Nuts over nutmeg!

by | Oct 11, 2007

Welcome, class, to today’s Fresh Pick: NUTMEG

When Columbus sailed from Spain looking for the East Indies, nutmeg was one of the spices for which he was searching. Native to the Spice Islands, this seed from the nutmeg tree (a tropical evergreen) was extremely popular throughout much of the world from the 15th to the 19th century. When the fruit of the tree is picked, it is split to reveal the nutmeg seed surrounded by a lacy membrane that, when dried and ground, becomes the spice mace. The hard, egg-shaped nutmeg seed is grayish-brown and about one inch long. The flavor and aroma are delicately warm, spicy and sweet. Nutmeg is sold ground or whole. Whole nutmeg freshly ground with a nutmeg grater or grinder is superior to that which is commercially ground and packaged (this goes for all ground spices). One whole nutmeg grated equals two to three teaspoons of ground nutmeg.

While nutmeg is usually associated with sweet, spicy dishes—pies, puddings, custards, cookies and spice cakes—it combines just as well with many cheeses, soups, sauces, and other savory dishes. It complements egg dishes and vegetables like cabbage, spinach, broccoli, beans onions and eggplant and is often included as part of the Moroccan spice blend ras el hanout. It is indispensable to eggnog and numerous mulled wines and punches.

Used in small dosages nutmeg can reduce flatulence, aid digestion, improve the appetite and treat diarrhea, vomiting and nausea. However, nutmeg’s flavor and fragrance come from oil of myristica, containing myristicin, a poisonous narcotic*. Myristicin can cause hallucinations, vomiting, epileptic symptoms and large dosages can cause death. (Um, scary.) These effects will not be induced, however, even with generous culinary usage.

*I don’t drink or do drugs, but I researched this online and users seem to have a consensus that two tablespoonfuls are the appropriate dosage to feel the narcotic effects, but caution against any more than that or combining nutmeg sessions with MAO inhibitors due to “unknown effects.” Please note that I do not condone using nutmeg in this way. I just like to present the facts.

For some great recipes, click here or here or try this simple side dish:

2 Tbsp olive oil
1 bag prewashed baby spinach
1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
Zest of one lemon
Salt and pepper to taste

Sauté spinach in olive oil over low heat, about 7 minutes, lightly stirring to evenly wilt all leaves. Sprinkle nutmeg and lemon zest over spinach and stir to combine. Remove from heat; add salt and pepper to taste.


I’m Dina R. D’Alessandro, MS, RDN, CDN. I am a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist based in New York City, and I provide nutrition counseling to women.

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