What is Nutmeg? & How to Use It


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We hear a lot about nutmeg when the fall season rolls around, but it can be used for more than egg nog lattes and pumpkin spice seasoning.

Whole nutmeg on a cutting board

Did you know that nutmeg comes from an exotic fruit? It’s a common spice at the grocery store, but it originates from a unique Indonesian tree (aptly names the nutmeg tree) that also produces the spice mace. Nutmegs themselves are the pits found inside the fruit of nutmeg trees, and they’re ground to create the nutmeg powder you find in the spice aisle.

It’s easily one of the most interesting flavors to work with as a home cook because it can wear several hats and walk the line between sweet and savory dishes. That’s what makes it such a great tool in your pantry.

Nutritional benefits

Beyond the fact that it’s yummy, recent studies have found that nutmeg helps protect your liver [source]. Other studies claim it can improve digestion and insomnia, act as a pain reliever, and it may help with depression. However, more research is required.

How does nutmeg taste

While nutmeg is considered a sweet seasoning, it’s not your typical sugary sweet. It’s more of an earthy, nutty sweetness. That’s what makes it so versatile, and it’s why it can be added to savory dishes as well as sweet ones. Just know that a little goes a long way with the unique spice.

Whole versus ground nutmeg

whole nutmeg and ground nutmeg

Preground nutmeg is the most convenient option, but it does lose potency quicker than buying whole nutmegs, which you can usually find in the spice aisle as well. Just grind them from home as your recipes call for it. This method will deliver more flavor and freshness. However, if you plan to use it quickly, preground nutmeg is still a great option.

Cooking with nutmeg

The first rule of cooking with nutmeg is that a little does a lot; you don’t need much. It complements meat well and goes great with root vegetables and winter squash. You can use it when making hearty soups or stews. And nutmeg is just as great for baking as it is for cooking. It’s a key ingredient in many desserts, including pumpkin pie, custards, and egg nog during the holidays. People use it in cakes, too.

How to purchase and store nutmeg

As mentioned, for more flavor and longevity, try to purchase whole nutmegs instead of the preground powder. They’ll keep for several years with maximum flavor so long as they’re stored properly. Keep them in a cool, dry area away from sunlight and inside an airtight container.


When it comes to nutmeg, it’s possible to have too much of a good thing. Two or more tablespoons can trigger nausea, dizziness, dry mouth, and even affect brain function (though the amount can vary based on your size). It’s been known to produce a “high” because of the compound myristicin, resulting in similar side effects as narcotics [source]. Remember, use in small doses only.

Recipes to try

Jessica Gavin

I'm a culinary school graduate, cookbook author, and a mom who loves croissants! My passion is creating recipes and sharing the science behind cooking to help you gain confidence in the kitchen.

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3 Comments Leave a comment or review

  1. Bob Leonetti says

    Thanks for your nice comments of foods.
    But, you forgot to mention spinach in your nutmeg piece. The Italians have an expression as ” spinach without nutmeg is like a day without sunshine”. I love to saute greens like spinach and swisschard with olive oil, garlic and lots of lemon, then fresh ground pepper and fresh ground nutmeg.

    • Jessica Gavin says

      I am definitely going to try your nutmeg trick! I add it to veggie burgers. I’m interested to see how it tastes with greens. Thanks, Bob!

    • A’villechefdecuisine says

      Yes! Spinach and nutmeg are a match made in heaven. I wouldn’t make my creamed spinach without it. The chef on our Oceania cruise put a pinch in the mashed potatoes. Perfection!