Nutmeg is actually the seed of a tropical fruit thought to have originated in New Guinea (the same fruit that gives us mace, actually!). The seeds are light brown on the outside, oblong-shaped, and about an inch long. Inside, there are densely packed layers of starchy tissue and fragrant oil.
For the best flavor, buy the seeds whole and grate just the amount you need using a microplaner. You don't need to toast the seed or remove the outer skin before using it, and the nutmeg seeds will keep for years. Powdered nutmeg quickly loses its potency.
In sweet dishes, nutmeg works very well with dairy-based dishes and is often used in custards and dessert sauces. You'll also find it used in combination with other warm spices like cinnamon, cardamom, and cloves in holiday cookies and cakes.
Nutmeg is also frequently used in savory meat-based dishes, where it subtly enhances and rounds out the flavor. You'll see it in sausage mixes, lasagnas, and ragus. Nutmeg also pairs very well with winter squash and dark leafy greens.
In either sweet or savory dishes, a little bit of nutmeg goes a long way - especially when you're grating it fresh. Most recipes call for a mere 1/8 teaspoon!
If you find the flavor of nutmeg too strong for your liking, try substituting it with mace. Mace has a sweeter and less astringent flavor.
How do you like to use nutmeg?
Related: Recipe: Pumpkin Pie Spice Mix
(Image: Emma Christensen for the Kitchn)