Culinary Arts

What Is Nutmeg? Learn How to Cook With Nutmeg

Written by MasterClass

May 16, 2019 • 4 min read

In the Middle Ages, nutmeg was worn as an amulet to fend off injury, disease, and evil forces. Meanwhile in East India and China, nutmeg was considered a powerful aphrodisiac. Although the days of touting nutmeg’s mystical powers have passed, this aromatic spice can still bring some magic to modern-day kitchens with its rich, warm flavors.

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What Is Nutmeg?

Nutmeg is a spice made from the inner portion of the seed contained inside the plant’s apricot-sized fruit. It’s derived from the seed of the nutmeg tree (Myristica fragrans), an evergreen tree native to the Maluku Islands (aka Indonesia's spice islands).

After the fruit splits open, the inner nutmeg seeds are sun-dried for six to eight weeks before being sold whole or ground into a fine powder. Typically under 1-inch long, whole nutmeg can be recognized by its ovular shape and dark brown, wrinkled surface.

Is Nutmeg a Nut?

Contrary to its name and nutty flavor, nutmeg isn’t a tree nut, but rather a seed. Therefore, this spice is safe to consume by people with tree nut or peanut allergies.

What Does Nutmeg Taste Like?

A popular spice available in both ground and whole form, nutmeg is known for its warm, nutty flavor, making it the perfect addition to comforting sweet and savory dishes. Once ground, nutmeg spice takes on a warm and aromatic flavor with notes of clove.

How to Cook With Culinary Nutmeg

Although store-bought ground nutmeg powder is the most convenient option for utilizing this spice, nutmeg is at its most flavorful and fragrant when freshly ground from the whole seed. To cook with whole nutmeg, use a nutmeg grater, pepper mill, or microplane to grate off a small amount of the seed into your dish.

Nutmeg also pairs well with creamy sauces and cheesy dishes, such as bechamel, alfredo sauce, and soufflés, which benefit from the spice’s subtle heat.

How to Find Nutmeg All Over the World

In the United States, this aromatic spice is best known as a baking spice used in fall-friendly pumpkin and apple pies, and an ingredient in sweet, warming beverages all over the world, like chai tea, mulled wine, and eggnog. Nutmeg also pairs well with creamy sauces and cheesy dishes, such as bechamel, alfredo sauce, and soufflés, which benefit from the spice’s subtle heat.

In its native Indonesia, nutmeg is a frequent addition to warm soups and stews, like oxtail soup and beef stew, and is used in meat rubs for dishes like Indonesian pork bistik. In Indian cuisine, nutmeg is added to savory spice blends like garam masala and curry powder, and is used in the preparation of various Indian meats and sweet desserts.

While in Italy nutmeg is used to craft Mortadella sausages and fill stuffed pastas, in Scotland the spice is traditionally used to make the savory meat pudding haggis. In Dutch cuisine, nutmeg is paired with potato dishes and hearty vegetables like cauliflower and brussels sprouts. And in Middle Eastern and Caribbean cuisine, nutmeg is a key ingredient in ras el hanout and jerk seasonings.

What Are the Health Benefits of Nutmeg?

Packed with antioxidants, fiber, vitamins A and C, and minerals like manganese, zinc, and iron, nutmeg has numerous health benefits when consumed in moderation. Some of the purported benefits of nutmeg include increased brain and heart health, reduced inflammation, and improved digestive health. Nutmeg can help treat issues like nausea, diarrhea, suppressed appetite, and achy pain.

Thanks to its high levels of manganese, nutmeg can also help to regulate blood sugar, prevent blood clotting, lower blood pressure, and absorb more calcium into the body.

5 Common Spice Blends Featuring Nutmeg

  • Pumpkin Pie Spice - A warm, sweet, and spicy combination of cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and ginger that is a key element in pumpkin pie and other fall desserts.
  • Quatre-Epices - This French seasoning means “four spices” and consists of ground pepper, nutmeg, cloves, and ginger. This mixture is popular in both French and Middle Eastern cuisine.
  • Advieh - An aromatic Persian spice mix typically made with dried rose petals, nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, turmeric, and cumin. This mixture is used widely in Persian cuisine, particularly for stews and rice dishes.
  • Jerk Seasoning - A hot, flavor-packed spice blend native to Grenada in the Caribbean typically consisting of cayenne pepper, chilies, nutmeg, dried thyme, garlic, and cinnamon. Sprinkled over meat and vegetable dishes to give them a signature Carribean kick.
  • Ras el Hanout - A popular Moroccan spice blend containing cumin, cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, aniseed, cloves, and turmeric.

6 Nutmeg Recipe Ideas

  • Pumpkin Pie - A classic pie recipe filled with a mixture of pumpkin purée, evaporated milk, eggs, sugar, ground nutmeg, cinnamon, and cloves.
  • Butternut Squash Soup - Creamy puréed butternut squash soup made with squash, chicken stock, butter, diced onion, nutmeg, and black pepper.
  • Moroccan Lamb Tagine - A traditional lamb stew cooked in a tagine pot with tomato sauce, diced onions, and a spice blend of nutmeg, cumin, coriander, star anise, turmeric, and cardamom.
  • Candied Pecans with Nutmeg - Oven-roasted pecans coated in egg whites and sprinkled with a mixture of cinnamon, nutmeg, white sugar, and salt.
  • Jerk Chicken - Quartered chickens rubbed with a puréed paste of onion, chili, garlic, pepper, nutmeg, thyme, salt, and pepper, grilled over flame until cooked through.
  • Vanilla and Nutmeg Rice Pudding - Rice pudding prepared with jasmine rice, heavy cream, milk, sugar, whole vanilla bean, and freshly grated nutmeg.