What is Nutmeg? An Easy Spice to Re-imagine Cooking

We are an Amazon Affiliate and earn from qualifying purchases. For more information please see our disclosure page.

Nutmeg is one of the easiest spices to cook with whole. While nutmeg can be bought in its ground or powdered form, I buy whole nutmeg and store it in the kitchen cabinet next to the coffee and the grater. There are several dishes you likely make that could be enhanced with this easy-to-use spice.

What is Nutmeg?

Nutmeg is the hard, spherical seed from the tropical evergreen tree, native to Indonesia’s Spice Islands, called the Moluccas. The seed is dried and used as a spice, often ground.

Nutmeg has made for a rich source of income and research in India. I recommend this video from the Indian Institute of Spices Research (IISR), about how nutmeg gives IISR pride in their history of research, and how nutmeg is Matthew Sebastian’s world.

Before the nutmeg is dried in the sun, it is encased in a yellow fruit.

The fruit casing that houses nutmeg is edible too!

Here’s how to eat a nutmeg fruit:

  1. Cut off the stem end
  2. Make an incision around the fruit following the natural division line, and twist the fruit open like you would a peach
  3. Pop out the fresh nutmeg seed and slice the fruit like a cored apple
  4. Eat as a snack to finish off your meal, or crystalize in sugar for a snack any time

Can you Buy Fresh Nutmeg?

Dry, whole nutmeg seeds can be bought in jars of about a dozen nutmeg seeds. The undried version of nutmeg isn’t typically sold as there is not a culinary market for it. However, should you happen upon the undried version, the casing or fruit wall that you’ll find the nutmeg seed still encased in, is edible.

What Does Nutmeg Taste Like?

Nutmeg tastes slightly sweet and nutty with warm notes of citrus, tobacco, and clove. It doesn’t have a spiciness like black pepper, but rather a cinnamon-y bite.

Where to Buy

Whole and ground nutmeg are found in most spice isles. Ground nutmeg is more popular than whole, and is sold in 2-ounce glass or plastic bottles. Ground nutmeg looks like a light brown course powder. Whole nutmeg looks like thumbprint-sized dark brown stones or seeds, and is sold in 2- to 10-ounce clear jars or in resealable bags.

How to Store

Store ground nutmeg for up to six months in a sealable container in a cool, dark, dry place like your kitchen spice cabinet. Whole nutmeg will last much longer than ground. Store it the same way.

What is a Substitute for Nutmeg?

Nutmeg spice can be replaced by several other spices. Since nutmeg ties together the warm, citrusy, tobacco-y flavors in food, its best to replace with a combination of spices that share these flavors. If it’s already combined with other spices of similar flavors, it can be left out entirely.

Nutmeg substitutes

  • Allspice makes a convenient sweet and savory replacement for nutmeg because it is common in many pantries. Allspice’s warm spiciness matches that of nutmeg. Substitute allspice for nutmeg at a 1:1 ratio.
  • Cloves share nutmeg’s sweet, tobacco-y flavor. Replace nutmeg with half the amount of cloves (ratio of 2:1), but if the recipe already calls for cloves, opt for another spice like cinnamon. Cloves makes a better nutmeg substitute in sweet recipes.
  • Mace is the closest nutmeg alternative because of its similar subtle flavor and warmth. It is less aromatic than nutmeg. Replace nutmeg with mace at a 1:1 ratio in both savory and sweet foods.
  • Cinnamon is an easily available spice that makes a good substitute for nutmeg’s woody, tobacco-y flavor. In both savory and sweet recipes, replace nutmeg with half the amount of cinnamon as is called for (ratio of 2:1).
  • Ginger replaces nutmeg’s citrus flavor. Use half the amount of ground ginger as the recipe calls for in nutmeg (2:1). If using fresh ginger, use the same amount (ratio of 1:1). Ginger is a better nutmeg substitute in savory foods.

Best Ways to Cook with Nutmeg

Nutmeg goes well with many foods, especially those found in Indian cuisine like beef, curries, and sweet dairy desserts.

Nutmeg is usually used in its ground form. Buy nutmeg already ground, or buy a few seeds and grind them easily yourself with a microplane or pepper mill.

The nutmeg flavor holds stronger longer in its whole seed form as opposed to ground nutmeg, but both make for easy cooking.

I keep at least one nutmeg seed in my spice cupboard, next to a grater. It lasts me at least one month, depending on how often I add it to stews or beef, and how many times I dress up coffee with it.

Flavor Pairings with Nutmeg

Nutmeg pairs well with thick, warm flavors. Think milk and cheese like alfredo sauce and béchamel, custards, soufflés and eggnog. It brings wintery flavors to fruit, too, if they’re stewed or baked.

Cold-season vegetables like squashes and spinach taste good with a dash of nutmeg, especially when stewed or made into curry.

Steak and other forms of beef find a bright, woody warmth with a little nutmeg too. And of course, my favorite, coffee.

Share with your friends