The tropical nutmeg tree produces two different spices - nutmeg and mace, which are both part of the fruit of the tree. Nutmeg is the hard seed inside the fruit and mace is the red coating that forms a tight fitting protective lacey cover over the seed. As the fruit ripens and bursts open both are revealed.
The mace is carefully removed from the nutmeg and as they both dry the mace turns into its characteristic orange colour.
Nutmeg and mace are similar in flavour, though mace is a little more bitter tasting. Both are available whole (nutmeg) or in pieces (mace), as well as ground. A pinch or two is often all that is needed to add fragrant spice to European cakes, bakes, sauces and milky puddings, mulled wine, Mediterranean and Middle eastern meat dishes. Although occasionally used sparingly in Indian desserts, nutmeg is more commonly added to some garam masala blends.
It is best to buy whole nutmeg and grate it freshly when needed. It is easy to grate and gives much more flavour than ready ground. Stored in an airtight container, whole nutmegs will keep indefinitely. Perk up cooked spinach, fish pie or quiche with a pinch of nutmeg.
DID YOU KNOW
Nutmeg was introduced into England in the 18th century and quickly became an extremely popular spice for adding to both sweet and savoury dishes.