Cooking With Nutmeg: The Dos and Don’ts

Nutmeg is one of the two spices that come from the Myristica fragrans tree. Along with mace, nutmeg is taken from the seed of the Myristica fragrans fruit. Nutmeg is warm and nutty with a mild flavor that makes it great for pairing with various flavorful ingredients. Despite its versatility, it is possible to misuse nutmeg if you aren’t familiar with it. Below we look at the dos and don’ts of using nutmeg.

Do use nutmeg in spice blends.

Nutmeg pairs well with other spices and is most often seen in spice blends with pungent ingredients. Popular partners for nutmeg include cinnamon, cloves, and ginger in sweet blends. Nutmeg is often paired with cumin and allspice in savory blends. Nutmeg plays a major role in North American spice mixes like pumpkin pie spice and apple pie spice. You will see nutmeg used in European blends like quatre epices and Indian ones like garam masala. Nutmeg often shows up in the Middle Eastern spice blends like ras el hanout and baharat.

Do use nutmeg in savory dishes.

Nutmeg is most commonly associated with sweet preparations in North America and much of Europe. The traditional ways to use it include as a spice for pies and assorted baked goods; however, its flavor does work in some savory preparations. Nutmeg is often used for squash dishes and to flavor dark leafy greens. A little nutmeg is sometimes added to the brown butter sauce for gnocchi and other kinds of pasta. It can even be used in meat dishes like Italian sausages, and it shows up in some recipes for pasta sauce. Typically, only a small amount of nutmeg is used in savory dishes. It is used as an accent rather than as the main flavor.

Do use nutmeg as a finishing spice.

For maximum nutmeg flavor, sprinkle the freshly grated spice onto desserts and beverages just before serving them. It’s best to add nutmeg at the start of cooking as well as to finish with it. Freshly grated nutmeg is a great topping for custards, cobblers, and cheesecakes. It is also traditional to sprinkle a little onto your eggnog.

Do use nutmeg as a cinnamon replacement.

Nutmeg is commonly recommended as an emergency substitute for cinnamon, even though its flavor is quite different. Nutmeg is a good option for replacing cinnamon, simply because it works in the same recipes. Whether you have run out of cinnamon or just don’t like the taste, nutmeg is a good alternative most of the time. Use nutmeg on French toast, to make nutmeg rolls instead of cinnamon rolls, and mix it with brown sugar to sweeten your oatmeal.

Do use nutmeg in moderation.

Nutmeg is not an overwhelming spice when you use it normally. It is generally mellow and well-suited to providing a background note. If you do add too much of it, nutmeg can give your dish an unpleasant bitterness similar to the taste of soap. Follow recipes precisely when adding nutmeg to a dish. Most savory recipes that require nutmeg require only trace amounts of it, especially if you are grating it fresh instead of using the pre-ground stuff.

Don’t grate nutmeg until just before you intend to use it.

You may even want to grate your nutmeg directly into the dish. Nutmeg is one of those spices that loses its flavor quickly after being grated. The increased surface area causes nutmeg’s volatile aromatic oils to evaporate rapidly.