The other night, we were watching a food travel program about Grenada and it’s growth, use, and export of nutmeg (nootmuskaat in Dutch). We learned quite a bit about a spice we take for granted. I didn’t realize it was such an important part of Grenada’s history and economy. I also didn’t really understand how it grew. It seems it grows in a fruit, technically as a seed rather than a nut, and the nutmeg itself is encase in mace. It’s the only fruit/tree that produces two separate spices. I was surprised by the mace, too, because it’s a spice I know of, but had never seen in its natural form, particularly when it’s fresh and looks like a lacy red plastic!
There’s a Dutch connection to all of this. The Netherlands and Germany are the biggest importers of crushed/ground nutmeg and mace. Considering the Dutch mercantile/trade history, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to learn that much of the nutmeg that is imported into the Netherlands is then exported to the US. The Dutch have a long history with the spice, through their Dutch East India Company.They led the way in nutmeg trade in the 17th century, going up against the Portuguese and British for control of the market. This is an interesting article about the Dutch relationship to the spice and the desire to control its export, as well as history on how this little seed played a part in the Dutch deals over Manhattan.
Nowadays, the Dutch still use a lot of nutmeg, both in sweet dishes like the appeltaart, as well as more savory dishes, such as Brussels sprouts, mashed potatoes, and my favorite use, spinach.