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Thursday, March 20

In A Nutmeg

Deconstructed Nutmeg
You may be familiar with those nutmegs shaking loosely in their tough outer casing. Or maybe you are further convenienced in having packaged powdered nutmeg. Nutmeg has both culinary and medicinal purposes. However there is more over the surface of the nutmeg story.

I encountered a colleague at an agricultural conference and one of his first comments was that he had assumed that I was a national of Grenada from my then Twitter cover photo of nutmeg. Contrary to those who would be so inclined, nutmeg is also grown in Saint Lucia and other Caribbean islands. Interestingly, according to this FAO source, nutmeg was first planted in the West Indies in Saint Vincent in 1802.

Most intriguing to me, is that there are female and male nutmeg trees. Further, it is only the female plant that is capable of producing fruit. This blog effectively captures my sentiments on this subject:
"Just imagine the shock of a nutmeg farmer when he realises that the plant that he has been watering, pampering is a useless male plant!"
This begs the question: How does one identify a female plant before it gets to the flowering stage??? Complicated and costly DNA analysis is out of reach to the small-scale farmer and definitely out of my reach too! 
I recently purchased a propagated plant which I was promised has a 75% chance of flowering. It has planted it out and I patiently await the approximated 5 years to maturity. However to increase these odds, I will plant a few more to add keep my lone plant company. This source suggests that for the home garden the plants be spaced 10m apart. Wish me luck!

Nutmeg tree photo being photobombed by coconut palms
Nutmeg fruits on tree branches

Did you know that the nutmeg on the tree is encased in fleshy rounded fruit? When ripe, this bursts into halves to reveal the oval shaped nutmeg outer casing. On this casing is a red,lace-like membrane called mace or aril. Mace also has spice properties. They can be used in the same recipes that you would the nutmeg itself to add another dimension of flavour. The shell is then cracked to obtain the nutmeg seed.

Close up of nutmeg fruit

Nutmeg aflame-I am hot about nutmeg and it is hot about me too

While the nutmeg seed is a commercial product, I have yet to see mace on local supermarket shelves. An older generation birdie told me that the best fruit jams are made with mace for spice and I make it my duty to source them directly from the farmer. As with all things, there can be no substitute for freshness!

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