Indonesia, with world market share of 75%, and Grenada, with 20%, dominate production and exports of both products. World production of nutmeg is estimated to average between 10,000 and 12,000 tonnes per year, with annual world demand estimated at over 9,000 tonnes; production of mace is estimated at 1,500 to 2,000 tonnes.
Nutmeg is the spice made by grinding the seed of the fragrant nutmeg (Myristica fragrans) tree into powder. The spice has a distinctive pungent fragrance and a warm slightly sweet taste; it is used to flavor many kinds of baked goods, confections, puddings, potatoes, meats, sausages, sauces, vegetables, and such beverages as eggnog.
The seeds are dried gradually in the sun over a period of six to eight weeks. During this time the nutmeg shrinks away from its hard seed coat until the kernels rattle in their shells when shaken. The shell is then broken with a wooden club and the nutmegs are picked out. Dried nutmegs are grayish brown ovals with furrowed surfaces. The nutmegs are roughly egg-shaped, about 20.5–30 mm (0.81–1.18 in) long and 15–18 mm (0.59–0.71 in) wide, weighing 5–10 g (0.18–0.35 oz) dried.
Two other species of genus Myristica with different flavors, M. malabarica and M. argentea, are sometimes used to adulterate nutmeg as a spice.
The essential oil obtained by steam distillation of ground nutmegis used in the perfumery and pharmaceutical industries. The volatile fraction contains dozens of terpenes and phenylpropanoids, including d-pinene, limonene, d-borneol, l-terpineol, geraniol, safrol, and myristicin. In its pure form, myristicin is a toxin, and consumption of excessive amounts of nutmeg can result in myristicin poisoning.
The oil is colorless or light yellow, and smells and tastes of nutmeg. It is used as a natural food flavoring in baked goods, syrups, beverages, and sweets. It is used to replace ground nutmeg, as it leaves no particles in the food. The essential oil is also used in the manufacturing of toothpaste and cough syrups.
Until the mid-19th century, the small island group of the Banda Islands, which are also known under the name “Spice Islands,” was the only location of the production of nutmeg and mace in the world. The Banda Islands are situated in the eastern part of Indonesia, in the province of Maluku. They consist of eleven small volcanic islands, called Neira, Gunung Api, Banda Besar, Rhun, Ai, Hatta, Syahrir, Karaka, Manukan, Nailaka and Batu Kapal, with a total approximate land area of 8,150 hectares.
Nutmeg is known to have been a prized and costly spice in European medieval cuisine as a flavouring, medicinal, and preservative agent. Saint Theodore the Studite (c. 758 – 826) allowed his monks to sprinkle nutmeg on their pease pudding when required to eat it. In Elizabethan times, because nutmeg was believed to ward off the plague, demand increased and its price skyrocketed.
Nutmeg was known as a valuable commodity by Muslim sailors from the port of Basra (including the fictional character Sinbad the Sailor in the One Thousand and One Nights). Nutmeg was traded by Arabs during the Middle Ages and sold to the Venetian for high prices, but the traders did not divulge the exact location of their source in the profitable Indian Ocean trade, and no European was able to deduce its location.