Saturday, May 24, 2014

What Is Nutmeg...

 
        Nutmeg is native to the Banda Islands of Indonesia.

The Nutmeg tree, is a tropical evergreen. Nutmeg is a bitter, spicy herb that acts as a warming, digestive tonic. It has been used for centuries to stimulate digestion, improve the appetite, preventing gas and fermentation in the intestinal tract. It's also been used to treat colic, bad breath and tooth ache. If it wasn't for nutmeg, nobody would have heard of the Bandas islands in Indonesia. The spice evolved there, and for centuries this was the only place it grew on the planet.

The history of nutmeg is remarkable, and violent. By the sixth century, the spice had reached Byzantium, 12,000km away. Around 1,000 AD, the Persian physician Ibn Sina prescribed the "jansi ban" or Banda nut. The Arabs traded nutmeg through the dark and middle ages, mostly through Venice. Where nutmeg seasoned the tables of the European aristocracy. It was always expensive, a 14th-century German pricing table says that a pound of nutmeg cost as much as "seven fat oxen". The Portuguese military genius Afonso de Albuquerque annexed the part of the Indonesian Islands, that the Bandas islands are part of, in 1511. The fortresses he built there established a Portuguese monopoly over the world's nutmeg that lasted almost a whole century. The Dutch East India Company, seized all but one of the Bandas islands in the early 1600's, enslaving the native occupants. The Netherlanders enforced their nutmeg monopoly with paranoid brutality, banning the export of the trees, drenching every nutmeg in lime before shipping to render it infertile, and imposing the death penalty on anyone suspected of stealing, growing or selling nutmegs elsewhere. When some Bandanese failed to appreciate the God-given right of The Dutch East India Company to control the nutmeg trade, the head of the Company, Jan Pieterszoon Coen, ordered the systematic quartering and beheading of every Bandanese male over the age of 15. The population of the Banda islands was around 15,000 when the Dutch arrived. 15 years later,
it was 600.

The Dutch perpetuated their nutmeg monopoly by brute force, and pathological secrecy, never revealing to traders the islands location. Then, in 1769, Pierre Poivre, a french horticulturist swooped on to the islands under the noses of the Dutch and smuggled out nutmegs and nutmeg trees. The French planted the seeds on their nearby colony Mauritius, and the Dutch monopoly was over. Quite a bloody past for this little spice. Today Nutmeg is largely cultivated in the West Indies (Caribbean), South Africa, the Molucca Islands. The tree has branches of alternate-growing, dark-green leaves, pale yellow flowers and a brown, wrinkled fruit. The oval fruit is fleshy in appearance, like an apricot, but it may grow as large as a peach, and when it ripens, will split open, exposing the bright-red, net-like Aril, from which another spice, Mace is made. The aril wrapped around a dark reddish-brown, brittle shell. Inside lives a single kernel. The seed, after it's shell has been broken and discarded, inside is the Nutmeg.

Nutmeg and Mace are the only spices in the world that are produced by separate parts of the same fruit. Nutmeg is an important flavoring for bakery products, drinks, meats, vegetables, cheese dishes, sauces, puddings, pasta, and stuffing. It's fatty oil is also used in perfumery, soap and candle manufacturingFresh, whole nutmeg will always have a richer flavor than the ground spice. A pod will remain fresh about twelve months while ground nutmeg will lose flavor in six months or less. After grating a fresh pod, store it in a small jar or BPA free container, to preserve the oil content. Some of the health benefits are:

    • Nutmeg spice as well as mace contains many anti-oxidant compounds.
    • Nutmeg in traditional medicines are use for anti-fungal, anti-depressant, aphrodisiac, digestive remedies.
    • Nutmeg is a good source of minerals like copper, potassium, calcium, manganese, iron, zinc and magnesium. Potassium in an important component of cell and body fluids that helps control heart rate and blood pressure. Manganese and copper are used by the body as co-factors for the antioxidant enzyme superoxide dismutase. Iron is essential for red blood cell production.
    • Nutmeg is also rich in many vital B-complex vitamins, vitamin C, folic acid, vitamin A and many flavonoid anti-oxidants like beta carotene and cryptoxanthins that are essential for optimum health.
    • The most promising aspect of nutmeg, seems to be its potential as an anti-depressant and as an aphrodisiac, when used in small doses.
      Since ancient times this spicy nut and its oil were being used in many Chinese and Indian traditional medicines, prepared as a tea for illnesses related to the nervous and digestive systems. The compounds in this spice such as myristicin, macelignan, and elemicin have stimulant properties on brain. These compounds have been proven to reduce the degradation of neural pathways and cognitive function that commonly afflicts people with dementia, or Alzheimer’s disease. Studies have shown myristicin and macelignan slow those effects, and keep your brain functioning at a normal, healthy level.Nutmeg oil contains eugenol, which has been used in dentistry for toothache relief, and to cure bad breath. The oil is also used as a local massage to reduce muscular, and joints pain.  Nutmeg has been recommended as a home remedy for sleeplessness and insomnia. A pinch of nutmeg in warm milk always seemed to do the trick. Nutmeg has a high content of magnesium, an essential mineral in the body that reduces nerve tension, and even stimulates the release of serotonin which creates a feeling of relaxation.One study, published in the "Journal of the Medical Association of Thailand" in 2007, found that compounds in nutmeg were able to fight the growth of leukemia cells in test-tube studies. An additional test-tube study, published in the May 2005 issue of "Toxicology Letters," found that nutmeg promoted brain cancer cell death.

      Both Nutmeg and Mace are used in cooking recipes. Mace has delicate flavor and gives saffron-like orange-red color to the food items. Whole nuts like I said are preferred over grounded form since it is rich in essential oils which gives flavor and freshness to recipes. Whole seeds can be grated then added to the recipes at the last moment of cooking. Nutmeg and Mace can be used in sauces, soups, and in confectionery. Mace is especially used as a colorant and flavoring agent in sweets, pie, cakes, and many other baked goods. The spice is also being used as one of the common ingredient in curry powder to marinate meat and vegetable dishes in many Asian and Indian regions.

      Just a few precautions that you need to be aware of with nutmeg. Nutmeg in low doses, produces no noticeable physiological or neurological response. However the dark side is, in large doses raw nutmeg has documented psychoactive effects. Nutmeg contains myristicin, which is a monoamine oxidase inhibitor and psychoactive substance. The Chinese smoked it for these properties, and while I have much respect for the ancient Chinese, I don't recommend it. Myristica oil, the natural oil found in nutmeg, can cause adverse reactions if consumed in large amounts also. Myristicin poisoning can induce convulsions, palpitations, nausea, eventual dehydration, and generalized body pain, and is a strong deliriant. So I wouldn't spend the day eating Nutmeg either. While nutmeg is used sparingly in dishes, it can still impact your health in a variety of ways, mainly due to its nutritive content of vitamins, minerals, and organic compounds related to the essential oils. So the little spice with the violent history can, relieve pain, soothe indigestion, strengthen cognitive function, detoxify the body, boost skin health, alleviate oral conditions, reduce insomnia, increase immune system function, prevent leukemia, and improve blood circulation. Try some. Good Luck...



      Now another favorite use of nutmeg, for those on vacation in the Caribbean, is for drinks. No, I'm not referring to a puppy cocktail like a Brandy Alexander either. It's used in a refreshing drink called a "Pain Killer" which I'm afraid, has probably caused more pain than it ever killed ! It goes something like this:


      Virgin Islands Pain Killer

      • 1oz. white rum
      • 1oz. dark rum
      • 1oz Pussers rum
      • 1/2oz. 151 rum
      • Equal parts orange, and pineapple juice                                
      • 1oz. coco lopez
      • Flash blend or shake
      • Float the 151 rum on top
      • Top with grated nutmeg 


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