Nutmeg-The Hard Shelled Spice
Nutmeg originated from Myristica Fragrans an evergreen tree indigenous to the Banda Islands in the Spice Islands of Indonesia. The cultivation of this tropical fruit goes on in Penang Island of Malaysia, in the Caribbean, particularly in Grenada and in Kerala, southern state of India.
Nutmeg, the germ of the tree is almost egg-shaped having length of 20 to 30mm, width of 15 to 18mm and weighs between 5 and 10 gm.
Its initial harvest occurs after 7 to 9 years of planting and the trees attains its complete production after twenty years.
Nutmeg trees are dioecious plants which are disseminated sexually and asexually. Sexual dissemination by seedling succumb 50% unproductive [male] seedlings. As there is no consistent method of determining the plant gender before blossoming in the sixth to eighth year, a sexual dissemination bears inconsistent yields. The method of grafting is preferred for dissemination.
Apart from Epicotyl Grafting, the most widely accepted method, methods like Approach Grafting and Patch Budding has proved thriving.
Other alternative methods are Air layering or Marcotting, a form of vegetative reproduction that consists in inducing rooting of part of a tree branch.
Nutmeg have slightly sweeter flavour and the Hortus Botanicus Malabaricus, a 17th Century work by Hendrik van Rheede records that Indians learned the usage of Nutmeg to flavour many dishes in grated form from the Indonesians through ancient trade routes.
Nutmeg is known to have been an esteemed and expensive spice in Global cuisine as a flavouring and preservative agent.
From Penang Cuisine to United States Cuisine, Nutmeg plays a variety of roles. In Penang Cuisine the nutmeg rind with sugar coating is used as topping and the blended or boiled Nutmeg rind is used to make iced juice.
In Indian Cuisine, it is used in many sweet and savoury dishes, especially in Mughlai Cuisine and it is also part in Garam Masala, India’s special masala mix. The fruit of nutmeg is used to make sweet and spicy pickles.
In Indonesian Cuisine, it is used in various dishes, mainly in soups. In Middle Eastern Cuisine, ground nutmeg is most often used spice for savoury dishes. The pod of nutmeg is used to make jams and candy.
In European Cuisine, from the reign of Saint Theodore the Studite [758-826]nutmeg is used to sprinkle on their pease pudding; a kind of savoury pudding and it is also used in soups, sauces, baked goods, rice pudding and especially in potato dishes and in processed meat products.
In Dutch Cuisine, it is added to some vegetable dishes and it is an traditional ingredient in cocktails.
In Scotland Cuisine, it is an essential ingredient in savoury pudding. In Italian Cuisine, it is almost a part of the stuffing for meat filled dumplings and traditional meatloaf. In Japanese Cuisine, it is an ingredient in varieties of curry powder.
In the Caribbean, nutmeg is sprinkled on top of the drinks. In Grenada, the pod of nutmeg is used to make jam, candy etc. In the US, it is known as the main pumpkin pie spice.
The essential oil obtained by steam distillation of ground nutmeg is used widely in perfumery and pharmaceutical industries. The oil is pale or light yellow, stink and tang of nutmeg.
It contains numerous components of interest to the oleo chemical industry, and is used as 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.
Since seventh century, Nutmeg has been used in medicine. In traditional medicine, nutmeg and nutmeg oil were used for disorders related to the nervous and digestive systems. In Elizabethan times, nutmeg is believed to ward off plague. In India, it is added in medicine for infants.
Nutmeg also carry a tale of bloody war waged by the Dutch, to control nutmeg production in the East Indies in 1621.