Nutmeg, along with its twin sister mace, is a spice taken from trees within the myristika frangrans family. Though the spices come from the same fruit they are created differently, with nutmeg the product of the nut in its centre, and mace taken from the red, glossy skin that wraps itself around the nut like a web. Nutmeg has been a permanent fixture on spice shelves throughout history, and it is with no hyperbole that we say wars were fought over it. Such was its popularity that English colonials fought for control of the Indonesian Banda Islands (also known as the Spice Islands), from which the tree originated.
The tiny Banda Islands, as the sole source of nutmeg at the time, were quite vulnerable to those who sought the spice, and this susceptibility played out when the Dutch invaded them in 1621. The Dutch East India Company, founded by Dutch merchants in 1602, took great measures to protect the nutmeg. They executed every male over the age of 15 and displayed the heads of village leaders on poles to discourage rebellion. To keep value high, the production of the spice was concentrated into easily guarded areas, and seeds were not allowed to leave the area while still fertile. The Dutch East India Company went broke by the end of the 17th century, affected in some part by the successful smuggling of nutmeg plans to Mauritius, a tsunami wiping out their crops and the return of the English, who seized the Islands by force in 1809. That and continuous wars with other enterprises and corruption running rife anyway… Karmic retribution either way.
As well as its indigenous home, the nutmeg tree is also cultivated in Malaysia, the Caribbean and Kerala, and while Indonesia is responsible for 75% of the world market share, the Caribbean – particularly Grenada – is accountable for 20%.
The essential oil obtained by steam distillation of ground nutmeg is used widely by the perfumery and pharmaceutical industries, and as an additional bonus, the spice is said to be an aphrodisiac. In fact, history tells that tucking a nutmeg into the left armpit before attending a function was very much believed to attract admirers, so next time you find yourself out on the prowl tuck into a nutmeg heavy gin to build up some Dutch courage (though please, not the beheading kind) with a little help from your spicy friend.
Ginsmiths love nutmeg for the sustained finish it gives a spirit. The spice leaves a lingering warmth on the palate and while there is a dry, earthy sweetness on the nose, to the mouth it brings only a gentle heat.
Gins where Nutmeg is noticeable to taste:
Gins with a notable nutmeg content include Portobello Gin, Bombay Amber Gin and Darnley’s View Spiced Gin.
…Dusted on a warm, spiced drink, but if it’s tee shirt weather and you’re still after that nutmeg kick, a sprinkling on alongside an orange peel works surprisingly well as a dual G&T garnish.
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