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Nutmeg and Mace History

Bloody wars have been fought to control nutmeg due to its value

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Nutmeg and mace
Gentl and Hyers/Photolibrary/Getty Images
Nutmeg is not one spice, but two. Mace is also derived from the nutmeg fruit. You've probably used nutmeg in many dessert dishes, but it also works well in savory recipes. Take a look at the interesting history and lore of nutmeg, before getting to the nutmeg and mace recipes.

Nutmeg and Mace History

Botanically known as Myristica fragrans, the nutmeg tree originates in Banda, the largest of the Molucca spice islands of Indonesia. The English word nutmeg comes from the latin nux, meaning nut, and muscat, meaning musky.

In the first century A.D., Roman author Pliny speaks of a tree bearing nuts with two flavors. Emperor Henry VI had the streets of Rome fumigated with nutmegs before his coronation. In the the sixth century, nutmegs were brought by Arab merchants to Constantinople. In the fourteenth century, half a kilogram of nutmeg cost as much as three sheep or a cow.

The Dutch waged a bloody war, including the massacre and enslavement of the inhabitants of the island of Banda, just to control nutmeg production in the East Indies. In 1760, the price of nutmeg in London was 85 to 90 shillings per pound, a price kept artificially high by the Dutch voluntarily burning full warehouses of nutmegs in Amsterdam. The Dutch held control of the spice islands until World War II.

Frenchman Pierre Poivre transported nutmeg seedlings to Mauritius where they flourished, aiding in ending the Dutch monopoly of the spice. The British East India Company brought the nutmeg tree to Penang, Singapore, India, Sri Lanka, the West Indies, and most notably Grenada, where it is the national symbol and proudly emblazoned on the country's red, yellow, and green flag.

The nutmeg tree is evergreen, with oblong egg-shaped leaves and small, bell-like light yellow flowers that give off a distinct aroma when in bloom. The fruit is light yellow with red and green markings, resembling an apricot or a large plum. As the fruit matures, the outer fleshy covering (which is candied or pickled as snacks in Malaysia) bursts to reveal the seed. The seed is covered with red membranes called an aril, the mace portion of the nutmeg. The nut is then dried for up to 2 months until the inner nut rattles inside the shell. It is then shelled to reveal the valuable egg-shaped nutmeat which is the edible nutmeg. Second-rate nuts are pressed for the oil, which is used in perfumes and in the food industry.

More About Nutmeg and Mace with Recipes:

Nutmeg Selection, Storage, and Cooking Tips
What is mace? Mace Information FAQ
Nutmeg and Health - Warning!
Nutmeg and Mace History
Nutmeg Lore and Legends
Nutmeg Recipes
Mace Recipes
Nutmeg Photo © 2009 Peggy Trowbridge Filippone, licensed to About.com, Inc.

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Herbs & Spices: The Cook's Reference
The Contemporary Encyclopedia of Herbs and Spices: Seasonings for the Global Kitchen
The Spice Lover's Guide to Herbs and Spices
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