Mace is a spice consisting of the bright red or orange-brown aril. An aril is a kind of seed covering. Mace is the aril that grows on the nutmeg seed. It has a flavor that is similar to that of nutmeg but is milder and more sharply aromatic. Mace is not a widely-used spice, so some inexperienced home cooks may be excused for approaching it with trepidation. It is one of those ingredients that can easily be misused or mishandled if you are unaware of its properties. To help you get the most value from a unique spice, here are some of the dos and don’ts of mace.
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Do store mace correctly.
Mace is not one of those spices that you can just toss into your spice cabinet and forget about. Poor storage practices can ruin many spices, but especially delicate ones like mace. Mace is sold in two forms, the whole dried and pressed aril and the ground form. Ground mace is the same dried and pressed aril, converted to a powder. Both forms should be kept in airtight containers at all times, but whole blades of mace may be kept in the refrigerator or freezer to maximize their shelf life. The humidity will usually not be a problem.
Ground mace is different because of its large surface area, which causes it to absorb moisture if stored in humid environments like the refrigerator. Moisture in your ground mace can cause spoilage.
Do toast mace lightly before using it.
Toasting is good however you intend to use the mace, but it is especially highly recommended when cooking Indian dishes. It boosts flavor by bringing out the aromatic oils in mace. The mace blades may be toasted alongside other spices that you will use in the dish, like black peppercorns and cloves. Another benefit is that toasting will make the blades more brittle so that they grind easier. If the mace is too leathery and pliable when you place it in your spice grinder, it won’t grind properly and may clump up or stay in large pieces.
Do use whole blades of mace in liquid-heavy dishes.
The whole form is the recommended way to use mace. You want to steep the spice in a liquid to draw out the flavor. When you infuse its flavor, you need only a small amount of the whole mace to flavor a lot of food. The longer you cook it, the more flavor it releases. If you grind the mace, there is the possibility that you will grind more than you require and either use too much or wind up with ground mace that you can’t use and that will soon lose its flavor.
Don’t grind mace until you are ready to use it.
The period just before it goes in is when you should toast and grind the mace, then add it immediately. Toasting and grinding just before it goes into the dish maximizes its flavor, while waiting to add it may cause flavor loss. The increased surface area that grinding gives allows the spice’s aromatic compounds to evaporate and be lost.
Don’t hold your ground mace near a steaming pot as you add it to the dish.
The moisture from the steam can be absorbed into the spice and cause it to spoil.