Nutmeg is like most spices in that it has a long shelf life in its whole form but a much shorter one after being ground. The way to get the most out of either whole or ground nutmeg is to store them properly. Below are some of the best ways to store nutmeg for the best flavor and to maximize the spice’s shelf life.
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Keep nutmeg in the shell
The nutmeg seed starts with two layers of protection. The first layer of protection is the fruit that grows on the nutmeg tree. The nutmeg seed is harvested by cutting open the small pale green nutmeg fruit. The nutmeg seed consists of a shell on which the spice mace grows as the aril. The shell is the second layer of protection and contains the nutmeg kernel, which is the spice.
If you have purchased whole nutmeg still in its shell, store it in the shell. The shell will protect the kernel within and maintain its flavor for more than a year.
Keep nutmeg whole
To get to the nutmeg kernel, you will have to break the shell. Once you remove nutmeg from its shell, its shelf life will shorten to a few months. To get the most value from nutmeg, do not grate it all at once. Instead, grate the amount that you need with a microplane or nutmeg grater. Grating nutmeg before storing it will cause it to lose its flavor quickly.
Store nutmeg in an airtight container
You should store nutmeg in an airtight container in any form. Whole and ground nutmeg will eventually lose flavor and become worthless if stored in the open air; an airtight container can slow flavor loss significantly. The degradation process will be far faster for ground nutmeg because of its increased surface area. Contact with air causes nutmeg to oxidize and its volatile oils — which provide the flavor and fragrance — to evaporate.
Ideally, your spice container will be made of glass. The benefit of glass comes from the fact that it is not porous like plastic, which is not completely airtight. Plastic will still allow in small amounts of air that will lower your spices’ quality over time.
Store nutmeg away from moisture
Like air, moisture can harm nutmeg. Ground nutmeg will interact with the moisture in the air by absorbing it and may clump. Moisture can also cause nutmeg to lose flavor. Clumping and flavor loss may be the least of your worries, since damp nutmeg can also harbor mold that will spoil the spice and may also be toxic. A nonporous glass container can help to protect your nutmeg from moist air.
Store nutmeg away from heat
Exposing ground or whole nutmeg to heat can cause it to lose flavor in a couple of ways, so you will want to avoid high temperatures. One way that heat affects nutmeg is that it causes the loss of its volatile aromatic compounds. Another way is that the heat may cause condensation inside the container with the nutmeg, which will alter its flavor and possibly cause mold issues.
Store nutmeg away from light
Spices like nutmeg are photosensitive, which means that exposure to light causes their flavors to break down faster than they would in darkness. Store nutmeg away from light. You can do this in an opaque container or a clear one that you keep in your spice cabinet.