PRODUCTION AND PROCESSING OF NUTMEG AND MACE
The nutmeg tree (Myristica fragrans) is native to the Moluccas (known as the Spice Islands) in East Indonesia. Nutmeg and mace are both products of the fruit of this tree. The fruit is soft and fleshy and similar to an apricot.
Nutmeg is the kernel of the seed, and mace is the net-like crimson coloured leathery outer growth (aril) that covers the shell of the seed. The main countries of production are Indonesia, Grenada, Sri Lanka, Trinidad, China and India. There are two types of mace and nutmeg, West Indian (from Grenada) and East Indian (from Indonesia).
The flavour of mace is similar to that of nutmeg, but is more refined. Mace is much more expensive than nutmeg. Inferior quality mace has very little aroma and is brittle. Both spices are used for flavouring savoury and sweet foods and as a medicine.
The harvested fruits are transported to a processing place. The first thing to do is separate the mace (aril) from the rest of the seed. The fruits are opened by hand and the scarlet aril (mace) surrounding the nut is removed by cutting with a small pointed knife the attachment of the mace to the base of the nut (nutmeg). Care needs to be taken to avoid damage to the nut. An alternative method of shelling the nuts is to tip them onto a sloping cement floor from a height of three to four metres. Another option is to soak the nuts in water for four to twelve hours and then squeeze between the thumb and forefinger until the nut pops out.
Mace is the thin lacy material covering the kernel and represents only a small fraction of the weight of the kernel. For each 100kg of nutmeg, there is only 3-3.5kg of mace. The quality of mace depends on the amount of volatile oil. Mace is available in the market as whole, broken or ground types.
The separated mace is flattened by hand and dried on mats in the sun. This takes between two and four hours. Grenadian mace is cured by storage in the dark for four months. This produces a brittle, pale yellow mace that attracts a premium price and is graded according to size, the bigger the mace, the better the premium. After grading, the mace can be classified and bagged.
Commercial mace consists of flattened lobed pieces, 2.5cm long and about 1mm thick. It has a similar taste and aroma to nutmeg, but is more delicate. There are four different types of nutmeg:
- Banda mace – considered to be the finest. It has a bright orange colour and fine aroma
- Java Estate mace – this mace is golden yellow interspersed with bright red streaks
- Siauw mace – this mace has a lighter colour than Banda mace and less volatile oil
- Papua mace – contains very little volatile oil (the oil that it contains has a pungent
- aroma). It is not suitable for distillation.