Nutmeg is considered a group of trees in genus Myristica. One of the more favored, and popular of the species is Myristica fragrans, an evergreen tree known in the Banda Islands in the Moluccas of Indonesia, or Spice Islands. The nutmeg tree is important for two spices derived from the fruit, nutmeg and mace.
The hard brown seed from the nutmeg tree (a tropical evergreen) has a warm, spicy sweet flavor. Mace is the dried lacy membrane from around the nutmeg seed. The nutmeg tree is indigenous to the Banda Islands of Indonesia but is also grown in the Caribbean, especially in Grenada. The first harvest of nutmeg trees takes place 7-9 years after planting, and the trees reach their full potential after 20 years. At one time, nutmeg was one of the most valuable spices. It has been said that in England, several hundred years ago, a few nutmeg nuts could be sold for enough money to enable financial independence for life.
What to look for:
The large tropical evergreen grows on average to 12 m (40 ft) and reaches as high as 20 m (66 ft). The bark is a dark grey-green which produces a yellow juice which oxidizes to red. It is thickly branched with dense foliage with tough, dark green, oval leaves about 10 cm (4 in) long. The trees are dioecious, meaning it has separate male and female plants, both being required for fertilization. It has small, light yellow bell-shaped flowers. The pale yellow fruit is a drupe, grooved like an apricot, splitting along the groove when ripe to expel the seed.
How Mother Nature loves it:
The nutmeg tree is a large evergreen native to the Moluccas (the Spice Islands) and is now cultivated in the West Indies. It produces two spices — mace and nutmeg. Nutmeg is the seed kernel inside the fruit and mace is the lacy covering (aril) on the kernel.
How to use it:
The freshness can be maintained longer if stored in an airtight container. Keep away from heat, moisture, and direct sunlight. These elements hasten the loss of flavor and aroma. Avoid storing over the stove, dishwasher, sink or near a window. Should not be stored in the freezer. Freezing does not extend the shelf life of regularly used dried spices. If stored in the freezer, and repeatedly removed for use, condensation will form in the container and accelerate loss of flavor and aroma.