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Nutmeg VS Mace – 3 Differences & How They’re Used

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Nutmeg and mace are two spices that are not the most common, but definitely loved. Of the two, mace is a little less known and also harder to come by. In our series dedicated to all things spice, we’re going to talk about the main differences between nutmeg and mace. Let’s take a look.

nutmeg mace

Nutmeg vs mace

Nutmeg is the stronger spice compared to mace, and it’s more affordable and easier to get a hold of. Mace is rarer and has a milder flavor, despite being a little more pungent than nutmeg. 

Both nutmeg and mace come from the same tree, and are in fact the seed and the webbed membrane protecting it. They are lesser known spices because they’re not as sweet as others, but you will usually find them in desserts, especially in the cold season.

What is nutmeg ?

Nutmeg is the seed of the Myristica fragrans tree, an evergreen that originates in Indonesia, in the Banda islands. The top nutmeg producers are Indonesia and India. 

In terms of flavor, nutmeg is decidedly pungent, warm, nutty, and vaguely sweet. You can find it whole or pre-ground, though we recommend you buy it whole and grind your own whenever you need it. If stored properly nutmeg should last you several years. it does not go bad, but it may lose its aroma over time. 

If you use whole nutmeg, the aroma is kept within the nut for longer. Despite it being called a nut, it’s actually a fruit. Nutmeg needs to be dried and cured for about 8 weeks after harvest.

Read also: Why Is Black Pepper So Common ?

What is mace ?

Mace is the red webbing or membrane surrounding the nutmeg. It has a very similar flavor to nutmeg, but may remind you more of black pepper and cloves. Despite this, it has a milder, more delicate overall aroma.

When you buy mace, you will see it’s not red, it’s in fact a warm yellow hue. This is because mace is actually dried and then ground into a coarse powder. It turns from bright red to a orange-yellow, and you may even find it sold whole. Now let’s compare the two.


Nutmeg is more affordable than mace

When it comes to price comparisons, nutmeg is definitely the more affordable one. This is because nutmeg, as a whole, is simply more than nutmeg, so there is more to sell. The average nutmeg price is around $2.86 per ounce, while mace is around $3.30 per ounce. Not a huge difference but if it counts for you, then you’re likely to go for nutmeg.

Which is actually fine, because nutmeg and mace have  very similar aroma, just that mace has an extra hint of black pepper in it, without being spicy (hot).

Mace tints the food a golden color

If you’re looking to give your food a bit of color, then mace may be a better option. Like saffron, it tints the food a nice golden color, but doesn’t overdo it. And since it’s a milder flavor, it won’t shive brighter than your other spices, if you’ve added any. 

Nutmeg on the other hand provides a nice sprinkled look, like if you added ground black pepper. If this is more your style, then go for it. It won’t tint the food at all.

Nutmeg has a stronger aroma than mace

In terms of flavor, we’ve established mace and nutmeg are very similar. But when it comes to intensity, know that nutmeg is stronger than mace. If you’re looking for something subtle, go for mace. But you’re not going to find it in stores very easily.

So instead you can use nutmeg, but in a smaller amount, and maybe add in the smallest sprinkle of black pepper you can muster. Keep in mind that nutmeg is a bit pungent, as it black pepper, so in delicate foods it may prove too much. 

Can you use nutmeg and mace together ?

There is no point in using both nutmeg and mace because they have almost exactly the same aroma, they do not add anything new to each other. They are better used in combination with other spices, such as a dash of cinnamon, or cloves, or cardamom, or star anise.  

Can you substitute nutmeg for mace ?

Yes, you can use nutmeg instead of mace or mace instead of nutmeg. Since they have the same flavor you will get the same result. You may need to adjust the proportions. Nutmeg is stronger than mace, so add less if you use it in place of mace.

And if using mace in place of nutmeg, be sure to add a little more. Taste your food at the end if possible, to see if it needs more.

What are nutmeg and mace used in ?

Nutmeg and mace are commonly used in hearty, rich foods because they’re a common spice for the cold season, when hearty foods are more in demand. However you will also find them in desserts.

Mace tends to be used in savory foods, while nutmeg is more common in desserts, but you can easily swap them. Some of the most common recipes that call for nutmeg or mace are:

  • scalloped potatoes
  • pumpkin and apple pie
  • carrot cake
  • any roast meat and the resulting gravy
  • stews and gumbos
  • soups
  • some seafood, though that is mostly mace
  • cookies and puddings
  • rice pudding

Overall, mace and nutmeg seem to be great options for many dishes since they provide warmth, a nutty flavor, and a mildly spicy note without being actually hot. 

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