Nutmeg is a spice that seems to get use around the holidays more than any other time of year, though it is not a strictly seasonal spice. Nutmeg is the seed of the nutmeg tree, a type of tropical evergreen tree that is grown in Indonesia, Malaysia and the Caribbean. The same tree produces another spice called mace, which is the reddish outer covering of the nutmeg seed. Nutmeg seeds are brown, can be up to an inch long and are roughly egg shaped. Because nutmeg is actually a seed, though it has the word “nut” in its name, people who have nut allergies can safely consume nutmeg
The flavor of nutmeg is slightly sweet with a complex blend of warm, spicy, earthy notes. It’s distinctive, though difficult to describe, and is found in many cream sauces, vegetable dishes, spice cakes and eggnog. Whole nutmegs are very hard and must be finely grated to release their flavor. The most commonly used tool for grating nutmeg is a microplane, but specialty nutmeg graters can also be used. Since nutmeg is typically used ground, many people buy pre-ground nutmeg and keep that in their spice cabinet. Nutmeg is potent, but once the nutmeg is ground it begins to lose its potency very quickly. Whole nutmegs last much, much longer than ground nutmeg and will produce much more flavorful dishes. Whole nutmeg seeds can be stored for at least two years (and should keep much longer if stored in a cool, dry place) and will keep their flavor the whole time. Ground nutmeg should be replaced every 6 months for optimal flavor.