A lack of nutmeg should not keep you from making a recipe that calls for it. Most ingredients in cooking are replaceable if you are willing to research the substitutes and learn how to use them correctly. Nutmeg may seem like a difficult flavor to replace, but it can be done in a pinch or if someone has an allergy to it. Its flavor is distinctive but delicate, making it versatile enough to be used in many cuisines including a vast range of Indian and Middle Eastern dishes. If you find yourself needing a nutmeg substitute you will want something that provides a similarly warm and woodsy flavor but that is also subtle.
Your Best Bet: Mace
This is arguably the most obvious substitute and is at the top of most experts’ lists of nutmeg replacements. Mace is similar in flavor to nutmeg because it is a part of the same spice and comes from the same tree. Mace is made from the aril that grows over the nutmeg seed. You can replace nutmeg in a recipe by using the same amount of mace. Note that mace is not a perfect substitute as it is very delicate and lacks many of nutmeg’s flavor notes; however, it does bear a close similarity and should be your first option when seeking a nutmeg replacement.
Decent Second Choice: Garam Masala
This blend of spices is used throughout India and Pakistan as well as in cuisines from various other South Asian countries. The spices used to make garam masala vary depending on the region but most blends include peppercorns, cinnamon, and cumin along with both nutmeg and mace. The fact that it contains nutmeg along with two of the acceptable nutmeg substitutes from this list makes it an effective replacement. Traditionally, garam masala is made fresh with the spices ground just before use; however, it is possible to purchase pre-made garam masala. Note that depending on the region, the spice mix may be dry roasted before grinding.
In a Pinch: Cinnamon
While cinnamon has a somewhat different flavor profile from nutmeg, it is similarly fragrant and woodsy. While nutmeg is obtained from a seed, cinnamon comes from the inner bark of several different trees in the Cinnamomum genus. Because of the similarities in flavor, it can be used in many dishes (especially dessert dishes) in place of nutmeg. Cinnamon has a brighter, more pungent flavor than nutmeg and therefore it is recommended that you use less of it than you would nutmeg. Experts suggest using a half-teaspoon for every teaspoon of nutmeg called for in a recipe.
If you are without any of the above nutmeg substitutes, consider using ginger. Ginger is a root with a sharp and spicy bite. Like nutmeg, it is used in both sweet and savory dishes. It can be used fresh by grating it or dry in powder form. Ginger can be used as a nutmeg substitute in Asian dishes and in dishes that contain mainly fruits and vegetables. If your recipe calls for a teaspoon of nutmeg, you would use a teaspoon of ginger instead. As last resort alternatives, consider cloves or pumpkin pie spice as potential substitutes for nutmeg.