also produced from the trees, including essential oils, extracted oleoresins, and nutmeg butter (see below).
The outer surface of the nutmeg bruises easily.
The pericarp (fruit/pod) is used in Grenada to make a jam called "Morne Delice". In Indonesia, the fruit is sliced finely, cooked and crystallised to make a fragrant candy called manisan pala ("nutmeg sweets").
The most important species commercially is the Common or Fragrant Nutmeg Myristica fragrans, native to the Banda Islands of Indonesia; it is also grown in the Caribbean, especially in Grenada. Other species include Papuan Nutmeg M. argentea from New Guinea, and Bombay Nutmeg M. malabarica from India; both are used as adulterants of M. fragrans products.

Culinary uses

Nutmeg and mace have similar taste qualities, nutmeg having a slightly sweeter and mace a more delicate flavour. Mace is often preferred in light-coloured dishes for the bright orange, saffron-like colour it imparts. Nutmeg is a flavorful addition to cheese sauces and is best grated fresh (see nutmeg grater).
In Indian cuisine, nutmeg powder is used almost exclusively in sweet dishes. It is known as Jaiphal in most parts of India and as Jathi seed in Kerala. It may also be used in small quantities in garam masala. Ground nutmeg is also smoked in India.
In Middle Eastern cuisine, nutmeg powder is often used as a spice for savoury dishes. In Arabic, nutmeg is called Jawzt at-Tiyb.
In Greece and Cyprus nutmeg is called moschokarydo (Greek: "nut that smells nice") and is used in cooking and savoury dishes.
In European cuisine, nutmeg and mace are used especially in potato dishes and in processed meat products; they are also used in soups, sauces and baked goods. In Dutch cuisine nutmeg is quite popular, it is added to vegetables like Brussels sprouts, cauliflower and string beans.
Japanese varieties of curry powder include nutmeg as an ingredient.
A Norwegian bun called kavring includes nutmeg.
Nutmeg is a traditional ingredient in mulled cider, mulled wine, and eggnog.

Essential oils

The essential oil is obtained by the steam distillation of ground nutmeg and is used heavily in the perfumery and pharmaceutical industries. The oil is colourless or light yellow, and smells and tastes of nutmeg. It contains numerous components of interest to the oleochemical industry, and is used as a natural food flavouring in baked goods, syrups, beverages, and sweets. It replaces ground nutmeg as it leaves no particles in the food. The essential oil is also used in the cosmetic and pharmaceutical industries, for instance, in toothpaste, and as a major ingredient in some cough syrups. In traditional medicine nutmeg and nutmeg oil were used for illnesses related to the nervous and digestive systems. Myristicin and elemicin are believed to be the chemical constituents responsible for the subtle hallucinogenic properties of nutmeg oil. Other known chemical ingredients of the oil are α-pinene, sabinene, γ-terpinene and safrole.
Externally, the oil is used for rheumatic pain and, like clove oil, can be applied as an emergency treatment to dull toothache. Drops are put on a cotton swab, and applied to the gums around an aching tooth until dental treatment can be obtained. In France, it is given in drop doses in honey for digestive upsets and used for bad breath. Drops are put on a sugar lump or in a teaspoon of honey for nausea, gastroenteritis, chronic diarrhea, and indigestion. Alternatively, a massage oil can be created by diluting the essential oil in almond oil. This is sometimes used for muscular pains associated with rheumatism or overexertion. It is also combined with thyme or rosemary essential oils. It should be noted that these are folk remedies. Nutmeg when ingested can be fatal and when applied to the skin it can be an irritant.

Nutmeg butter

Nutmeg butter is obtained from the nut by expression. It is semi-solid, reddish brown in colour, and tastes and smells of nutmeg. Approximately 75% (by weight) of nutmeg butter is trimyristin, which can be turned into myristic acid, a 14-carbon fatty acid which can be used as a replacement for cocoa butter, can be mixed with other fats like cottonseed oil or palm oil, and has applications as an industrial lubricant.


There is some evidence that Roman priests may have burned nutmeg as a form of incense, although this is disputed. It is known to have been used as a prized and costly spice in medieval cuisine. Saint Theodore the Studite ( ca. 758 – ca. 826) was famous for allowing his monks to sprinkle nutmeg on their pease pudding when required to eat it. In Elizabethan times it was believed that nutmeg could ward off the plague, so nutmeg was very popular. Nutmeg was traded by Arabs during the Middle Ages in the profitable Indian Ocean trade.
In the late 15th century, Portugal started trading in the Indian Ocean, including the trade of nutmeg, under the Treaty of Tordesillas with Spain and a separate treaty with the sultan of Ternate. But full control of this trade was not possible and they remained largely participants, rather than overlords since the authority Ternate held over the nutmeg-growing centre of the Banda Islands was quite limited. Therefore, the Portuguese failed to gain a foothold in the islands themselves.
The trade in nutmeg later became dominated by the Dutch in the 17th century. The British and Dutch engaged in prolonged struggles to gain control of Run island, then the only source of nutmeg. At the end of the Second Anglo-Dutch War the Dutch gained control of Run in exchange for the British controlling New Amsterdam (New York) in North America.
The Dutch managed to establish control over the Banda Islands after an extended military campaign that culminated in the massacre or expulsion of most of the islands' inhabitants in 1621. Thereafter, the Banda Islands were run as a series of plantation estates, with the Dutch mounting annual expeditions in local war-vessels to extirpate nutmeg trees planted elsewhere.
As a result of the Dutch interregnum during the Napoleonic Wars, the English took temporary control of the Banda Islands from the Dutch and transplanted nutmeg trees to their own colonial holdings elsewhere, notably Zanzibar and Grenada. Today, a stylised split-open nutmeg fruit is found on the national flag of Grenada.
Connecticut gets its nickname ("the Nutmeg State", "Nutmegger") from the legend that some unscrupulous Connecticut traders would whittle "nutmeg" out of wood, creating a "wooden nutmeg" (a term which came to mean any fraud)

World production

World production of nutmeg is estimated to average between 10,000 and 12,000 tonnes per year with annual world demand estimated at 9,000 tonnes; production of mace is estimated at 1,500 to 2,000 tonnes. Indonesia and Grenada dominate production and exports of both products with a world market share of 75% and 20% respectively. Other producers include India, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, Sri Lanka and Caribbean islands such as St. Vincent. The principal import markets are the European Community, the United States, Japan and India. Singapore and the Netherlands are major re-exporters.
At one time, nutmeg was one of the most valuable spices. It has been said that in England, several hundred years ago, a few nutmeg nuts could be sold for enough money to enable financial independence for life.
The first harvest of nutmeg trees takes place 7–9 years after planting and the trees reach their full potential after 20 years.

Risks and toxicity

In low doses, nutmeg produces no noticeable physiological or neurological response. Large doses of 60 g (~12 teaspoons) or more are dangerous, potentially inducing convulsions, palpitations, nausea, eventual dehydration, and generalized body pain In amounts of 10-40 g (~4-8 teaspoons) it is a mild to medium hallucinogen, producing visual distortions and a mild euphoria. Nutmeg contains myristicin, a weak monoamine oxidase inhibitor.
A test was carried out on the substance that showed that, when ingested in large amounts, nutmeg takes on a similar chemical make-up to MDMA (ecstasy). However, use of nutmeg as a recreational drug is unpopular due to its unpleasant taste and its side effects, including dizziness, flushes, dry mouth, accelerated heartbeat, temporary constipation, difficulty in urination, nausea, and panic. A user will not experience a peak until approximately six hours after ingestion, and effects can linger for up to three days afterwards.
A risk in any large-quantity (over 25 g, ~5 teaspoons) ingestion of nutmeg is the onset of 'nutmeg poisoning', an acute psychiatric disorder marked by thought disorder, a sense of impending doom/death, and agitation. Some cases have resulted in hospitalization.
Fatalities occur with lower doses with children. An 8-year-old boy who consumed just two nutmegs fell into a coma, only to die 20 hours later.

Toxicity during pregnancy

Nutmeg was once considered an abortifacient, but may be safe for culinary use during pregnancy. However, it inhibits prostaglandin production and contains hallucinogens that may affect the fetus if consumed in large quantities.

See also



General references

  • Shulgin, A. T., Sargent, T. W., & Naranjo, C. (1967). Chemistry and psychopharmacology of nutmeg and of several related phenylisopropylamines. United States Public Health Service Publication 1645: 202–214.
  • Gable, R. S. (2006). The toxicity of recreational drugs. American Scientist 94: 206–208.
  • Devereux, P. (1996). Re-Visioning the Earth: A Guide to Opening the Healing Channels Between Mind and Nature. New York: Fireside. pp. 261–262.
  • Milton, Giles (1999), Nathaniel's Nutmeg: How One Man's Courage Changed the Course of History
  • Erowid Nutmeg Information
  • Nutmeg Pericarp
  • Nutmeg Jam
nutmeg in Arabic: جوزة الطيب
nutmeg in Bosnian: Muskatni oraščić
nutmeg in Bulgarian: Индийско орехче
nutmeg in Czech: Muškátový oříšek
nutmeg in Danish: Muskatnød
nutmeg in German: Muskatnuss
nutmeg in Modern Greek (1453-): Μοσχοκαρυδιά
nutmeg in Spanish: Nuez moscada
nutmeg in Esperanto: Muskato
nutmeg in French: Muscadier
nutmeg in Indonesian: Pala
nutmeg in Icelandic: Múskat (krydd)
nutmeg in Italian: Noce moscata
nutmeg in Hebrew: אגוז מוסקט
nutmeg in Kannada: ಜಾಪತ್ರೆ
nutmeg in Hungarian: Szerecsendió
nutmeg in Dutch: Nootmuskaat
nutmeg in Japanese: ナツメグ
nutmeg in Norwegian: Muskat
nutmeg in Polish: Muszkatołowiec korzenny
nutmeg in Portuguese: Noz-moscada
nutmeg in Romanian: Nucşoară
nutmeg in Russian: Мускатный орех (пряность)
nutmeg in Simple English: Nutmeg
nutmeg in Slovenian: Muškat (drevo)
nutmeg in Finnish: Muskotti
nutmeg in Swedish: Muskot
nutmeg in Tonga (Tonga Islands): kotone
nutmeg in Turkish: Muskat
nutmeg in Urdu: جائفل
nutmeg in Chinese: 豆蔲
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