Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
About 100 species, including:
Nutmeg is the actual seed of the tree, roughly egg-shaped and about 20-30 mm long and 15-18 mm wide, while mace is the dried "lacy" reddish covering of the seed. Several other commercial products are also produced from the trees, including essential oils, extracted oleoresins, and nutmeg butter (see below).
The most important species commercially is the Common or Fragrant Nutmeg Myristica fragrans, native to the Banda Islands of Indonesia; it is also grown in the Caribbean, especially in Grenada. Other species include Papuan Nutmeg M. argentea from New Guinea, and Bombay Nutmeg M. malabarica from India; both are used as adulterants of M. fragrans products.
Nutmeg and mace have similar taste qualities, nutmeg having a slightly sweeter and more delicate flavor. Mace is often preferred in light-coloured dishes for the bright orange, saffron-like colour it imparts.
In Indian cuisine, nutmeg is used almost exclusively in sweets.
The essential oil is obtained by the steam distillation of ground nutmeg and is used heavily in the perfumery and pharmaceutical industries. The oil is colorless or light yellow and smells and tastes of nutmeg. It contains numerous components of interest to the oleochemical industry, and is used as a natural food flavouring in baked goods, syrups (e.g. Coca Cola), beverages, sweets etc. It replaces ground nutmeg as it leaves no particles in the food. The essential oil is also used in the cosmetic and pharmaceutical industries for instance in tooth paste and as major ingredient in some cough syrups. In traditional medicine nutmeg and nutmeg oil were used for illnesses related to the nervous and digestive systems. Myristicin in the essential oil is probably the agent responsible for the hallucinogenic properties of nutmeg oil.
Externally, the oil is used for rheumatic pain and, like clove oil, can be applied as an emergency treatment to dull toothache. In France, it is given in drop doses in honey for digestive upsets and used for bad breath. Put 1-2 drops on a cotton swab, and apply to the gums around an aching tooth until dental treatment can be obtained. Use 3-5 drops on a sugar lump or in a teaspoon of honey for nausea, gastroenteritis, chronic diarrhea, and indigestion.
Alternatively a massage oil can be created by diluting 10 drops in 10 ml almond oil. This can be used for muscular pains associated with rheumatism or overexertion. It can also be combined with thyme or rosemary essential oils. To prepare for childbirth, massage the abdomen daily in the three weeks before the baby is due with a mixture of 5 drops nutmeg oil and no more than 5 drops sage oil in 25 ml almond oil.
Nutmeg butter is semi solid and reddish brown in colour. It tastes and smells of nutmeg. 75% of nutmeg butter is trimyristin which can be turned into myristic acid, a C14 fatty acid which can be used as replacement for cocoa butter fat, can be mixed with other fats like cottonseed oil or palm oil and has applications as industrial lubricant.
There is some evidence that Roman priests may have burned nutmeg as a form of incense, although this is disputed. It is known to have been used as a prized and costly spice in the Middle Ages. Saint Theodore the Studite was famous for allowing his monks to sprinkle nutmeg on their pease pudding when required to eat it. In Elizabethan times it was believed that nutmeg could ward off the plague, so nutmeg was very popular. Nutmeg was traded by Arabs during the Middle Ages in the profitable Indian Ocean trade. In the late 15th century, Portugal took over the Indian Ocean trade, including nutmeg, due to the Treaty of Tordesillas with Spain and a separate treaty with the sultan of Ternate. The trade later became dominated by the Dutch in the 17th century.
World production of nutmegs is estimated to average between 10,000 and 12,000 tonnes per year with annual world demand estimated at 9,000 tonnes; production of mace is estimated at 1,500 to 2,000 tonnes. Indonesia and Grenada dominate production and exports of both products with a world market share of 75% and 20% respectively. Other producers include India, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, Sri Lanka and Caribbean islands such as St. Vincent. The principal import markets are the European Community, the United States, Japan and India. Singapore and the Netherlands are major re-exporters.
A possible, future use for nutmeg is as a natural control for insects that infest stored cereal grains.
At one time, nutmeg was one of the most valuable spices. It has been said that in England, several hundred years ago, a few nutmeg nuts could be sold for enough money to enable financial independence for life.
The first harvest of nutmeg trees takes place 7-9 years after planting and the trees reach their full potential after 20 years.
In low doses, nutmeg produces no noticeable effect on the body whatsoever. However, at higher doses (10g or more) it is a mild to medium hallucinogen, producing visuals and a comfortable effect almost similar to marijuana. There is a reason this is unpopular, though, as the effects last up to twenty-four hours after the initial peak, (approx. twelve hours after ingestion,) and have unpleasant side effects during the entire process, which linger for up to thirty-six hours.
Nutmeg is extremely toxic when injected intravenously. Excessive consumption of the spice is also dangerous and can lead to death. Nutmeg has in the past been used as an abortifacient, and can also cause hallucinations when taken in excess, along with nausea, dehydration, and generalised body pain, cf. nutmeg psychosis. Large doses (7.5 g or more in a single dose) are dangerous, producing convulsions and palpitations.
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