The Best Nutmeg Substitutes That You Can Never Go Wrong With

Written by The Kitchen Hand on . Posted in food

It’s really okay to be skeptical when someone tells you about a substitute for nutmeg, especially after you’ve had a terrible encounter substituting an ingredient in a recipe.

But the thing is we can’t do without having alternatives to choose from cos one day you’re going to badly be in the need for one, and that’s why you should know about a good nutmeg substitute before that day.

Though nutmeg is a strongly flavored spice, there are a lot of substitutes available that will give your dishes the taste and flavor it would have with nutmeg.

If you want a taste slightly different from nutmeg’s, then there are substitutes for that too. And just like nutmeg, these substitutes can either be in ground form or in their whole form, so you get to pick as though you’re purchasing nutmeg.

Before we get on to knowing our substitutes, let’s take a good look at nutmeg. Most of us have no idea what it is except the fact that it’s a spice that comes in handy in many dishes.

Nutmeg – All You Need to Know About the Spice and its  Close Substitutes

If you were thinking that nutmeg is a nut, then you’re wrong. Nutmeg is not a nut – how crazy is this sentence, huh?

The tree genus Myristica has many species, some of which can be used as nutmeg or adulterated to taste like and smell like nutmeg. The commonest commercial Myristica species is the Myristica fragrans which is also known as the true nutmeg or fragrant nutmeg tree.

The origin of the nutmeg tree is credited to the Indonesians, specifically as a Banda Islands native tree. The Banda Islands is located in the Moluccas of Indonesian also known as the Spice Islands.

The tree, Myristica fragrans, is an evergreen tree that produces green looking fruits that are almost the size of an apricot. Though it is commonly thought of as a nut like peanut or other nuts, the fruit is actually a drupe with one seed. Since it is not a fruit, you don’t have to worry so much about being allergic to the fruit or the seed.

Nutmeg gives a warmer and spicier feel to your dishes, it is well paired with sweet and savory dishes, and can also give a nice flavor when used in creamy dishes.

It is the seed in the fruit that is actually the spice, nutmeg but the fruit itself can also be referred to as nutmeg. The seed (nutmeg) is enclosed in a shell or seed coat which is covered with a red lacy like covering known as the aril. As a spice, nutmeg has a unique pungent smell and a taste that is considered slightly sweet.

It has a warm spicy flavor that gives an extra edge to your cooking and baking, when used. The tree is commercially cultivated for its fruit, its seed, its aril and also for the production of an essential oil and the nutmeg butter.

As a fruit: The fruit is usually used to make jam or a special kind of candy. In Indonesia, it is used to make a dessert known as manisan pala which is made from sliced nutmeg fruit. The dessert has two (2) versions, a wet and a dry version.

The essential oil: After getting the whole seed, the seed is usually dried and then processed to ground nutmeg. The ground nutmeg is then made to undergo steam distillation to produce a colorless or light yellow oil which smells and taste like nutmeg itself.

The oil is used in both the perfumery and the pharmaceutical industries. However, it can also be used as a natural food flavoring in syrups, baked goods, beverages and sweets. The benefit of using this essential oil as a substitute is that your dishes are usually free from particles that might have been present if you used ground nutmeg.

Nutmeg butter: The process of getting this butter involves making the nutmeg undergo an industrial process known as expression to produce the semisolid butter.

Nutmeg butter is reddish brown in color and just like the essential oil, it smells and tastes like the seed (nutmeg). Though it cannot be readily used to replace nutmeg, it is however an excellent replacement for cocoa butter and can also serve as a lubricant for industries.

Myristica fragrans seed: As earlier mentioned, this is nutmeg itself and the seed can be purchased either whole or ground as a brown powdered spice. Though it can be purchased whole, it can’t be used whole, you’ll have to grate a little or as much as your recipe require off the whole nutmeg.

The seed is mainly used in baking but is very frequently used to flavor puddings, sauces, beverages (such as eggnog and mulled wine), sausages, meat, vegetables like potatoes and cabbage, desserts and confections due to its intensely rich flavor. Mixing nutmeg with olive oil or butter works as a great flavor booster for vegetables.

Some persons even go as far as sprinkling a little ground nutmeg on their breakfast while it is still warm or fresh enough for the nutmeg to seep right into the dish. So for a great kick, add a sprinkle to that plate of pancakes or muffins or even French toast.

Or instead of including nutmeg in your desserts recipe (think fruit pies like apple pie, custard and even cakes), you could save it till the dessert is out of the oven and then drizzle a little quantity over your baked dessert, evenly, and enjoy the sweet taste that the nutmeg will give to the dish.

Yes, you can also drizzle ground nutmeg in your drinks. Well, not all drinks but drinks such as hot tea or coffee, hot chocolate, cider or eggnog can use a little bit of nutmeg spice or a spice similar to nutmeg like ground cinnamon.

One more thing you can use ground nutmeg for is on fruits, either on your raw or cooked fruits, it works well but it works better when you’re using drizzling it on a plate of fruit salad which has also been drizzled with fresh lemon juice. Now, that sounds great!

The aril: The red lacy covering of the seed is rightly known as the aril and it’s used to make a spice like nutmeg known as mace. That means that from one tree nutmeg fruit, we can get two awesome types of spice.

Is Nutmeg Truly Medicinal as Claimed?

Nutmeg is one of the oldest known spice and its usage can be traced back to hundreds of years ago. The fact that its nutrient filled is no doubt arguable but many claims that it’s not just nutritious, it’s also medicinal. Such claims include:

  • Nutmeg helps to prevent the development of cancer.
  • It’s useful to treat insomnia.
  • It aids digestion and prevents constipation. Even helps reduce flatulence.
  • Others include it being a pain reliever, antidiabetic agent, useful treating urinary incontinence and even helps to reduce anxiety.

There are more medicinal benefits however, scientists are yet to prove that nutmeg is truly medicinal. This hasn’t stopped its use as a form of treatment. While its medicinal value is still being debated, its harmful effects are not debatable.

Using nutmeg in quantities required in techies will yield no harmful effect, however, if more than the culinary amount is taken, it can lead to nutmeg poisoning. Cases of nutmeg are rare except when it is mistakenly ingested. Overdosing on nutmeg can also lead to allergic reactions, contact dermatitis, and episodes of psychosis.

One and the most important reason you should seek for nutmeg alternatives is when or if you’re pregnant. Well, running out of nutmeg or wanting to try something else is a good excuse but pregnancy is a real reason to use a substitute.

Why? Because it can lead to miscarriage if consumed in excess and the problem is we don’t exactly know how much is excess, so it’s best to lay off nutmeg during that period and opt for one of the substitutes below.

Replacement for Nutmeg

Replacing nutmeg in a recipe is actually not as difficult as you might think. You could use similar spices, or a combination of these similar spices or you could go with spice blends. Below is a shortlist on the closest nutmeg substitutes.


This is the first substitute that you should go for and the reasons have been mentioned earlier on. Subtler flavor, less pungent but definitely the closest spice available to give the nutmeg flavor profile.

To use as a substitute, use the same amount of nutmeg required in the recipe. That is, a teaspoon of mace equals a teaspoon of nutmeg but if you are not satisfied with the taste, you can add a pinch or two.


If mace was absent from the picture, then cinnamon would have been the king of nutmeg substitutes. Cinnamon offers a brighter, sweeter and less earthy flavor profile when compared to nutmeg.

Cinnamon can be used as a substitute for both savory and sweet dishes though it is usually used for sweet dishes (baking, especially). To use, start with half the amount of nutmeg required cos it has a stronger flavor. If not enough, you can then increase the quantity.


Pungent and spicy, it can be used as a substitute for both savory and sweet dishes. Use half teaspoon of dry ginger to replace one teaspoon nutmeg, if you’re a big lover of ginger, then you can use one teaspoon too. Ginger can also be purchased fresh, in which case you would have to grate it before use.


Usually, some recipes require a combination of nutmeg and cloves since they make such a great couple spice but if you are left to use just cloves, it can still work. Ground cloves work effectively as a substitute for ground nutmeg, it is almost as peppery and earthy as cloves but is considered less sweeter than nutmeg.

It could work in sweet dishes as well as savory dishes and drink recipes. Half a teaspoon of cloves will fill in for a teaspoon of nutmeg, however using a different spice is not a bad idea if your recipe already calls for cloves.


With allspice berries, you can prepare this mildly pungent and aromatic spice. The spice is termed allspice because it is reminiscent of several spices, most notably, nutmeg, cinnamon and cloves, and as such it is a good substitute for nutmeg considering its flavor profile.

Useful in both sweet and savory dishes, it is used in equal proportion, if your recipe calls for a teaspoon of nutmeg, then use a teaspoon of allspice too.

Garam masala:

This spice blend just like allspice, is also reminiscent of several spices. The spice blend is majorly used in Asian cuisines particularly the Indian and Pakistani cuisines. In the making of this spice blend, cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon, and mace are constant spice ingredients.

However, other spices like cumin, bay leaves, or peppercorns are occasionally used to make this spice blend. Garam masala spice blend works best when used as a substitute in savory dishes. To use in a recipe, use the same amount of nutmeg required.

Pumpkin pie spice:

Another spice blend that works as a good substitute for nutmeg. It is a blend of nutmeg, allspice, cinnamon and ginger so using this as a substitute means you still have nutmeg in your dish, alongside other similar spice substitutes. To use as a substitute, use the same amount if nutmeg required in the recipe.

Other spices that could work as substitutes include cardamom, apple pie spice mix, aniseed, Cajun spice, and cumin. But these wouldn’t be my first choice if I need a spice to replace nutmeg in a recipe.

Is Mace Nutmeg?

No, it isn’t. It’s really no news to think both are the same since they come from the same source but they actually aren’t.

Mace is actually the red lacy covering of the Myristica fragrans seed known as aril. Aril is pulled off from the seed coat or shell by hand, after which it is flattened out and dried for about 10 to 14 days. Though originally red in color, it becomes a pale yellow or orange color once dried.

Just like nutmeg, the origin of mace can be traced to Indonesia. The dried flattened out aril is known as blades, when the blades are orange-red, the origin can be traced to Indonesia but if the blades are orange-yellow then the origin is traced to Grenada. Mace is actually the national symbol of Grenada, goes to show how much mace is valued there.

While nutmeg is warmer, sweeter and somewhat spicier, mace has a subtler yet similar flavor. Mace is sold either whole in its blades form or sold ground. If ground, it is considered the best ground nutmeg substitute by many persons.

It is used to flavor baked goods like cakes, donuts, and puddings. It is also used as a flavoring for cheese dishes, sauces, souffles, fish, veggies, meat and it serves as a preservative and pickling agent.

Mace as a spice is used to make spice blends such as garam masala, curry powder, and pumpkin pie spice mix. It is a commonly used spice in India and other countries. Ground mace when compared to other ground spices has a longer shelf life. It is best stored in an airtight container in a cool dark place.

When using as a nutmeg alternative, first use half the amount of nutmeg required in the recipe and then you can subsequently add more, to taste. A teaspoon of ground mace is equivalent to 1 tablespoon of mace blades and mace in recipes can also be replaced with nutmeg.

The process of making nutmeg available as a spice is almost similar to that of mace. The seed is usually dried first in the sun for a period of about two months before it can then be used as a spice. The drying process shrink the kernel away from the seed coat which is then broken to extract the dried nutmeg, a grayish brown oval seed.

Ground nutmeg is typically sold in small quantities since it has a relatively shorter shelf life (6 months of freshness) than whole nutmeg (lasts indefinitely). Moreover, ground nutmeg can easily lose its flavor and aroma thus to help reduce this tendency, it is safe to keep in an airtight container and keep away from light, heat and moisture – store in a cool dry place.


Now that you know what to substitute nutmeg with in a recipe and how to make the substitution, running out of nutmeg will never be such a terrible thing anymore. The good thing about these nutmeg substitutes is that you have most of them in your spice cabinet!

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The Kitchen Hand

The Kitchen Hand

Your Personal In-House 'HOW TO' Gastro Master. From Slicing up A Pig for Christmas or Selecting Your Organic Ingredients for that Super Vegan Juice, The kitchen Hand Knows More Than You Might Think .
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