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Nutmeg: How You Can Benefit From the Spice?

Nutmeg is a seed cultivated from a tropical evergreen tree commonly found in Indonesia. This spice is valuable for its sweet aroma and unique flavour. Though it is a common choice in several cuisines because of its flavourful characteristics, it also has abundant health benefits. For culinary purposes, you can add it to various dishes. Some examples are sauces, baked products (pies, squashes, cakes, bread), vegetables, fruits, beverages (tea, coffee, hot cocoa, and juices), and non-vegetarian products (meat, sausages, steak). In addition, it contains bioactive compounds rich in antioxidants, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, antibacterial, anti-carcinogenic, and hepatoprotective properties.

Nutmeg grows in a hot, humid climate, i.e., in tropical regions. As a result, nutmeg is highly vulnerable to frost damage. It is generally grown in Indonesia, India, Taiwan, Malaysia, China, Sri Lanka, and South America. People often use the dark-leaved evergreen tree to cultivate two spices such as nutmeg, the seed, and mace, the red lace-like covering around the seed. The seed is fleshy, firm, and whitish to brownish texture, surrounded by red-brown veins which contain essential oil.

Nutrition Facts of Nutmeg

As per USDA, nutritional value of nutmeg as per 100g:

Macronutrients

Energy: 525 kcalProtein: 5.84 gTotal lipid: 36.3 gCarbohydrate: 49.3 gTotal dietary fibre: 20.8 gWater: 6.23 gSaturated fatty acids: 25.9 gMonounsaturated fatty acids: 3.22 gPolyunsaturated fatty acids: 0.35 g

Micronutrients

Vitamin C: 3 mgThiamin (B1): 0.346 mgRiboflavin (B2): 0.057 mgNiacin (B3): 1.3 mgVitamin B6: 0.16 mgFolate: 76 μgCholine: 8.8 mgVitamin A: 102 IUBeta carotene: 28 μgVitamin E (Gamma tocopherol): 0.53 mgCalcium: 184 mgIron: 3.04 mg

Health Benefits of Nutmeg

The nutmeg seed oil contains antiseptic, analgesic, and antirheumatic properties. In addition it has aphrodisiac, and carminative properties. It also contains bioactive compounds such as myrislignan and myristicin. They have potent hepatoprotective and anti-cancer properties. 

The spice can benefit the following issues:

Oral Care

Dental plaque is a primary factor in causing dental caries and periodontal disease. Streptococcus and lactobacillus bacterial species are generally responsible for dental caries. Meanwhile, Aggregatibacter actinomycetemcomitans, Porphyromonas gingivalis, and Campylobacter rectus are chronic periodontitis. Studies suggest that nutmeg contains the active compounds macelignan and trimyristin. These compounds possess exquisite anti-carcinogenic and antibacterial activities. These properties are beneficial against oral pathogenic bacteria. Ethyl acetate and ethanol crude extract from the flesh, seed, and mace of nutmeg help prevent and control dental caries and periodontal disease. In addition, the woody aroma helps to treat the bad breath.

Treats Sleep Disorder

Insomnia is a sleep disorder where the person finds it difficult to fall asleep. It is generally a sign of somatic and psychic illness. It impairs cognitive and physical functioning as well as affects their work performance. The host typically suffers several negative consequences because of insomnia. 

In a study on insomnia, people without any systemic illnesses were given 2g of nutmeg powder for two weeks to assess the improvement in sleep. There were minimal changes in the participants’ sleep quality after a week of intake of nutmeg powder. But by the end of the second week, the results had improved significantly. Follow-up after three months shows that after stopping the intake of nutmeg powder, the study saw a maintained sleep induction.

Hepatoprotective Activity

Various drugs and pollutants affect liver functioning, which leads to hepatitis or cirrhosis. Therefore, it is essential to protect the liver by using hepatoprotective substances. In a study on rats with liver damage caused by LPS and D-GaIN, researchers fed them 21 different spices to evaluate their hepatoprotective properties. Myristicin, an essential oil found in nutmeg, possesses excellent hepatoprotective properties and efficiently suppresses LPS/D-GaIN. Furthermore, after assessing plasma aminotransferase activities, the observation was that nutmeg contains liver-protecting activities. 

Researchers performed another study to evaluate the hepatoprotective activity of aqueous nutmeg extract against ISO-induced oxidative stress. ISO causes myocardial necrosis and depletion of tissue enzymes. Due to the necrosis and leakage, there’s an increase in diagnostic indicators like ALT, ALP, AST, CK, GGT of MI, and hepatotoxicity. According to the same study, nutmeg extract significantly increases antioxidant activities to prevent oxidative stress. Nutmeg decreases the marker enzymes, prevents the damage induced by ISO, and stops the leakage of marker enzymes. Nutmeg aqueous extracts can protect the liver against experimental hepatic studies because of their hepatoprotective effect. 

There’s another study that shows the protective effects of nutmeg extracts, and in which they also found an active compound, myrislignan, in nutmeg. Nutmeg extracts effectively prevent TAA-induced liver damage, decrease hepatic oxidative stress, and lower hepatic inflammation. 

Relieves Chronic Pain

Chronic pain usually occurs due to chronic diseases such as cancer, diabetes, and other inflammatory conditions. Nutmeg exhibits free radical scavenging, anti-inflammatory, and antimicrobial activities and helps in soothing the already existing chronic pain. The nutmeg contains myristicin, elemicin, safrole, and eugenol compounds. These compounds in the nutmeg oil help treat swelling, inflammation, joint pain, muscle spasms, pains, and sores. It is a potent chronic inflammation and pain reliever. 

Studies suggest that nutmeg oil contains monoterpenes that are beneficial for easing inflammation and pain. Monoterpenes reduce the inflammatory pain induced by CFA injection. In addition, it helps in reducing joint swelling, pain resulting from a stimulus, and conditions with increased pain sensitivity. 

With these benefits, nutmeg also helps lower cholesterol levels, improve blood pressure and blood circulation, and boost digestion. But, traditional uses of nutmeg seeds confer the treatment of haemorrhoids, chronic vomiting, rheumatism, cholera, psychosis, stomach cramps, nausea, and anxiety. 

Selection, Preparation, and Storage

Nutmeg Selection

The nutmeg is easily available in the spice corner of your local grocery shops. It is better to buy the whole Nutmeg rather than grounded Nutmeg. The whole nutmeg is usually hard and heavy for its size with a rough surface. It is a warm brown with a reddish tint. One should check for holes in the nutmeg since they are a sign of insect damage.Even though they are hard in texture, you can easily crush them with a hand. Grounded nutmeg loses the essential oil as they evaporate, and its aroma and distinctive flavour. Although crushed nutmeg is convenient to buy, it has a shorter shelf life. 

Preparation

Grate the nutmeg with a grater. There’s no need to peel, cut, or toast the nutmeg seeds. However, it is better to grate only the required amount and not the whole nutmeg, and you should use it immediately. 

Another method to grate nutmeg is:

Peel the shell from the nutmeg seed after smashing it.Hold the grater and slide the nutmeg seed down along the grater smoothly.  Grate only the amount of nutmeg needed and use it immediately. Store the remaining nutmeg in an airtight container in a cool, dark, and dry place to prolong its shelf life. 

Storage

The whole nutmeg stays fresh for a few years without losing its distinctive aroma and flavour. Store it in an airtight container and place it in a dark and dry place and away from heat and moisture. Grating whole nutmeg in dishes gives a fresh, flavourful aroma and taste. While cooking, it is best to avoid grating nutmeg on the stovetop, as heat may spoil nutmeg seeds earlier than standard.

On the other hand, crushed nutmeg should be stored in an airtight container, preferably in a glass container, away from heat, light, and moisture. If appropriately stored for almost six months, it may retain its flavour and aroma. 

Possible Side Effects of Nutmeg

Nutmeg is a common spice used in foods. When taken in small amounts, nutmeg is considered safe. Over two teaspoons or 5g of nutmeg intake can cause toxicity. But it is possibly toxic when taken in larger doses for the long term or in quantities larger than the amount found in the foods. Excess intake of nutmeg may cause symptoms to worsen, associated with severe complications which may even be fatal. The larger intake of this spice may cause nausea, dry mouth, vomiting, dizziness, palpitations, irritability, and hallucinations.

Studies show that toxic effects of nutmeg occur due to the presence of a compound myristicin found in nutmeg oil. The complicated symptoms caused due to intake of more significant amounts are respiratory depression, tremors, and seizures. In addition, nutmeg contains the compound elemicin, which reduces muscle coordination and motor activity. Anticholinergic effects of nutmeg due to myristicin and elemicin can cause urinary retention. 

Other studies say that nutmeg has psychoactive properties, which may cause anxiety and hallucinations. Myristicin is an active ingredient known for its neurotoxic effects on dopaminergic neurons and monoamine oxidase. Myristicin also reduces cell viability due to its cytotoxic effects. Nutmeg intoxication is associated with electrolyte imbalance which leads to brain oedema. Also, it harms auditory sensibilities, influencing cognitive behaviour or dysfunction such as sound-induced seizures. 

You are now aware of the consumption method and the right amount of nutmeg, and the side effects. However, there’s not enough authentic research studies to assess if nutmeg is safe when applied to the skin and what side effects it may cause. 

Best Ways to Use Nutmeg

Nutmeg is a common spice generally used in European and Indian cuisines. This spice is usually available in a grounded form which is rather convenient. But the whole nutmeg can be freshly ground and added to dishes with a grater, which adds a fresh aroma. 

There are several ways to use nutmeg in dishes. Some of the ways are:

Sprinkle nutmeg powder on seasonal vegetables such as roasted cauliflower, pumpkin, and sweet potato;Add it to coffee, juices, hot chocolate, milk, or tea;Sprinkling it on fruit salad or vegetable salad;Add it to breakfast cereals such as oatmeal;Adding it with other ingredients of garam masala or curry powder;Adding it to baking recipes to provide exquisite aromas such as apple pie, pumpkin pie, or bread; andAdd it to seasonal beverages such as spiced cider, spiced wine, eggnog, and squashes.

Precautions with Nutmeg

You need to note that the intake of nutmeg is unsafe for pregnant women and the foetus due to its hallucinogenic effect. Taking larger doses can cause miscarriages in pregnant women and congenital disabilities in fetuses. Though there’s no grounded information if it is safe during breastfeeding, it is better to stay on the safer side and avoid its usage entirely.

There are speculations that high doses of nutmeg may reduce fertility in men. However, it needs more research to prove this. Therefore, it is better to avoid nutmeg if one is trying to conceive. It is also necessary to know that nutmeg doses depend on age, health, gender, and other health conditions. Since it is a natural product, nutmeg doesn’t mean it is safe for everyone, and appropriate doses are essential. 

Summary

Nutmeg is an exotic spice with a warm, nutty flavour and distinctive aroma. You can use it in various savoury dishes, delicacies, and beverages. Also, the benefits of nutmeg range from culinary to medicinal purposes. It is still essential to note small amounts of nutmeg are beneficial to the body. When taken in small quantities, the benefits outweigh the adverse outcomes. Excess doses of nutmeg may cause certain complications due to its toxicity, such as gastrointestinal complications like bloating, constipation, diarrhoea, vomiting, and hallucinogenic effects. 

Nutmeg contains abundant chemical compounds with several medicinal properties such as anti-inflammatory, carminative, and anti-carcinogenic. However, the research on its therapeutic properties is still insufficient to speculate on its benefits. Therefore, there is still a need to conduct more research on this spice.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Q. 1 What does nutmeg do for a woman?

A. Nutmeg has aphrodisiac properties which stimulate nerve cells in the brain. It imitates the effect of serotonin. This seed releases feel-good hormones in the body, which has a calming effect on the individual. It lifts the mood and reduces stress. It also improves blood circulation in the body.

Q. 2 Is nutmeg cancerous?

A. Yes, Nutmeg is cancerous. It contains a weak carcinogen named ‘safrole’ responsible for causing cancer. Using nutmeg in small amounts is usually harmless to the body. However, FDA has banned nutmeg as a food additive due to its carcinogenic properties. It is also a pseudo-hallucinogen.  

Q. 3 Does nutmeg make you sleepy?

A. Yes, Nutmeg does help in inducing sleep. It treats sleep disorders such as insomnia. It helps in nerve relaxation and releases serotonin which is a feel-good hormone. In addition, it contains an active compound trim strip that promotes melatonin production and induces sleep. 

Q. 4 How do you use nutmeg for hair?

A. You can use it by adding nutmeg oil or nutmeg powder in carrier oils like coconut, argan, and olive oil. Massage the mixture into the scalp for a while. Leave it for 30- 45 minutes, then wash it off with a shampoo. The antimicrobial properties in nutmeg help clean the scalp, prevent dandruff, and promote hair growth. 

Q. 5 What can I add nutmeg to?

A. Because of its nutty, warm, and slightly sweet taste, you may add it to sauces, baking, stewed fruits, curries, pasta, vegetables, and salads. You can also add it to beverages such as punches, coffee, tea, juices, eggnog, custard, milk, and hot chocolate. You can also add it to meat recipes such as biryani, steak, and beef. 

Q. 6 What can you replace nutmeg with?

A. Substitute spices used in place of nutmeg generally depend on the savoury dishes. Spices with a brown colour, lighter and sweeter taste, and a slight hint of bitterness resembles nutmeg. You can replace it with cinnamon, mace, ground cloves, and allspice. 

Q. 7 What part of nutmeg do we eat?

A. Nutmeg splits into two when matured, exposing a red lace-like substance called mace, which covers the seed. The seed has a shiny brown colour. We need the inner seed of nutmeg, which has a characteristic aroma and flavour with a slightly sweeter taste. 

Q. 8 Are there any health benefits to nutmeg?

A. Nutmeg is a potent source of antioxidants because of the presence of phenolic compounds, essential oils, and plant pigments. It also exhibits anti-inflammatory, anti-carcinogenic, antimicrobial, antibacterial, and stress-reducing properties. It has an abundance of minerals such as calcium, iron, potassium, and manganese, with several others that help regulate blood pressure. In addition, nutmeg helps treat diarrhoea, nausea, stomach spasms, pain, and intestinal gas. 

Q. 9 Is Nutmeg and Jaiphal the same?

A. Yes, nutmeg and jaiphal are the same. It comes from a dark-leaved evergreen tree whose fruit gives two spices, mace and nutmeg. ‘Jaiphal’ is a Hindi name commonly used in India for Nutmeg. Mace is a red lace-like substance that covers the seed. While nutmeg is the seed surrounded by mace, they are exotic spices with a characteristic sweet aroma. 

Q. 10 Can you add nutmeg to coffee?

A. A pinch of nutmeg with medium-dark roasted coffee certainly enhances the taste of coffee. Nutmeg is a versatile spice that is easily blended with several flavours and enhances the flavour and taste of the dishes or beverages. It blends well with coffee despite having a powerful and unique aroma. 

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