Nutmeg – Everything you never knew

Here in American we usually know very little about our spices. Consider nutmeg. Did you know that, according to toptropicals.com, it grows on:

“…a tropical evergreen tree that reaches about 65 feet tall. The nutmeg fruit is similar in appearance to an apricot. When fully mature it splits in two, exposing a crimson-colored edible pulp surrounding a single seed, the nutmeg. The nutmegs are dried gradually in the sun and turned twice daily over a period of six to eight weeks. During this time the nutmeg shrinks away from its hard seed coat. The shell is then broken and the nutmegs picked out.”

The flowers are unprepossessing – small and pale yellow.

On the left are the fruit and what they look like when they split open. Then on the right you can see the red webbing around the nutmeg that becomes the spice we call mace (yep, that white powder we use in baking).

According to http://www.uni-graz.at/~katzer/engl/Myri_fra.html:

Nutmeg is not a nut, but the kernel of an apricot-like fruit. Mace is an arillus, a thin leathery tissue between the stone and the pulp; it is bright red to purple when harvested, but after drying changes to amber.”

In the nutmeg trade, broken nutmegs infested by pests are referred to as BWP grade (broken, wormy and punky). BWP grade nutmegs must be used only for distillation of oil of nutmeg and extraction of nutmeg oleoresin. Occasionally, however, they are ground and sold illegally. For the very real danger of molds producing aflatoxins on BWP nuts, consumers should buy their nutmegs as a whole, and grind for themselves. Whole nutmegs will also keep their flavor longer.  “Nutmeg quickly loses its fragrance when ground; therefore, the necessary amount should be grated from a whole nut immediately before usage.”

It surprised me to learn that nutmeg is ONLY safe to ingest in the usual culinary small doses. Amounts of 1/2 to 1 nut are dangerous to ingest, which may cause very unpleasant side-effects which include prolonged extreme nausea, hallucinations, and long-term hyper­sensitivity to nutmeg. Wow…perhaps my own body’s sensitivity is why I have never been overly fond of nutmeg. Good thing, it seems!

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