Flavor Investigator: Nutmeg

Nutmeg refers to the seeds of several species of the Myristica genus plant containing approximately 150 species of trees scattered across Asia and western Pacific. It is cultivated from the fruit of the tree which produces both nutmeg and mace. Nutmeg is derived from the dried kernel of the seed while mace comes from the dried aril (an extra seed-covering) surrounding it. The two have a similar flavour profile so they can be used interchangeably. Overall, the characteristic flavour of nutmeg is sweet, woody, spicy with a slight terpy nuance.

Historically, nutmeg has had one of the most violent histories behind it. It is indigenous to then Banda islands in Indonesia and was the only known source until the 19th century. During the 17th century under the dominion of the Dutch East India Company the islands laid the ground of a war. This led to the massacre and enslavement of the Bandan people with the export of nutmeg being banned. Anyone found to doing so were killed and in just a 15 year span the islands population was reduced from 15000 to 600. Additionally, during the British spice trade from 1796 to 1802, nutmeg trees were transplanted to other British colonies, including Grenada. Grenada now supplies 40% of the worlds annual nutmeg.

Nutmegs Cooling Properties

During this year I stumbled upon an interesting article which examined the cooling properties that nutmeg processes. The cooling properties which I am referring to are the ones you experience when you eat mint. In mint the compound responsible for the cooling sensation is I-Menthol. However, menthol has a weak, short-lived effect while high concentrations cause irritation.

Scientists were able to isolate a compound in nutmeg found in the class of chemicals of neolignans. It was found to be 30 times more potent as I-menthol. In a mouthwash test, the researchers compared I-methol with the newely found compound. Participants were required to rinse their mouths for 30 seconds and rate the “coolness” they felt for up to 30 minutes.  The neolignan’s cooling properties lasted for 30 minutes while the menthol only 10 minutes.  The compound is not ready for the market but it will be interesting to see where it goes in the future.

Flavour Compounds Found in Nutmeg

There are three major compound which a have been discovered in nutmeg-sabienene,4-terpineol and myristicin.  Beginning with sabinene, sabiene is a terpene which is in part response for the hotness and spicy element of black pepper. Similarly, in nutmeg it provides a spicy note combined with woody and camphoreous nuances. When tasting nutmeg you might have noticed that it has a woody characteristic. This is thanks to 4-terpineol which is described as being citrusy, woody, lemon/lime and soapy.  Finally, myristcin is a phenylpropene found in small concentrations of nutmeg. It is spicy, warm, balsamic and woody.

Possible Unique Flavour Combinations

  • Nutmeg and Hard Cheese- Nutmeg has an ability to stand up to fatty flavours. To observe this combination, melt down the cheeses into a dish such a maccaroni and cheese- a dish which is rich, salty, creamy and milky. Nutmegs inherent pine, citrus and peppery notes will come out adding another element to the dish.
  • Nutmeg and Avocado- Avocados have a rich flavour profile. They are creamy and buttery but have a green, grassy flavour overall. They are able to pair will delicate flavours like nutmeg (when used in small amounts). Nutmeg brings a woodiness that complements the grassy flavour while adding warm notes to the party.
  • Nutmeg and Cabbage- Cooked cabbage has a characteristic flavour which can only be thought of as cabbage. Plain cooked cabbage is quite flat and bland. Adding ground nutmeg to cooked cabbage removes this and creates a warm, spicy combination.


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