Nutmeg is one of the most sought-after herbs and spices during the age of European colonialism. The term ‘nutmeg’ refers to Myristica spice’s seed or ground spice, with Myristica fragrans being the most cultivated species. Aside from the seed, the seed covering known as ‘mace’ is also valued highly in the spice trade. Today, Indonesia is the largest nutmeg supplier in the world, followed by Guatemala and India.
The dark-leaved evergreen tree that produces the nutmeg fruit is indigenous to the Maluku Islands of Indonesia, also known as the Spice Islands. To this day, Indonesia is still the largest nutmeg supplier in the world. Outside Indonesia, nutmeg plantations can be found in Penang, Malaysia; the Caribbean, especially Grenada; and Kerala, Southern India. However, to this day, nutmeg from Indonesia still dominates the international spice market in quantities.
Indonesian Nutmeg in History
Nutmeg’s usage can be traced back to 3500 years ago from the potsherd residues found in Pulau Ai, Banda Islands, a part of the greater Maluku Islands group in eastern Indonesia. These islands became the sole producers of nutmeg in the world until the mid-19th century. However, nutmeg spread into India and Constantinople as early as the 6th century AD. Arab traders had accurately traced the root of nutmeg to the Southeast Asian islands by the early 13th century but kept it secret from Europeans.
European ventures in the nutmeg trade started in November 1511 when Portuguese conquistador Afonso de Albuquerque sent a three-ship expedition team led by António de Abreu to Banda Islands. It happened not long after he conquered Malacca in August of the same year. Arriving in early 1512, de Abreu filled his ship with nutmeg, mace, and cloves bought from the islands’ inhabitants for a whole month before returning to their base in Malacca.
Since then, other European powers such as the Dutch East Indies Company (VOC), the British Empire, and the Dutch East Indies colonial administration have controlled the region until World War II. After Indonesia’s Declaration of Independence, the area officially became a part of the newly formed Republic of Indonesia.
Nutmeg as a spice refers to the fine-grounded seed of Myristica fragrans. It has a distinctive aroma and a warm taste with a hint of sweetness. The nutmeg seed is commonly sold as whole or grounded, depending on your nutmeg supplier. Meanwhile, the mace is widely marketed as a dried spice.
Nutmeg is a versatile spice that can be used in various applications. In cooking and baking, nutmeg is usually used in its whole seed or powdered spice form and is most commonly used in meat dishes. The mace is also widely used in cooking, with a more delicate flavor than the seed, and can be used as a food coloring. Aside from cooking, nutmeg essential oil is used as a fragrant agent in perfumery and pharmaceutical industries.
Nutmeg powder is the most common variant sold in the supermarket worldwide, while whole or dried nutmeg can be bought from your local spice shop or Asian store. Or you can contact your local nutmeg supplier for more detailed information on their supplies.