Nutmeg

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Nutmeg or Myristica fragrans is an evergreen tree indigenous to the Banda Islands in the Moluccas of Indonesia, or Spice Islands. Until the mid 19th century this was the world's only source. The nutmeg tree is important for two spices derived from the fruit, nutmeg and mace.

Nutmeg is the actual seed of the tree, roughly egg-shaped about an inch long, ¾ inch wide and weighing between ¼ ounce and ½ ounce dried, while mace is the dried "lacy" reddish covering or arillus of the seed. This is the only tropical fruit that is the source of two different spices.

Several other commercial products are also produced from the trees, including essential oils, extracted oleoresins and nutmeg butter.

The outer surface of the nutmeg bruises easily.

The pericarp (fruit/pod) is used in Grenada to make a jam called "Morne Delice". In Indonesia, the fruit is also made into jam, called selei buah pala, or sliced finely, cooked and crystallised to make a fragrant candy called manisan pala ("nutmeg sweets").

 

 

 

Nutmeg

 

The most important species commercially is the Common or Fragrant Nutmeg Myristica fragrans, native to the Banda Islands; it is also grown on Penang Island in Malaysia and the Caribbean, especially Grenada. It also grows in Kerala, a state in the south part of India. Other species include Papuan Nutmeg Myritica argentea from New Guinea and Bombay Nutmeg Myristica malabarica from India, called Jaiphal in Hindi; both are used as adulterants of Myristica fragrans products.

 

 

 

A commercial jar of nutmeg mace

 

 

 

Culinary uses

Nutmeg and mace have similar taste qualities, nutmeg having a slightly sweeter and mace a more delicate flavour. Mace is often preferred in light dishes for the bright orange, saffron-like hue it imparts. Nutmeg is a tasty addition to cheese sauces and is best grated fresh. Nutmeg is a traditional ingredient in mulled cider, mulled wine and eggnog.

In Penang cuisine nutmeg is made into pickles, shredded as toppings on the uniquely Penang Ais Kacang. Nutmeg is also blended (creating a fresh, green, tangy taste and white colour juice) or boiled (resulting in a much sweeter and brown juice) to make Iced Nutmeg juice or as it is called in Penang Hokkien, "Lau Hau Peng".

In Indian cuisine nutmeg is used in many sweet as well as savoury dishes (predominantly in Mughlai cuisine).

In Middle Eastern cuisine nutmeg grounds are often used as a spice for savoury dishes.

In Arabic, nutmeg is called Jawzt at-Tiyb.

In Greece and Cyprus nutmeg is called μοσχοκάρυδο (moschokarydo) (Greek: "musky nut" and is used in cooking and savoury dishes.

In European cuisine, nutmeg and mace are used especially in potato dishes and in processed meat products; they are also used in soups, sauces, and baked goods.

In Dutch cuisine nutmeg is quite popular, it is added to vegetables like Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and string beans.

Japanese varieties of curry powder include nutmeg as an ingredient.

In the Caribbean, nutmeg is often used in drinks such as the Bushwacker, Painkiller and Barbados rum punch. Typically it is just a sprinkle on the top of the drink.

 

 

 

 

 

Essential oils

Penang boasts of its industry of nutmeg oil for external medicinal use, although the manufacturing may be sourced throughout Malaysia. The essential oil is obtained by the steam distillation of ground nutmeg and is used heavily in the perfumery and pharmaceutical industries. The oil is colourless or light yellow, and smells and tastes of nutmeg. It contains numerous components of interest to the oleochemical industry, and is used as a natural food flavouring in baked goods, syrups, beverages, and sweets. It replaces ground nutmeg as it leaves no particles in the food. The essential oil is also used in the cosmetic and pharmaceutical industries, for instance, in toothpaste and as a major ingredient in some cough syrups. In traditional medicine nutmeg and nutmeg oil were used for illnesses related to the nervous and digestive systems.

 

Nutmeg butter

Nutmeg butter is obtained from the nut by _expression_. It is semi-solid, reddish brown in colour, tastes and smells of nutmeg. Approximately 75% (by weight) of nutmeg butter is trimyristin, which can be turned into myristic acid, a 14-carbon fatty acid which can be used as a replacement for cocoa butter, can be mixed with other fats like cottonseed oil or palm oil, and has applications as an industrial lubricant.

 

 

 

Mace (red) within nutmeg fruit.

 

 

History

There is some evidence to suggest that Roman priests may have burned nutmeg as a form of incense, although this is disputed. It is known to have been used as a prized and costly spice in medieval cuisine, used as flavourings, medicines, preserving agents, that were at the time highly valued in European markets. Saint Theodore the Studite ( 758 – 826 ) was famous for allowing his monks to sprinkle nutmeg on their pease pudding when required to eat it. In Elizabethan times it was believed that nutmeg could ward off the plague, thus very popular.

The small Banda Islands were the world's only source of nutmeg and mace. Nutmeg was traded by Arabs during the Middle Ages and sold to the Venetians for exorbitant prices, but the traders did not divulge the exact location of their source in the profitable Indian Ocean trade and no European was able to deduce their location.

In August 1511, on behalf of the king of Portugal, Afonso de Albuquerque conquered Malacca, which at the time was the hub of Asian trade. In November of that year, after having secured Malacca and learning of the Bandas' location, Albuquerque sent an expedition of three ships led by his good friend Antonio de Abreu to find them. Malay pilots, either recruited or forcibly conscripted, guided them via Java, the Lesser Sundas and Ambon to Banda, arriving in early 1512. The first Europeans to reach the Islands, the expedition remained in Banda for about one month, purchasing and filling their ships with nutmeg and mace, also with cloves, a thriving trade. The first written accounts of Banda are in Suma Oriental, a book written by the Portuguese apothecary Tome Pires based in Malacca from 1512 to 1515. But full control of this trade was not possible and they remained largely participants, rather than overlords since the authority Ternate held over the nutmeg-growing centre of the Banda Islands was quite limited. Therefore, the Portuguese failed to gain a foothold in the islands themselves.

The trade in nutmeg later became dominated by the Dutch in the 17th century. The British and Dutch engaged in prolonged struggles to gain control of Run Island, then the only source of nutmeg. At the end of the Second Anglo-Dutch War the Dutch gained control of Run in exchange for the British controlling New Amsterdam (New York) in North America.

The Dutch managed to establish control over the Banda Islands after an extended military campaign that culminated in the massacre or expulsion of most of the islands' inhabitants in 1621. Thereafter, the Banda Islands were run as a series of plantation estates, with the Dutch mounting annual expeditions in local war-vessels to extirpate nutmeg trees planted elsewhere.

As a result of the Dutch interregnum during the Napoleonic Wars, the English took temporary control of the Banda Islands from the Dutch and transplanted nutmeg trees to their own colonial holdings elsewhere, notably Zanzibar and Grenada. Today, a stylised split-open nutmeg fruit is found on the national flag of Grenada.

Connecticut gets its nickname ("the Nutmeg State", "Nutmegger") from the legend that some unscrupulous Connecticut traders would whittle "nutmeg" out of wood, creating a "wooden nutmeg" (a term which came to mean any fraud).

 

 

 

 

The flag of Grenada with the nutmeg featured

 

 

World production

World production of nutmeg is estimated to average between 10,000 and 12,000 tonnes per year with annual world demand estimated at 9,000 tonnes; production of mace is estimated at 1,500 to 2,000 tonnes. Indonesia and Grenada dominate production and exports of both products with a world market share of 75% and 20% respectively. Other producers include India, Malaysia (especially Penang where the trees are native within untamed areas), Papua New Guinea, Sri Lanka, and Caribbean islands such as St. Vincent. The principal import markets are the European Community, the US, Japan and India. Singapore and the Netherlands are major re-exporters.

At one time, nutmeg was one of the most valuable spices. It has been said that several hundred years ago in England, a few nutmeg nuts could be sold for enough money to enable financial independence for life.

 

The first harvest of nutmeg trees takes place 7–9 years after planting and the trees reach their full potential after 20 years.

 

 

 

 

Psycho activity and toxicity

In low doses, nutmeg produces no noticeable physiological or neurological response. Large doses can be dangerous (potentially inducing convulsions, palpitations, nausea, eventual dehydration and generalised body pain. In large amounts it is reputed to be a strong deleriant. Users report both negative and positive experiences, involving strong open-eye hallucinations, and in some cases quite severe anxiety. Users may feel a sensation of blood rush to the head, or a strong euphoria and dissociation. Nutmeg contains myristicin, a weak monoamine oxidase inhibitor.

Speculative comparisons between the effects of nutmeg intoxication and MDMA have been made. However, nutmeg contains no amphetamine derivatives nor are any formed in the body from the main chemical components of nutmeg. Use of nutmeg as a recreational drug is unpopular due to its unpleasant taste and its possible negative side effects, including dizziness, flushes, dry mouth, accelerated heartbeat, temporary constipation, difficulty in urination, nausea, and panic. In addition, experiences usually last well over 24 hours making recreational use rather impractical.

A risk in any large-quantity ingestion of nutmeg is the onset of 'nutmeg poisoning', an acute psychiatric disorder marked by thought disorder, a sense of impending doom/death, and agitation.

 

 

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