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Nutmeg is a spice that is popularly used all over the world in a variety of sweet and savoury dishes. Most commonly this will be in the form of ground nutmeg which makes it convenient to have in the back of the pantry or on a spice rack. However, what if you’re out of nutmeg when a recipe calls for it? What’s the best nutmeg substitute?
Table of Contents
- What is Nutmeg?
- What Does Nutmeg Add To A Recipe?
- Brief History of Nutmeg Being Used in Cooking and Baking?
- What Can We Substitute For Nutmeg In Cooking And Baking?
What is Nutmeg?
As mentioned above nutmeg is a spice used all over the world in both sweet and savoury dishes, with it being particularly popular in European, Middle Eastern and Asian cuisines.
Nutmeg itself is derived from the seeds of the evergreen Myristica fragrans tree or “nutmeg tree” as it is commonly known. These trees originate on the Moluccas of Indonesia, also known as the spice islands and are the same trees that mace originates from.
Both nutmeg and mace are derived from the seeds of this same plant. The aril of the seed kernel is stripped away and is the mace whilst the actual seed itself is the nutmeg.
As such despite the name, most people with nut allergies should be safe to consume nutmeg and mace. However, those with seed allergies should probably avoid them.
What Does Nutmeg Add To A Recipe?
Nutmeg is a popular spice due to the somewhat unique flavour that it adds to both sweet and savoury dishes. Whilst freshly grated nutmeg will produce the most fragrant and flavourful, ground nutmeg from the store will still provide fantastic additional flavour to your dishes.
Flavour-wise, nutmeg is known for its warm, nutty and aromatic flavour. Additionally, it is slightly sweet with a mild peppery flavour that is somewhat reminiscent of cloves.
Most commonly it will be used in creamy or starchy dishes such as mashed potatoes, rice pudding or custard tarts. However, it is also commonly used in apple pies, lattes and curries such as korma.
Brief History of Nutmeg Being Used in Cooking and Baking?
Nutmeg was originally used in Middle Eastern and Asian dishes before being imported to Mediterranean and European countries by Arabian merchants. Around the time these merchants had near enough a monopoly on the nutmeg seed and spices made from it. However, this changed in the early fifteenth century when the Portuguese took over the Moluccas islands.
From here it became a highly contested region amongst the colonial powers with the Dutch subsequently claiming them and banning the growing of the seeds anywhere else. However, this ban was ineffective as seeds were smuggled off the island by Frenchman Pierre Poivre.
Ultimately, however, the seeds began to spread far and wide after the British took over the islands. This is because they began to cultivate the seeds in East Indian islands.
This rich and complex history is why nutmeg is used in so many different ways around the world.
What Can We Substitute For Nutmeg In Cooking And Baking?
Nutmeg is a very popular and versatile spice. However, if you require a nutmeg substitute due to either an allergy or lack of availability then there are plenty of other spice options available to you.
The Eight Best Nutmeg Substitutes
Whilst the options below can do well at replacing nutmeg there will always be some variation in how the final product ends up tasting as a result. To most though, the difference created when you replace nutmeg with another spice will be barely noticeable if noticed at all.
Pumpkin Pie Spice
Rather than being a single spice, pumpkin pie spice is actually a combination of multiple different spices. This works as a nutmeg substitute since it contains nutmeg, along with many of the spices recommended for use as a replacement for nutmeg such as cloves, ginger and cinnamon. When using pumpkin pie spice in place of nutmeg you can use the same quantity as you normally would nutmeg.
Cinnamon is one of the most popular spices, due to its use in a variety of dishes and drinks, be them sweet or savoury. As such both cinnamon and nutmeg are often used in tandem, with both even coming from trees.
However, cinnamon originates from the inner bark of Cinnamomum genus trees. Additionally, the flavour of cinnamon is much stronger than that of nutmeg, along with being sweeter. As such when using cinnamon as a nutmeg substitute, you should only add half the amount of cinnamon compared to nutmeg.
Like pumpkin pie spice, garam masala is not one spice but instead a combination of spices. Garam masala also contains nutmeg, cinnamon and cloves.
However, it also contains mustard seeds, mace and peppercorn which makes garam masala slightly more spicy than sweet. Therefore it is best suited to savoury dishes that call for nutmeg rather than sweet ones. When replacing nutmeg with garam masala it can be exchanged at a one to one ratio.
Apple Pie Spice
Apple pie spice or apple spice as it is also known is used primarily for apple pies. Like pumpkin pie spice and garam masala, it is a mixture of different spices, which includes nutmeg.
However, apple pie spice consists of mostly cinnamon with nutmeg only being present in small amounts. As such, when using apple pie spice to replace nutmeg, you should only use half as much as you would nutmeg. Additionally, like with pumpkin pie spice, it’s best used for dishes that are intended to be sweeter.
Ginger is a spice derived from the roots of ginger plants. In cooking grated or ground ginger is commonly used, especially in savoury dishes. Ginger is spicier and less sweet than nutmeg. As such in sweeter recipes such as deserts, it is not the best substitute option.
However, in savoury food such as with meat or vegetable dishes, ginger is ideal. When using ginger to replace nutmeg you can use an equal amount of ginger as you would nutmeg.
Cloves have a somewhat similar taste to nutmeg in that they are sweet with a peppery taste. Due to this fact, many recipes that use nutmeg will commonly ask for ground cloves as well. As such many nutmeg substitutes such as garam masala contain both.
Whilst you can get whole cloves, ground cloves are typically more convenient and will be more frequently called for. When cloves are used as a substitute for nutmeg it is best to use half as many cloves as you would nutmeg. However, if following a recipe that calls for both nutmeg and cloves, it’s best to use one of the other nutmeg substitutes in order to avoid the cloves dominating the dish.
Mace is a great substitute for nutmeg since they are both derived from the same evergreen tree seed. However whilst nutmeg is derived from the seed itself, mace comes from the outer layer. As such the taste is nearly identical. When using mace in place of nutmeg, you can use an equal amount of mace as you would nutmeg.
Authentic allspice is made from berries from the Pimenta dioica evergreen tree. As such, allspice is also known as pimento or Jamaican pepper.
However, many supermarket variants will contain a combination of spices either instead of or in addition to these berries. One spice that is commonly included in these varieties is nutmeg.
Due to the versatility and easy availability of allspice, it can make for a particularly convenient alternative to nutmeg. When replacing nutmeg with allspice, use the same amount of allspice as you would nutmeg.
How much cinnamon do I use in place of nutmeg?
Cinnamon is a popular spice that makes for a good substitute for nutmeg. However, when using cinnamon in place of nutmeg, you should use half as much cinnamon as you would have used nutmeg.
Is nutmeg the same as allspice?
Nutmeg and allspice are different spices entirely. The former is derived from seeds of the Myristica fragrans tree whilst the latter comes from berries of the Pimenta dioica tree. However, they have somewhat similar flavours with some varieties of allspice including nutmeg as an ingredient.
Can I skip nutmeg in a recipe?
If you can’t find nutmeg it is recommended that you instead use an appropriate substitute such as mace, cinnamon or cloves instead of skipping it entirely.
What does nutmeg add to a recipe?
Nutmeg adds a warm and aromatic nutty taste to recipes. It is also considered to be slightly sweet but somewhat peppery in taste.
If you are following a recipe that calls for nutmeg, of course, the best ingredient to use will be nutmeg. However, if you are unable to find it you have some options. The best of which being mace, although that may be even trickier to find in some places. If that ends up being the case use ginger for a savoury dish, cinnamon for a sweet one or cloves for either.