Nutmeg conjures up images of pumpkin pie and sweater-weather coziness. But this warm, earthy spice is actually much more versatile than you might imagine, and shouldn’t be relegated only to autumn desserts (although we are definitely not hating on some pumpkin pie).
What is nutmeg?
Nutmeg is the seed of the nutmeg tree, and it’s essentially the pit of the apricot-like nutmeg fruit (which is also edible and often pickled or turned into jam). The nutmeg seed is encased in mace, another spice that is commonly used in North African cuisines.
The spice is slightly sweet and nutty with an aroma reminiscent of eucalyptus. You’ll find it in blends like apple pie spice, pumpkin pie spice and also savory blends like ras el hanout, baharat and garam masala.
How to use nutmeg
Nutmeg is well-known for its use in desserts and pairs beautifully with fall fruits and veggies like apples, butternut squash and pumpkin. But it’s also great for adding dimension and cutting the richness of creamy dishes, like the béchamel sauce of a mac and cheese or potatoes au gratin.
"The highest nutmeg consumption per capita is Germany, because nutmeg goes into so many cured meat dishes and sausages," explained Ethan Frisch, spice expert and co-founder of Burlap & Barrel, a sustainable spice shop. "There's a longstanding European tradition of using nutmeg as a complement to meat even in traditional Italian recipes like ragu or Bolognese; you'll grate a little bit of nutmeg, as a balance to the oiliness and savoriness of meat. You get this kind of aromatic sweetness with the nutmeg that balances it really nicely."
Frisch also suggests adding nutmeg in place of black pepper in savory dishes, like chili, for example. Just note that the flavor is pretty intense, so a little bit goes a long way.
Try it in homemade pumpkin spice latte or homemade chai mix, and fruit pies like this scrumptious apple pie or sweet potato pie. Blend it with other spices such as paprika, clove, turmeric and coriander to make a rub for lamb or chicken. Add a little nutmeg to blended winter soups.
For the best flavor, look for nutmeg produced in Grenada, Malaysia or Indonesia, Frisch advised. As with most spices, nutmeg will start losing flavor once it’s ground, so opt for whole nutmeg which, bonus, keeps well for a really long time (we’re talking years). When you’re ready to use it in a recipe, dust off that jar of nutmeg, grab a microplane and grate what you need.