Just the idea of using Nutmeg transports many minds into the Fall season! In my opinion, this beautifully complex spice is one of the most underutilized spices in a spice box.
Nutmeg is the pit or seed of the nutmeg fruit (like the avocado). Mace is a lacy reddish covering around the shell that encases the pit. Both are used in cooking, the seed (nutmeg) and the lacy cover (mace).
Although many find them similar in taste, I find that nutmeg has a more heady, complex and deeper aroma, whereas mace is lighter and has citrus-like notes. The taste of nutmeg is prominent, and mace tastes like a piece of faded lemon peel, but both release their flavors differently and hence defer in how they are incorporated into recipes.
Both Mace and Nutmeg are, like many intensely flavorful spices, purchased in small quantities. Frugal home-makers in India will purchase one nutmeg at a time, because if used carefully it can last for a very long time. As with most spices, these should be purchased in whole form, and added to dishes as needed.
How and when to use Nutmeg & Mace in cooking:
Nutmeg is used primarily in grated form, as a finishing touch to a dish. It adds a unique high note. Small quantities of nutmeg are often part of garam masala blends. A pinch of grated Nutmeg is frequently used in cream-based brews (such as creamy soups and desserts) as cream is able to hold on to the flavors for a long while.
Mace is most often used in milder flavored dishes such as kebabs wherein the flavors develop over time. It is more commonly seen in regional, rustic, coconut based meat stews as it adds only a faint but unmistakable hint of a high note. It was many years before my mother or I incorporated Mace in our cooking because it has limited applications in comparison to nutmeg.
Nutmeg & Mace in Ayurveda:
Both nutmeg and mace are considered pungent and warming spices, and activate the digestive juices but must be consumed in very small quantities. Both increase Pitta (bile), and reduce Kapha (mucous) and Vata (air).
Nutmeg is used in milk-based brews to calm nerves, as a sedative and as an aphrodisiac. Mace is used to in preparations to aid digestion.
In large quantities, both can be hallucinogens with adverse health effects and must be used with care.