Thursday, 25 August 2016

ALL ABOUT NUTMEG

“Do you know that books smell like nutmeg or some spice from a foreign land? I loved to smell them when I was a boy. Lord, there were a lot of lovely books once, before we let them go.” - Ray Bradbury

The nutmeg tree, Myristica fragrans, is an evergreen tree indigenous to the Moluccas (or Spice Islands) of Indonesia. It is important as the main source of the spices nutmeg and mace. It is widely grown across the tropics including Guangdong and Yunnan in China, Taiwan, Indonesia, Malaysia, Grenada in the Caribbean, Kerala in India, Sri Lanka and South America. Myristica fragrans was given a binomial name by the Dutch botanist Maartyn Houttuyn in 1774. It had earlier been described by Georg Eberhard Rumphius, among others. The generic name “Myristica” in Greek means “of pleasant smell” and the specific epithet “fragrans” in Latin, means "fragrant".


It is a small evergreen tree, usually 5–13 m tall, but occasionally reaching 20 m. The alternately arranged leaves are dark green, 5–15 cm long by 2–7 cm wide with petioles about 1 cm long. The species is dioecious, i.e. “male” or staminate flowers and “female” or carpellate flowers are borne on different plants, although occasional individuals produce both kinds of flower. The flowers are bell-shaped, pale yellow and somewhat waxy and fleshy. Staminate flowers are arranged in groups of one to ten, each 5–7 mm long; carpellate flowers are in smaller groups, one to three, and somewhat longer, up to 10 mm long. Carpellate trees produce smooth yellow ovoid or pear-shaped fruits, 6–9 cm long with a diameter of 3.5–5 cm. The fruit has a fleshy husk. When ripe the husk splits into two halves along a ridge running the length of the fruit. Inside is a purple-brown shiny seed, 2–3 cm long by about 2 cm across, with a red or crimson covering (an aril). The seed is the source of nutmeg, the aril the source of mace.


Nutmeg and mace have similar sensory qualities, with 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 used for flavouring many dishes, usually in ground or grated form, and is best grated fresh in a nutmeg grater.


In Indonesian cuisine, nutmeg is used in various dishes, mainly in many spicy soups, such as some variant of soto, konro, oxtail soup, sup iga (ribs soup), bakso and sup kambing. It is also used in gravy for meat dishes, such as semur beef stew, ribs with tomato, to European derived dishes such as bistik (beef steak), rolade (minced meat roll) and bistik lidah (beef tongue steak). Sliced nutmeg fruit flesh could be made as manisan (sweets), either wet, which is seasoned in sugary syrup liquid, or dry coated with sugar. In Penang cuisine, dried, shredded nutmeg rind with sugar coating is used as toppings on the uniquely Penang ais kacang. Nutmeg rind 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.


In Indian cuisine, nutmeg is used in many sweet, as well as savoury, dishes (predominantly in Mughlai cuisine). In Kerala Malabar region, it is considered medicinal and the flesh made into juice, pickles and chutney, while the grated nutmeg is used in meat preparations and also sparingly added to desserts for the flavour. It is also added in small quantities as a medicine for infants. It may also be used in small quantities in garam masala. Ground nutmeg is also smoked in India.


In Middle Eastern cuisine, ground nutmeg is often used as a spice for savoury dishes. In traditional 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. It is also commonly used in rice pudding. In Dutch cuisine, nutmeg is added to vegetables such as Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and string beans. Nutmeg is a traditional ingredient in mulled cider, mulled wine, and eggnog. In Scotland, mace and nutmeg are usually both ingredients in haggis. In Italian cuisine, nutmeg is almost uniquely used as part of the stuffing for many regional meat-filled dumplings like tortellini, as well as for the traditional meatloaf.


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. The pericarp (fruit/pod) is used in Grenada and also in Indonesia to make jam, or is finely sliced, cooked with sugar, and crystallised to make a fragrant candy. In the US, nutmeg is known as the main pumpkin pie spice and often shows up in simple recipes for other winter squashes such as baked acorn squash.


The essential oil obtained by steam distillation of ground nutmeg is used widely in the perfumery and pharmaceutical industries. This volatile fraction typically contains 60-80% d-camphene by weight, as well as quantities of d-pinene, limonene, d-borneol, l-terpineol, geraniol, safrol, and myristicin. In its pure form, myristicin is a toxin, and consumption of excessive amounts of nutmeg can result in myristicin poisoning.


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 is used to replace 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 disorders related to the nervous and digestive systems. After extraction of the essential oil, the remaining seed, containing much less flavour, is called “spent”. Spent is often mixed in industrial mills with pure nutmeg to facilitate the milling process, as nutmeg is not easy to mill due to the high percentage of oil in the pure seed. Ground nutmeg with a variable percentage of spent (around 10% w/w) is also less likely to clot. To obtain a better running powder, a small percentage of rice flour also can be added.


In low doses, nutmeg produces no noticeable physiological or neurological response, but in large doses, raw nutmeg has psychoactive effects. In its freshly ground form (from whole nutmegs), nutmeg contains myristicin, a monoamine oxidase inhibitor and psychoactive substance. Myristicin poisoning can induce convulsions, palpitations, nausea, eventual dehydration, and generalised body pain. It is also reputed to be a strong deliriant. For these reasons, whole or ground nutmeg cannot be imported into Saudi Arabia except in spice mixtures where it comprises less than 20%.


Nutmeg was once considered an abortifacient, but may be safe for culinary use during pregnancy. However, it inhibits prostaglandin production and contains hallucinogens that may affect the fetus if consumed in large quantities. Nutmeg is highly neurotoxic to dogs and causes seizures, tremors, and nervous system disorders which can be fatal. Nutmeg’s rich, spicy scent is attractive to dogs which can result in a dog ingesting a lethal amount of this spice. Eggnog and other food preparations which contain nutmeg should not be given to dogs.


In the language of flowers, nutmegs accompanying suitable flowers indicate: “Join me in my chamber.”


This post is part of the Floral Friday Fotos meme,

and also part of the Friday Greens meme,
and also part of the Food Friday meme,
and also part of the Orange you Glad It's Friday meme.

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