Ever wonder why whole nutmeg has that white stuff sticking to it? Greed, murder, extortion, espionage, slavery, corruption – that is the story of nutmeg.

Nutmeg is the pip of the edible fruit of an evergreen tree (Myristica fragrans) that is indigenous to Indonesia – formerly the Dutch East Indies. The Dutch East India Company (VOC) had a monopoly over the trade in nutmeg and cloves during the 17th and 18th centuries. The company allowed nutmeg to be grown only on the island of Banda, and the growers could sell their crop only to the company, and at a set price. Any attempts to trade elsewhere for better prices was seen as an act of treason, and suitably punished (read “Nathaniel’s Nutmeg” by Giles Milton, a fictionalised history of the Spice Wars).

Of course many people tried to smuggle nutmeg in order to start other plantations away from the influence of the VOC, and in order to prevent this happening, and thus jeopardising the power of the VOC, whole nutmeg (the only kind then traded) was first treated with a lime (calcium) solution to prevent the nuts from germinating. Why is the practice continued today? It was later discovered that the calcium actually aids in keeping the nutmeg (known in Indonesia as pala nuts) fresher for longer!

PROPERTIES
The flavour is sweet, warm and yet slightly bitter (mace, the covering of the nutmeg pip, that is harvested separately, is said to be less bitter but the difference is hard to distinguish). Whole nutmeg retains its flavour better than grated. The nut is very hard and requires a sturdy grater with fine holes.

It tastes horrible when too much is used. It’s aromatic oils are destroyed by heat, therefore it should be added to the end of cooking.

Nutmeg is toxic when taken in too large quantities and will lead to muscle spasms, light sensitivity, nasal discharge and diarrhoea. It has been recorded as causing death. True to the principles of homeopathy, small quantities of nutmeg will relieve nausea, stomach cramps and indigestion. Nutmeg oil is anti-inflammatory.

Several claims are made that nutmeg is an aphrodisiac – with applications from rubbing onto the genitals, to imbibement (love potions!).

COOKING
Nutmeg is most commonly used in sweet, spicy dishes pies, puddings, custards, cookies and spice cakes, often combined with ground cinnamon and ground ginger.
It combines well with many cheeses, and is included in souffls and cheese sauces, especially bchamel.
It complements egg dishes and vegetables like squash, cabbage, spinach, broccoli, beans, onions and eggplant.
A pinch of nutmeg added to mashed potatoes makes a noticeable difference.
Good in soups (tomato, slit pea, chicken or black bean soup).
It is indispensable to eggnog and numerous mulled wines and punches.
Warm buttered toast sprinkled with freshly grated nutmeg is an elegant breakfast addition.

The following site has a lot of nutmeg recipes: http://www.recipes4us.co.uk.