Nutmeg is widespread in Italy, both on the tables, as a culinary ingredient among the most well-known and appreciated by traditional and non-traditional cuisine, and in phytotherapy, used because of its innate beneficial properties. The scientific name of nutmeg is "myristica fragrans" - an emblematic name that refers to some of its characteristics that we will see later - and it is not a plant, as one might think, but a tree with an exotic origin. Nutmeg, in fact, comes from Indonesia and is widespread in all those countries that enjoy a tropical climate, dry and often sultry: it does not fear excessive heat, while it would not survive at low temperatures. The fruit of the nutmeg tree is used: its use goes back to the mists of time, in fact it can be found among the ancients, who considered it halfway between a miraculous fruit and a real drug. In past centuries and even at present, nutmeg is very widespread as a spice. Of the fruit, the seed is properly called nutmeg, while the surrounding lining, from the consistency of a pulp, is called "macis". Mace is also widely used as a spice, however, despite the similarity of smell and taste that binds it to nutmeg, its use has not entered the Italian culinary tradition.
The beneficial properties of nutmeg and its most widespread uses
In addition to flavoring numerous dishes, as we will see later, nutmeg has beneficial properties that make it valuable for the most diverse uses. It is indeed an excellent digestive: its constant use helps digestion, regularizing it and favoring an acceleration of the metabolism. Like many other spices, it is also carminative and antiseptic: this action is carried out above all on the gastrointestinal tract, whose irritations are effectively soothed and the resulting disturbances significantly attenuated. Not only that: nutmeg is a valid aid even in cases of nausea, vomiting or diarrhea, all symptoms linked to an altered intestinal activity. Its benefits on intestinal bacterial flora have been proven by scientific studies that have also highlighted the ability of this spice to act both from the inside (therefore ingested), and from the outside; as regards external use, in fact, nutmeg to combat rheumatic and neuralgic pains. It can soften it by exploiting its anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties. In this case the fruit in spice is not used, but the essential oil extracted from the nutmeg which is spread on the affected areas; its virtues are amplified if it is used in combination with massages and physiotherapy techniques aimed at reducing pain and recovering some physical functions. However, the most widespread traditional use of nutmeg had to do with its aphrodisiac properties, well known and exploited by the ancients, who used it as a sort of viagra "ante litteram"; echoes of this use still persist today, and there are those who find it among the medicinal remedies for the treatment of diseases such as impotence and premature ejaculation.
Nutmeg in the kitchen
As previously stated, nutmeg is widely used in the kitchen to flavor the most diverse dishes, from the first to the sweet. What makes this spice so precious is its intense, sweet but not cloying flavor, enriched with spicy notes and an exotic aftertaste that can enrich and emphasize even the flavor of the simplest dishes. Great use of nutmeg is made in the preparation of desserts such as donuts, puddings and creams, but also savory dishes based on vegetables, potatoes and eggs benefit from the spicy aftertaste of nutmeg. One of the most frequent uses is undoubtedly the mashed potatoes and the very traditional carbonara. Not only that: a pinch of nutmeg is also ideal to enrich different cocktails or wines with a taste, especially the hot wine, what England calls "punch" or "egg nog", a very rich and alcohol-based liqueur milk and eggs. In the Middle East the use of nutmeg is even more massive: it is mainly used in the preparation of traditional dishes based on eggs, meat and not infrequently cheese. Among the European kitchens, besides the Italian one, the most accustomed to the use of nutmeg is undoubtedly the German one, whose most disparate dishes are frequently enriched by this spice. In supermarkets, generally nutmeg is already ground, then powdered; however its flavor is much more intense when it grinds on the spot: for this reason it is advisable to buy it in whole seeds to be grated just before use.
When using nutmeg it is necessary to pay much more attention than other spices. This is because the excessive use of nutmeg has not the sole effect of making the dish inedible: excessive quantities of this spice, in fact, have the effect of a real hallucinogenic drug. Exceeding five grams, it causes states of altered consciousness, hallucinations and even addiction. Not by chance in the twentieth century its most widespread use, next to the aphrodisiac one, was just like the drug "of the poor", because it was a readily available and low-cost hallucinatory substance.