Although mace is a spice, is healthy, used in fine dining and nutrition; these are not the first things we think of when we think of mace. At least for me, mace brings to mind something a bit more violent, it is afterall a key ingredient in a self-defense weapon. But, today we’ll take a look at the softer side of mace. We’ll learn about what exactly it is, its benefits and medicinal uses, as well as some fun ways to incorporate mace into our mealtimes.
What is Mace?
Mace has the botanical name Myristica frangrans because it is often used in Indian cooking, the Hindi name jathipathri, may be of note. You may also have heard it, depending on the region of your cuisine, as tungkod if you’re cooking Filipino foods, macis (in French) or topuz, the Turkish name for mace.
Mace comes from the fruit Myristica frangrans, as does nutmeg. It’s not surprising then that mace has a similar flavor to nutmeg, so they are often interchanged in recipes and not as often used together in foods. Mace can be found in dishes such as spicy cakes, fish recipes, savory foods, quiche or squash dishes.
Mace is actually the threaded material that envelops the fruits of the nutmeg tree, covering the fruit sort of like veins would. Nutmeg, as you know it, is the fruit inside of these veins. The mace strings are usually chopped or ground before using (Citras).
The fruit that mace is found upon have a smooth skin and a yellow color. The tree itself is relatively small, less than forty feet tall bearing little flowers. Much of the world’s mace come from the Banda Islands, Java and Sumatra. Harvest usually happens in the autumn and sometimes one in early summer. When mace is harvested, it is then dried. Many add a dash of salt water to the dried mace to keep it preserved for longer (Botanical.com).
Story-time: The History of Mace
There is an old tale that talks about mace and an English merchant. The merchant was visiting a plantation in Ceylon. It was a nutmeg plantation. The merchant found out that mace would yield higher profits than nutmeg. He then, foolishly, stated that they should “…raise less nutmeg and more mace.” An ignorant statement, you now know, because nutmeg and mace are actually one in the same.
Some historians that study mace and other spices suspect that it took a while after nutmeg’s popularity before mace was even thought of as a spice. This may be true in European history, wherein mace was not in descriptions of spices from the third or fourth centuries. It may have been present in Indian history since ancient times.
The uses of nutmeg and mace were different in the past. During the Middle Ages, spices were reserved for the wealthier populations. They would use nutmeg for their puddings and drinks, such as spiced wine or ales. There is a rumor that nutmeg is used today in Coca Cola (Citras).
Nutmeg vs. Mace
Although they come from the same tree, there are some differences between nutmeg and mace. These statistics may help you decide which version of the spice you’ll toss in your next meal.
- Calories. Though negligible, mace has less calories than nutmeg. This makes it a safe addition to most foods, if you are thinking about weight management.
- Essential oils, vitamin A and C, carotenes. Mace has much more (almost nine times more vitamin A) of these nutritional elements than nutmeg.
- Calcium, iron and calcium. Mace wins again, offering more iron and calcium than nutmeg per serving (Nutrition-and-you).
- Sweetness. Nutmeg is thought to be sweeter than mace.
- Flavor and Fragrance. Mace is described as having a lighter flavor and having less fragrance than nutmeg (Nature Word).
Health and Medicinal Benefits
Spices have quite a positive reputation for being healthy additions to our daily diet and lives. Mace seems to fall in line with that assumption as well. Let’s learn about some of the benefits of mace.
Mace is an excellent addition to foods if you’re looking to add a bit of character. It is great at enhancing the good things that are already there (color or taste).
It has been used in many traditional and medicinal ways as an anti-fungal, anti-depressant, and even an aphrodisiac.
In some traditional medicines (Chinese and Indian), mace has been used to treat nervous system illnesses. It is said to have a calming effect on the brain, while also providing some sort of stimulation. It does this because it contains myristicin and elemicin.
Mace has something called eugenol in it. Eugenol can be used in dental practices for the pain relief of minor tooth conditions.
Massage and joint relief
Mace as an oil is sometimes used as a massage oil. It is believed to relieve some pains in muscles and perhaps even rheumatic discomfort in joints. At the very least, its aromatic properties will give your next back rub an interesting twist!
There are some recipes for mace concoctions (often sting honey) that are used to treat minor digestion issues such as nausea, indigestion and gastritis (Nutrition-and-you).
Rich source of nutrients and vitamins
Mace is a good source of manganese, copper, zinc, iron, potassium, essential oils, magnesium, and many vitamins. Using a delicious sprinkling of mace in your cooking will give you the wide range of benefits that these minerals and vitamins provide, not limited to anti-inflammatory relief and anti-tumor properties (Nature Word).
There isn’t a shortage of recipes and culinary inspiration on how to use this fantastic spice. BBC Food has an especially fun list of ways to use mace in your cooking and baking. There, you can find ways to make main courses, snacks, appetizers, and desserts using mace. Let’s look more closely at a few recipes.
Hyderabadi Biryani of Vegetables in a Pumpkin Shell
In addition to mace, you’ll need basmati rice, cardamoms, bay leaves, cloves, cumin and salt. This savory recipe is a slightly altered version of the traditional biryani. Instead of this spiced rice being served on a platter, it is baked and served inside of a pumpkin!
Gala Picnic Pie
For this dish you’ll need mace, quails’ eggs, pork sausages, pork mince, bacon, ginger, black pepper, and flour. Its another main course that is sure to impress. It is more of a loaf than a pie and is best served with pickles.
This Bangladeshi inspired dish does not have a short ingredient list. You’ll need no less than cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, cumin, coriander, peppercorns, chunk steak, vegetable oil, cassia bark, onions, garlic, ginger root, turmeric, chili powder, ketchup, butter, grapefruit, garam masala, and of course mace. Phew! If you’ve managed to gather that hefty list of ingredients, you’re ready to try your hand at this interesting and flavorful curry.
Spiced Red Wine Strawberry Compote
Now it’s time for dessert and don’t forget to invite the mace! Another ample list of ingredients and you’ll have a delicious and refreshing glass of compote to offer your special guests. You’ll need to prepare cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, red wine, cinnamon, vanilla, dried chili, caster sugar, bay leaves, orange zest, strawberries, puff pastry, and our old friend mace. Enjoy this dessert sprinkled with sugar and served with biscuits.
If you find yourself with an abundance of mace, it’s good to know how to store it to ensure a long and tasty life for your special spice. If you want your mace to stay flavorful, it should definitely be
- kept in a container that is airtight.
- kept away from moist areas
- kept out of direct sunlight
- not kept in the freezer (It does not lengthen the life of the mace, as you might expect.)
- kept away from extreme heat (Seed Guides)
As with all new additions to your diet there are some safety concerns. With nutmeg and mace there are some special concerns. Nutmeg and mace can actually be toxic if consumed in high quantities. The quantities found in most recipes should be considered safe. Despite this, nutmeg or mace should still be consumed, even in dishes, in moderate amounts and carefully concentrated doses. They can cause neurological hallucinations and other physiological illnesses sometimes resulting in severe and even fatal results (Citras).
- BBC Food, Mace Recipes, online.
- Botanical.com, Mace, online.
- Citras, Medicinal properties of mace, online.
- Lixandru, M., Nature Word, Properties and benefits of nutmeg, 2014, online.
- Nutrition-and-you, Mace spice nutrition facts, online.
- Seed Guides, Nutmeg benefits, what is nutmeg side effects, reviews and facts, online.
- Image Source: commons.wikimedia.org