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In a Nutshell
Nutmeg: A Little Goes a Long Way
(CNN) -- Traces of nutmeg can be followed throughout history.
Dating back to the 9th century, records show that in Constantinople, St. Theodore allowed monks to sprinkle this sultry spice onto their pease pudding. Nutmeg was so popular in the 15th through 19th centuries that even Christopher Columbus set sail in search of this coveted spice.
Originating from the tropical evergreen tree myristica fragrans, nutmeg as well as its shell mace, endures in today's culture and cuisine. The tree, native to the Moluccas in Indonesia, was transported to Grenada in the West Indies in the 1860s. It bears fruit between 10 and 15 years of age and continues to do so for 30 to 40 years.
The fruit as well as the casing of the seed are edible. The fruit is removed and the casing, better known as the spice mace, is peeled off. Mace and nutmeg are then put through a drying process before being packaged for use.
When buying, look for seeds about one inch in length that are a soft brown color. Nutmeg can be purchased whole or ground. But after being ground the aroma and flavors are dulled. Like most herbs the fresh whole seed is preferred by chefs for cooking and baking preparations. If nutmeg is purchased whole, a grater can be used to produce the desired amount.
Nutmeg, known for its warm spiciness, compliments both sweet and savory dishes. It traveled from Indonesia to France and throughout the world as a result of the spice trade. Uses vary with location. In Britain, nutmeg is mainly used in milk dishes such as puddings and custards. Vegetable, seafood and even fruit preparations are spiced with nutmeg in the Netherlands and Scandinavia. In France and Italy one of the highly esteemed 'mother sauces,' bechamel, requires nutmeg as one of its key ingredients. The North American traditional holiday Thanksgiving is celebrated with pumpkin and apple pies spiced with nutmeg. And Christmas cheer wouldn't be the same without drinking eggnog -- topped with nutmeg!
But this spice must be used with caution. The sensuous ingredient can overpower almost anything if used improperly. Most recipes, even the spiciest, call for no more than a teaspoon of nutmeg. Remember, a little goes a long way.
Culinary Café - Nutmeg
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