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Nutmeg, or Myristica fragrans houtt as it is known scientifically, is one of the most widely and longest used of the spices. Nutmeg is a great flavoring as long as it is used in small doses. The reason for this is that it is particularly strong, and can easily overpower most recipes if used in incorrect proportions. In flavor, nutmeg is very similar in taste to the spice mace. This is hardly surprising since mace and nutmeg actually come from the same plant. Nutmeg is the seed of the fruit, while mace is the waxy coating of that seed.
The Nutmeg spice is generally considered best if freshly grated from whole seeds although it is a spice that holds up very well in ground or powder form. You can use a nutmeg grater to grate whole seeds and this is preferred although you may use a microplane or other grater as well but then you risk your knuckles or finger tips. If you have a spare coffee grinder this also works well. A nutmeg grinder can also be used for ginger, garlic cloves, cinnamon sticks and lemon rind.
It is interesting to see how nutmeg is used world wide. In those areas of the world that have been heavily influenced by the French style of cooking, you will see that nutmeg (and by extension mace) is not frequently used. Whereas, when looking at Dutch cooking, you will see nutmeg used much more frequently. This is in large part due to the heavy involvement of the Dutch in the colonial spice trade.
Culturally speaking, it is absolutely fascinating to see some of the uses that people have had for nutmeg. For example, during the Colonial period of the United States nutmeg was sold as a protective charm at county fairs. In fact, Connecticut got it's official nickname (the Nutmeg State) according to the legend of Yankee traders selling wooden nutmeg in place of the real thing. Another example of the use that nutmeg has had historically was the use that gypsy's had for the spice. According to folklore, if you used nutmeg in a certain way, you would have a long and happy marriage where you and your partner would never stray.
From a culinary stand point, nutmeg is one of the most heavily used spices when it comes to cooking and baking. Nutmeg is used in everything from pumpkin pies, to cookies, spice cakes, and pastries. Nutmeg is also a favorite spice for many drinks as well. Some examples of these include spiced or mulled wine, coffees, hot chocolates, and many other beverages. Basically speaking, nutmeg can be used in a large variety of situations, the only limit is your imagination.