Nutmeg is a common spice used in baking, Indian cuisine, and even some savory dishes like cheese sauces, potato and meat dishes, and soups. It can also be used to enhance the flavor of drinks like cider or wine. Nutmeg is also used in spice blends, such as the Middle Eastern garam masala, and in Japanese curries.
Nutmeg is made from the seeds of the plant Myristica genus (the red membranes are made into another spice mace). This plant can be found all over the world, from Australia to Southeast Asia and even the Pacific Islands.
There are over a hundred different varieties of nutmeg. It is relatively easy to cultivate and has been incorporatd in many different types of cuisines. Some cultures also use it for medicinal purposes, though in these cases, nutmeg oil is more freuquently used.
Nutmeg oil is said to be a good way of treating toothaches and arthritis. Others mix it with honey to relieve digestion problems. Others dilute it with almond oil to turn it into a massage balm. It is said to help with muscle pain. Many pregnant women rub nutmeg oil on their bellies because of the way it relieves itchiness and supposedly makes the skin more supple and less prone to stretch marks. Interestingly, nutmeg oil is also used in making toothpaste and softdrinks.
Nutmeg’s many beneficial properties created a high demand for it in the Middle Ages, when it was relatively difficult to obtain and had to be shipped, across deep and treacherous waters, along the routes of the Spice trade. In fact, New York was involved in a nutmeg “politial deal.” Then it was known as New Amsterdam, and belonged to the Dutch. They traded the entire island to England in order to gain access to the Run Island in Indonesia, which was (then) the main source of nutmeg in the world.
Nutmeg was once an important product in the European spice trade of the Middle Ages. It became phenomenally expensive, and controlling the centers of nutmeg production gave a country considerable political power. The Dutch eventually traded New Amsterdam, which later became New York, to England in exchange for the only source of nutmeg at the time, Run Island in Indonesia.