Noce moscata

Nutmeg and mace – two spices from the same tree

Nutmeg (Myristica fragrans) and mace are two different spices from the same tree

It originates from the Moluccas, a group of islands in Indonesia and it became famous in Europe thanks to the Crusades.

It was also the cause of several wars between Portuguese, Dutch and English people who all wanted the nutmeg monopoly.

Nowadays it is cultivated mainly in Indonesia, India, Sri Lanka, Madagascar and Grenada, as the nutmeg tree loves a warm and tropical climate. Grenada even has nutmeg on its national flag.

The closed fruit resembles a peach or an apricot

It has a thick yellow-orange skin and when ripe it bursts open. Inside, you can see the bright blood-red grid that surrounds the nutmeg. This grid is the skin around the nutmeg and is called mace. Sometimes it is also called nutmeg flower, but this is a wrong expression, because it is not the flower but the skin around the nut. When dried, mace loses its beautiful red colour and turns orange-brown. That’s how you’ll find it on the market.

nutmeg close nutmeg open

You can use it whole or ground. But it is difficult to grind because it is slightly oily. If you don’t want to cook it, I recommend that you buy ground mace.

The taste of nutmeg is more intense and pungent than that of mace and its aroma is warm and intense

Nutmeg is used for desserts, mashed potatoes, mulled wine and various oriental dishes. It is also often used in the processing of sausages. Nutmeg and mace go well with cinnamon, cloves, ginger and pepper. The whole nutmeg can be stored for a long time, ground it loses its aroma in a short time.

Beautiful nuts are sold whole, smaller or broken nuts are usually ground.

It’s rare to find nutmeg in its shell. This way they can be stored for an even longer time. If necessary, they can be opened with a nutcracker.


Nutmeg and mace are wonderful spices when they are used in small quantities, intoxicating in larger quantities and poisonous in large quantities! Even just one nut counts as a large quantity. Therefore – please do not exaggerate!

In the 18th century, the rich always carried a nutmeg and a silver or wooden grater with them. That way they could season their food at any time if necessary.  As I said, this custom was reserved for the rich, since half a kilo of nutmeg cost seven oxen. Even nowadays, nutmeg and mace are still among the more expensive spices.

Do you know Ratafià?

In Ticino, where I live (this is the Italian-speaking part of Switzerland), mace is an integral part of the nut brandy that is often drunk here. It is called Nocino or in dialect Ratafià and is made from unripe, green walnuts. The walnuts are harvested around St. John’s Day (24 June), quartered and preserved in grappa and then left in a warm, sunny place for about 4 weeks. The mixture must be shaken regularly. The spices give it its typical aroma. There are different recipes and of course they are all secret. But around the 24th of June I sell a lot of mace, cinnamon sticks, cloves and vanilla ?.

As an indication, you can calculate 1 lt of grappa, 250 g of walnuts, 250 g of sugar, 5 g of cinnamon sticks, 5-10 g of mace, 2 g of cloves and 1 pinch of vanilla.

Try it out!

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