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Myristica fragrans

Mace is an Aril

Mace tastes and smells like a pungent version of Nutmeg for a very good reason. Mace is the covering of the seed that will become nutmeg. They come from the fruit of the tree Myristica fragrans. A pile of fruit large enough to make one hundred pounds of nutmeg produces a single pound of mace. So mace has always tended to demand a higher price than nutmeg. Although the sheath or aril is scarlet when it is opened, it dries to an orange color. By the way, an aril is a partial covering of the seeds of fruit. It is sometimes referred to as false fruit, as is the case with pomegranates. Once dried it is ground into what we call mace. Occasionally it can be found un-ground where it is called a blade of mace. An all around spice it can be used on foods from sweet to savory.

Being from the south I can tell you that any good southern cook wouldn’t consider making a sweet potato pie without adding a little mace. Generally speaking mace’s counterpart, nutmeg, is used in sweet dishes while mace is generally used for savory. Mace can also be found in clear and creamed soups, cream sauces, lamb, chicken, potted meats, cheeses, stuffing, sausages, pickles, puddings, ketchup, baked goods, and donuts. It also adds to the flavor of chocolate drinks and tropical fruit juices and fruit punches. Mace has found its way into French, English, Asian, West Indian, and Indian cuisines, and is important to the spice blends garam masala, curry, and rendang.

The primary source of Mace is Indonesia. However, mace from the East Indies is the most sought after because of its bold orange color, rich flavor and high oil content. Mace that comes from the West Indies is yellowish in color and has a milder flavor.

Until the 18th Century, the world’s only source of mace was the Maluku Islands (also known as the Moluccas, Moluccan Islands, the Spice Islands or simply Maluku) the area now part of Indonesia. When the Dutch took control of this area from the Portugese, mace and nutmeg were among the most valuable spices in the world. Knowing that these spices did not grow anywhere else, they established one of the tightest monopolies the world has ever known. There is a legend that it was a Frenchman who started the erosion of Dutch control by smuggling seedlings and planting them elsewhere. True or not, it is a fact that a series of transplantings did occur and a number of other areas began producing these spices.

In colonial times the Governors of the colonies didn’t understand that both nutmeg and mace came from the same tree. They all sent dispatches to the Spice Islands requesting that more nutmeg trees be planted and less mace trees. I’m sure the Islanders were not amused.

If you must, you can use nutmeg as a thin substitute for mace.


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