Nutmeg, also known Rou Dou Kou in mandarin, is one of well-known spices and herbal medicine, which is produced mainly in tropical countries. Culinarily a little bit of it wows when added to flavor the fricassee or braised pork and sweet food like pound cake, rice pudding, Italian crackers, soufflé, and more. Medicinally it is commonly used to cure epigastric abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea, rheumatic pain, etc. Or sometimes it is also used as topical antiparasitic agent. However, in Asian countries, especially in China, it matters far more in medicine than it does in cooking since it is such a common Chinese herb. So, is nutmeg good for you? Let’s look into this popular spice and medicine now.
What is nutmeg?
It refers to the ripe seed of the nutmeg plant, which can be anyone in genus Myristica but mainly the species Myristica fragrans Houtt since commercially it is the most popular source of essential oils, nutmeg and mace, nutmeg butter, and extracted oleoresin. Other names of it include Nuez Moscada, Jaatipatree, Muscade, nutmeg seeds, Jaiphal, Myristica officinalis, Ron Dau Kou, nutmeg tree nut, Semen Myristicae, Macis, Muscadier, Semen Myristicae Fragrantis, nutmeg spice, Myristicae Aril, Rou Kou, etc. Myristica fragrans is native to the area of Moluccas Spice Islands and today also cultivated in Southeast Asia’s Penang, Sri Lanka, Sumatra, West Indies, Grenada and other places. In China, it is mainly cultivated in Taiwan, Guangdong, Guangxi, Yunnan, and Hainan provinces. It is usually harvested in winter and spring when the fruit is ripe. After that, it still needs to be peeled and dried. And it is usually used baked and defatted.
Myristica fragrans is one of evergreen trees, up to 20 meters in height. Alternate nutmeg leaves are oval-lanceolate or oblong-lanceolate, 5 to 15cm long, leathery, and with caudate apex, acute base, entire margin, yellowish brown upper surface and darker lower surface, red-brown veins, and 6 to 12mm petiole. Nutmeg flower is dioecious; racemes of male flower is 2.5 to 5cm long; scale-like bracts are small; sparse flowers are yellow-white, oval or pot-shaped, 6mm long, and drooping; 9 to 12 anthers form a cylindrical column with a handle. Pear-shaped or nearly spherical fruits are sagging, 3.5 to 6cm long, pale red or yellow, 2 parted when mature with exposed reddish aril. Woody seeds are in the shape of prolate spheroid.
Seeds contain nutmeg oil, including fatty oil 25% to 46% and volatile oil 8%-15%, Lignans, and about 4% poisonous myristicin. Volatile oil contains sabinene, α-pinene and β-pinene, Terpinen-4-ol, γ-terpinene, limonene, bornylene, β-phellandrene, p-cymene, α-terpinolene, α-terpineol, δ-cadinene, myristicin, elemicin, camphene, myrcene, α-phellandrene, 3,4-dimethylstyrene, linalool, cis-piperitol, trans-piperitol, borneol, cis-caryophyllene, citronellol, p-cymen-α-ol, safrole, nerol, β-cubebene, geranyl acetate, eugenol, methyl eugenol, and isoelemicin; Fatty oil mainly contains trimyristin, a small amount of triolein, and more. And defatted seeds contain myristic acid and triterpenoid saponin (oleanolic acid).
The benefits of nutmeg and mace are numerous. However, the health benefits of consuming nutmeg can be analyzed from two major perspectives – nutmeg used as drug and spice.
Uses of nutmeg in cooking
Eating nutmeg as spice is a traditional cooking custom in many countries. Because of its heavy aroma and spectacular taste, usually a pinch of nutmeg powder is more than enough during cooking. After the maritime exploration in the Age of Discovery, many related recipes have been invented. This is simply because this spice can enhance the taste of vegetables, such as spinach, broccoli, carrots, squash, cabbage, potatoes and others. In the meantime it is also one of the indispensable spices that can add flavors in wine, coffee, baked pastry, spaghetti sauce, cheese, cakes, biscuits, fish, beef, mutton, and so on. In addition, it is often mixed with other edible flavors too for the processed meats like sausage and hot dogs.
So far it is hard to find whole nutmeg in general retail stores. The commercial goods are usually available in the grated or ground form. In comparison, the grated fresh one in a nutmeg grater is preferred. And here are some simple but tasty recipes for your reference.
1) Marinated pig trotter
Ingredients: pig trotter 450g, peanuts 38g, soy sauce 1 tablespoon, rock sugar 19g, and a little bit of parsley, MSG, cloves, pepper, nutmeg and cinnamon.
Directions: cut the trotter into blocks, boil them with hot water for a while and take out, put all ingredients except parsley into a pan, cook them for an hour and a half with high heat, dish up the well-cooked trotters with a large bowl, and decorate it with parsley.
2) South African-style roasted beef
Ingredients: sirloin 300g, large red onion 1, red wine 100ml, and defined amount of salt, ginger, soy sauce, nutmeg, garlic, butter, pepper, and lemon juice.
Directions: blend well beef with Berbere, oil, and Harissa, marinate them for 2 hours, cut onion into rings, chop garlic and ginger, heat the oil in a saucepan, fry onion, ginger and garlic, add in beef and marinade, fry until the color of beef changes, pour in red wine, dry it with medium fire, add in soy sauce, salt, and a small amount of water, cover and simmer for 45 minutes, let the juice reduce and become thick, and finally flavor with nutmeg and pepper.
3) Nutmeg orange rind crucian carp
Ingredients: crucian carp 400g, nutmeg 6g, dried orange rind 6, corydalis 6g, ginger 10d, green onion 5g, soy sauce 5g, cooking wine 5g, salt 3g, sugar 5g, lard (refining) 15g, starch (pea) 5g, and MSG 2g.
Directions: scale and gill the crucian carp, slightly boil it with hot water to remove the fishy smell, take it out, clean onion and ginger, cut onions and slice ginger, place the nutmeg, corydalis, and orange peel in the belly of the fish, heat a saucepan, pour in all the ingredients except MSG and starch, cook over low heat, and finally flavor with MSG and thicken with starch when it is almost done.
Modern pharmacological actions of nutmegs
1) A small amount of its volatile oil promotes gastric secretion and gastric motility, which thus can whet the appetite, relieve bloating, and stop pain;
2) High dose of it has inhibition and significant narcotic effect;
3) Terpenoids in volatile oil can inhibit bacteria and fungi;
4) Myristicin is a hallucinogen, which has hallucinogenic and anti-inflammatory effects on normal people;
5) This herb itself and myristicin contained can enhance the role of serotonin. And in vitro and in vivo tests also confirmed that they had moderate inhibition on monoamine oxidase;
6) It has inhibitory action on MCA and DMBA-induced uterine cancer and papilloma of skin in mice.
Sample nutmeg recipes on herbal remedies
The Chinese Materia Medica claims that it is acrid and bitter in flavor and warm in nature. It goes to meridians of spleen, stomach, and large intestine. Important functions are warming the middle warmer, astringing intestine to stop diarrhea, and promoting the circulation of qi to remove food retention. Basic nutmeg uses and indications include deficient type diarrhea, cold type dysentery, abdominal pain and bloating, reduced appetite and vomiting, and indigestion. Recommended nutmeg dosage is from 1.5 to 6 grams in decoction. In addition, it can be used in the forms of nutmeg tea, juice, pills and powder too.
1) Rou Dou Kou Wan from Xuan Ming Lun Fang (An Elucidation of Formulas). It is combined with Bing Lang (betel nut), Qing Fen (Calomel), and Hei Qian Niu (Black Morning Glory Seed) to make pills for the treatment of abdominal distension due to the accumulation of water-dampness.
2) Rou Dou Kou San from Yang Shi Jia Cang Fang (Yang Family Depository of Formulas). It is coupled with Ru Xiang (Frankincense) to treat diarrhea, rumbling sound from intestines, and no desire to eat.
3) Si Shen Wan from Nei Ke Zhai Yao (The Selected Essentials of Internal Medicine). It is formulated with Bu Gu Zhi (Psoralea), Wu Wei Zi (Fructus Schisandrae Chinensis), and Wu Zhu Yu (Evodia Fruit) to cure loose stool and no desire to eat and drink due to spleen-kidney deficiency.
4) Rou Dou Kou San from Sheng Ji Zong Lu (Complete Record of Holy Benevolence). It is wrapped with Sheng Jiang Zhi (fresh ginger juice) and flour, roasted well, and ground into powder. It heals excessive diarrhea, loud bowel sounds and abdominal pain.
5) Shu Gan Wan from the Zhong Guo Yao Dian (Chinese Pharmacopoeia). It is matched with Chuan Lian Zi (Chinaberry), Yan Hu Suo (Corydalis Rhizome), Bai Shao (White Peony Root), Mu Xiang (Costus), Chen Xiang (Agarwood), etc. to treat chest fullness, epigastric pain, vomiting, belching, heartburn, and so on.
Nutmeg side effects and contraindications
Eating or smoking nutmeg can get high because it contains myristicin, which is can generate excitement and hallucination. This is a toxic substance and a small amount of it can produce distortions of time and space, and happiness beyond the actual feeling. It is said that African natives love to carry it with them and would take a little bit whenever there is something wrong physically or mentally. And this way will lead them into a wonderful dream very soon and forget their pain.
Animal studies also show that myristicin can result in liver degeneration. 7.5g of it is enough to produce psychedelic effect and moderate brain stimulant. The poisoning symptoms include hallucinations, nausea, and dizziness in mild cases and delirium, coma, mydriasis, slow breathing, areflexia, and even death in severe cases. Given that fact that both the undefatted and overdose can lead to poisoning, clinically fresh nutmeg is not an option because it would be dangerous.
Besides, nutmeg was ever used for abortion. But this is quite controversial since it could be argued that it wouldn’t do harm to women during pregnancy when consumed in cooking. Anyhow, high dose is absolutely not allowed. This is because fetus may get hurt since it not only induces hallucinations but also limits the production of prostaglandin.