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Nutmeg  –  During a recent visit to my favourite spice store in the States, the employee at the checkout was recounting her tour of the company’s distribution facility. She proudly told me that the spices in the shop were so fresh because the company did all of its own grinding and shipped spices to its stores frequently, in small batches. The one exception was nutmeg. “Why not nutmeg?” I asked. She said that ground nutmeg could cause “intoxicating” effects and that the grinding of this particular spice was outsourced to a special facility. Hmm… I always thought that nutmeg was sprinkled on top of something intoxicating—such as a cocktail—and had never known nutmeg as anything but an excellent spice for baking and for garnishing fruity drinks. Was it really possible that one’s mind could be altered by nutmeg?

My culinary curiosity got the best of me and I set out to research this bizarre topic. I learned there is truth to what the lady in the spice shop said. There are people who seem to use nutmeg as a recreational drug, ingesting massive quantities of it – such as 20 ground nutmegs. (Keep in mind that about 1/5 of a ground nutmeg is sufficient for an entire cake.) In high quantities, nutmeg can have lengthy hallucinogenic effects, but these mind-altering sensations are typically accompanied by some nasty sickness. I once saw the effect on someone who ingested a single teaspoon of ground cinnamon on a dare, and it was not a pretty sight. I can only begin to imagine the unpleasantness of ingesting large quantities of nutmeg, so definitely use nutmeg as a culinary flavouring only.


Nutmeg is grown primarily in Indonesia and the West Indies, notably Grenada. So important is nutmeg in Grenada that the spice is featured on the Grenadian flag. A nutmeg is brown and about the size of an olive. Covering the nut is a lacy red spice called mace, which has a mild nutmeg taste. Nutmeg appears in cream sauces and as a spice added to vegetables, but is used most commonly in pies, cakes, pastries and eggnog. Of course, for those of us in the BVI, no rum punch, painkiller or bushwacker would be acceptable without a dash of fresh nutmeg on top of the drink.

Buy whole nutmegs and grate the spice yourself. Since ground nutmeg loses its flavour quickly, there is simply no comparison between freshly ground nutmeg and the little containers of powdered nutmeg at the supermarket. Though I am, for the most part, a minimalist in terms of kitchen utensils on boats, a spice grater is indispensable for nutmeg. Opt for a Microplane brand grater, available in the BVI at House at Wickham’s Cay II. Then have some fun with your new kitchen gadget and whip up a batch of nutmeg scones or some nutmeg-topped fruity drinks.

Nutmeg Scones
A traditional English tea-time treat with a hint of island spice.

• 2 C flour
• 1/3 C brown sugar
• 2 tsp baking powder
• 1 1/2 tsp freshly grated whole nutmeg
• 1/2 tsp baking soda
• 1/2 tsp salt
• 6 Tbl chilled unsalted butter, cut into ½ inch pieces
• 1 C light sour cream
• 1 tsp vanilla extract
• 1 egg white, beaten (for glaze)
• 1 Tbl sugar + 1/2 tsp grated nutmeg


Preheat oven to 425°F. Grease a baking sheet. Combine flour, brown sugar, baking powder, freshly grated nutmeg, baking soda and salt in a bowl, stirring well. Cut in butter with a pastry blender or two knives until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add sour cream and vanilla, stirring just until combined. Transfer dough to a lightly floured surface and pat dough into an 8-inch circle. Brush with egg white then sprinkle with remaining sugar and nutmeg. Cut circle into 10 wedges, then put wedges on prepared baking sheet. Bake scones until tops are golden, about 20 minutes. Serve with jam. Note: Recipe adapted from epicurious.com. 

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