It’s okay to be skeptical when someone tells you about a substitute for nutmeg, especially after you’ve had terrible experiences with substituting ingredients in the past.
But the thing is, we can’t do without having alternatives to choose from. One day, you’re going to badly need one, and that’s why you should know about a good nutmeg substitute in case you ever need it.
Though nutmeg is a strongly flavored spice, there are a lot of substitutes available that will give your dishes the same taste and flavor they 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 whole form, so you get to pick, just as if you were purchasing real 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 for the fact that it’s a spice which comes in handy for many dishes.
Nutmeg – Everything You Need to Know
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 and smell like nutmeg. The most common commercial Myristica species is the Myristica fragrans, which is also known as the “true” or fragrant nutmeg tree.
The origin of the nutmeg tree is credited to Indonesia, specifically as a Banda Islands native tree. The Banda Islands are located in the Moluccas of Indonesia, 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 these are commonly thought of as a nut-like peanut or other nuts, the fruit is actually a drupe, with one seed. Since it is not real fruit, you don’t have to worry so much about being allergic to it.
Nutmeg gives a warmer and spicier feel to your dishes. It is well paired with both sweet and savory dishes, and can also give a nice flavor when used in creamy dishes.
It is the seed of the fruit which 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 covering known as the aril. As a spice, nutmeg has a uniquely 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, seed, aril, and also for the production of essential oil and 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 versions—a wet and a dry version.
The essential oil: After extracting the whole seed, the seed is usually dried and then processed into ground nutmeg. The ground nutmeg then undergoes a steam-distillation to produce a colorless or light yellow oil, which smells and tastes like nutmeg itself.
The oil is used in perfumery and 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 will usually be free from particles that would have been present if you’d used ground nutmeg.
Nutmeg butter: The way 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 an excellent replacement for cocoa butter, and can also serve as a lubricant for many industries.
Myristica fragrans seed: As earlier mentioned, this is nutmeg itself, and the seed can be purchased either whole or ground into a brown, powdered spice. Though it can be purchased whole, it can’t be used whole—you’ll have to grate as much as your recipe requires 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, where it adds an intensely rich flavor. Mixing nutmeg with olive oil or butter works as a great flavor-booster for vegetables.
Some people even go as far as sprinkling a little ground nutmeg on their breakfast while it is still warm enough for the nutmeg to seep into the dish. So for a great kick, add a sprinkle to that plate of pancakes, muffins, or even French toast.
Instead of including nutmeg in your dessert recipe (think fruit pies like apple or custard), you could save it until the dessert is out of the oven, then drizzle a little over your baked dessert. 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 or a spice similar to nutmeg, like ground cinnamon.
One more thing you can use ground nutmeg for is fruit. It works well on either your raw or cooked fruits, but it works better when you’re using drizzling it on a plate of fruit salad that 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 spices like nutmeg, such as mace. This 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 spices, and its usage can be traced back to hundreds of years ago. The fact that its nutrient-filled is a given, but many claim 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 helping to reduce flatulence.
- Others include it being a pain reliever, an antidiabetic agent, a useful tool for treating urinary incontinence, and a way to help 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, though. While its medicinal value is still being debated, its harmful effects are worth considering.
Using nutmeg in recommended quantities will yield no harmful effect, however, if more than the culinary amount is taken, it can lead to nutmeg poisoning. Cases of nutmeg poisoning are rare except when it is mistakenly ingested. Overdosing on nutmeg can also lead to allergic reactions, contact dermatitis, or episodes of psychosis.
One of the most important reasons you should seek nutmeg alternatives is pregnancy. While running out of nutmeg or wanting to try something new is a good enough excuse, pregnancy is a vital cause of using a substitute.
Why? Because nutmeg can lead to miscarriage if consumed in excess. 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, a combination of similar spices, or some spice blends. Below is a shortlist of the closest nutmeg substitutes.
This is the first substitute that you should go for, and the reasons behind it have been mentioned earlier. Subtler flavor, less pungent, but the closest spice available to give that nutmeg flavor profile.
To use as a substitute, use the same amount as the amount of nutmeg required by 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 an extra pinch or two.
If mace is absent from the picture, then cinnamon is 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 ones (baking, especially). To use, start with half the amount of nutmeg required since cinnamon has a stronger flavor. If that’s 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 a 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.
Some recipes require a combination of nutmeg and cloves since they make such a great couple, but if you are left to use just cloves, it can still work. Ground cloves work effectively as a substitute for ground nutmeg, as nutmeg is almost as peppery and earthy as cloves but considered sweeter.
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 a mildly pungent and aromatic spice. The spice is termed “allspice” because it is reminiscent of several spices, most notably: nutmeg, cinnamon, and cloves. Considering this flavor profile, it is a good substitute for nutmeg.
Useful in both sweet and savory dishes, you can use allspice in equal proportion. If your recipe calls for a teaspoon of nutmeg, then use a teaspoon of allspice too.
This spice blend, just like allspice, is also reminiscent of several spices. It’s majorly used in Asian cuisines, particularly the Indian and Pakistani ones. In the making of this spice blend, cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon, and mace are typical 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 it in a recipe, use the same amount as the amount of nutmeg required.
Pumpkin pie spice:
Another spice blend that works as a good substitute for nutmeg is pumpkin pie spice. 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 it as a substitute, use the same amount as 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 choices if I needed something to replace nutmeg in a recipe.
Is Mace Nutmeg?
No, it isn’t. It’s easy to think both are the same since they come from the same source, but they actually aren’t.
Mace is the red, lacy covering of the Myristica fragrans seed known as aril. Aril is pulled off from the seed coat 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 arils are 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, which 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 ground. If ground, it is considered the best ground nutmeg substitute by many people.
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, and meat, as well as serving 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 and 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 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 shrinks 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) than whole nutmeg (indefinite). Moreover, ground nutmeg can easily lose its flavor and aroma, thus, to help reduce this tendency, it should be safely kept in an airtight container and away from light, heat, and moisture. Store it 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 no longer be such a terrible thing. The good thing about these nutmeg substitutes is that you have most of them in your spice cabinet!