Nutmeg is the dried kernel of the fruit of the nutmeg tree, Myristica fragrans, a tree which is native to the Moluccas in Indonesia. So prized was nutmeg as a spice in Europe, that monopoly of the Moluccas nutmeg trade was a notable source of competition among imperial powers, held by the Portuguese, the Dutch and British.
Whole nutmegs, resembling a small brown egg in shape, have little smell. Freshly grated nutmeg, however, is wonderfully fragrant, with only a little needed. The advantage of using whole nutmegs is that they store well and can be freshly grated as needed.
In western cookery, grated nutmeg lends its aroma to both savoury and sweet recipes, from béchamel sauce or mashed potato to baked rice pudding or custard tarts. Use freshly grated nutmeg to enhance dishes such as spinach and ricotta pancakes, cauliflower soup or homemade Christmas mincemeat.