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Nutmeg From A to Z: 26 Things to Know

Nutmeg From A to Z: 26 Things to Know

From the Arabs to Zanzibar, 26 interesting facts and figures you maybe don't know about nutmeg, one of the most versatile spices to have in your pantry.

By FDL on

Arabs-Venetians. Nutmeg was a precious commodity traded between Arabs and Venetians during the Middle Ages; its importers never revealed the exact position of the islands this spice came from.

Béchamel. Nutmeg is the spice used to flavour béchamel, the basic sauce whose origins are not actually French but Tuscan: in the 1500s it was imported by Catherine de Medici, Henry II’s wife.

Caribbean punch. It is one of the most popular spices in the Caribbean, especially for its use in the preparation of cocktails. From Punch de Crème to the Christmassy drink Coquito, as well as Gully Wash and Painkiller, many rum-based punches are spiced up with nutmeg. Painkiller, for instance, mixes rum with 4 parts orange juice, 1 part coconut cream and 1 of orange juice, to be served with ice and a generous sprinkling of grated nutmeg.

Drag. A drag of nutmeg? The practice of smoking nutmeg powder originated in India. Because of its intoxicant and hallucinogenic effects, the habit was picked up at different times in various Western countries, even by celebrities, including jazz musician Charlie Parker who introduced it to his band.

Evergreen. Nutmeg is the decorticated seed of an evergreen called Myristica Fragrans, a tree that can grow to a height of 20 metres.

Fetus. When consumed in great quantities, nutmeg is an abortifacient and, in the past, was used for this precise scope. It inhibits the production of prostaglandins which may affect the development of the foetus. Its use is not recommended during pregnancy.

Grenada. Nutmeg was transplanted to this island with the arrival of the Europeans in the early 19th century and since then it has become the no. 1 cash crop, with Grenada now ranking as the second world producer of this spice. As well as being an invaluable flavour in cooking and the preparation of drinks, it also has a strong symbolic value and even appears on the National flag. Grenadian nutmeg-flavoured fruit preserves and sweets are famous.

Haggis. A typical Scottish sausage made from sheep’s offal minced with onion, suet, oatmeal, salt and spices and mixed with broth, it was traditionally encased in the animal’s stomach. The recipe would not be complete without nutmeg.

Indonesia. Nutmeg is native to the Banda islands, in the Moluccas, the famous ‘spice islands’ of Indonesia.

Juice. Two delicious juices are made from nutmeg in Malaysian cuisine: one is fresh with a sharp flavour and a light coloured appearance; the other is much sweeter and darker in colour having been prepared using boiled nutmeg.

Killings. The history of nutmeg is an extremely bloody one: following the Portuguese domination of the trade in the 16th century, Great Britain and the Netherlands fought for its control for centuries. From the seventeenth century onwards, the Dutch were responsible for some terrible massacres: they tortured and enslaved the inhabitants of the Banda Islands.

Load. The first time he circumnavigated the world, the explorer Ferdinand Magellan lost 5 ships and 250 men but returned to Spain with a 20,000 kilogram load of nutmeg and cloves so his voyage was perceived as a great trading achievement.

Mace. This is the other spice obtained from the Myristica Fragrans tree; it is actually the inner layer of the fruit, a membrane covering the seed we know as nutmeg. It is endowed with a warmer, sweeter and more penetrating flavour than the latter and confers an orangey yellow colour to dishes, similar to that of saffron.

Nutmeg State. An unofficial name given to the State of Connecticut, because of a story regarding some unscrupulous traders who used to carve fake nutmegs from wood. Ever since, the term "wooden nutmeg", has been used to indicate any type of fraud.

Overdose. Three years ago, a 28 year old Swedish citizen from the town of Gävle started to spit like a lama at anyone he met. Two weeks later, he was arrested for having threatened to kill his sisters. An overdose of nutmeg: this was the line of defence which blamed his conduct on myristicin, a substance similar to amphetamine contained in this spice.

Pumpkin pie. Nutmeg is the distinctive spice used to flavour this famous American pie.

Queen Elizabeth. During the reign of Elizabeth I (1558–1603), nutmeg - already widely used throughout the Middle Ages as a spice, a medicinal substance and a preservative - became a popular protective measure against the Black Plague, which led to soaring demand and selling prices.

Reefer. In the Autobiography of Malcolm X, the activist describes purchasing nutmeg from inmates in prison, concealed in matchboxes, and stirring it into water. “A penny matchbox full of nutmeg had the kick of three or four reefers,” he wrote. Symptoms can include an out-of-body sensation, but the most common are intense nausea, dizziness, and a slowdown of normal brain function.

Sinbad the Sailor. Nutmeg was considered to be a precious cargo among Muslim sailors, including the fictional character Sinbad the Sailor in Thousand and One Nights.

Tortellini. In Italian cuisine, nutmeg is added to pasta fillings and is traditionally used to flavour meat, cheese or spinach-based tortellini, ravioli and cannelloni.

Unknown. There is one recipe whose secret has never been revealed: that of Coca-Cola. Well, nutmeg is supposed to be one of its mysterious ingredients...

Valuable. From the XVI century onwards, nutmeg traders enjoyed a 6,000 per cent mark-up. In the 1600s, a little grated nutmeg was a luxury on a par with the latest i-Phone model today; it is said that the possession of a few nutmegs at that time in England was sufficient to guarantee a lifetime of financial independence.

Wine. Nutmeg is one of the spices used to aromatize vin brulé. The same applies to cider and eggnog.

Xxx. Nutmeg is supposed to be the female Viagra in Zanzibar, where 95% of the population is Muslim: women are not allowed to drink a drop of alcohol but they can grate it profusely on their porridge… a must on their wedding day.

Year 1667. After years of fighting, the English and the Dutch signed a treaty: the Dutch bartered the control of the nutmeg islands for New Amsterdam, what we all know as New York Manhattan today.

Zanzibar. The English introduced nutmeg to Zanzibar following the Napoleonic Wars. After the 1964 revolution, the plantations were broken up into smaller plots and today nutmeg is the most widely cultivated spice on the island.

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