What Does Nutmeg Taste Like?

Practically synonymous with the holiday season, nutmeg is a popular wintertime spice. In everything from eggnog to mulled wine to hot chocolate, nutmeg is the star of cold weather. 

Nutmeg overall has a warm nutty flavor and is slightly sweet with hints of clove. While often compared to cinnamon, nutmeg is generally closer to cardamom in flavor, it’s less sweet than nutty. In addition to being nutty and sweet, nutmeg has a very slight hint of spiciness.

In addition, store-bought ground nutmeg and freshly ground nutmeg have slight differences in flavor.

Store-Bought Ground Nutmeg

Nutmeg is fairly heavy on oil, that’s where much of its flavor and aromatics come from. 

Once nutmeg is ground, it immediately begins to lose its oil content. This means less flavor and less aroma.

When cooking or baking with store-bought ground nutmeg, you’ll need to use more. This will help to make up for the lack of flavor.

Fresh Ground Nutmeg

The best option of using nutmeg is to purchase it whole and grate it as you need it.

Using the nutmeg fresh ensures a bolder flavor that is both nutty and somewhat spicy. You also end up with a wonderful aroma that’s warm and somewhat earthy.

How to Use Nutmeg

Like cinnamon and cardamom, nutmeg is used fairly equally in both sweet and savory dishes. Thanks to its nutty, sweet, and slightly spicy flavor, it’s versatile and used extensively throughout the world.

Sweet Dishes

A key feature in fall desserts, nutmeg is commonly used in pumpkin pies, candied pecans, and sweet potato puddings.

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Since it is only slightly sweet, you’ll get more of a nice warmth in your dishes than just plain sugar.

Savory Dishes

Popular in lamb and jerk chicken, nutmeg goes just as well in savory and spicy dishes. In addition to the flavor, you also get a nutty, somewhat woody smell to go with the meal.

Like in the sweet dishes, there is only a small amount of spice. That means you end up getting more taste from nutmeg than just heat and spiciness.

Other Things to Know About Nutmeg

There are a few other helpful things to know about nutmeg if you’re thinking about giving it a try. 

Is Nutmeg a Nut

If you think you’d enjoy the flavor of nutmeg, but are concerned because you have a nut allergy, don’t fear. Believe it or not, nutmeg doesn’t actually come from nuts. It comes from seeds so it’s generally safe for those with nut or peanut allergies.

Nutmeg Substitutes

If you find yourself short on nutmeg, there are a handful of other spices that you can use that will get the job done.

  • Cinnamon
  • Cardamom
  • Allspice
  • Cloves
  • Clove

The Takeaway

Nutmeg is a warm, nutty, slightly sweet spice that has a bit of spiciness to it as well. 

Equally at home in both sweet and savory dishes, nutmeg is a spice that is always worth keeping on hand. For a more intense flavor and aroma, buy fresh nutmeg and grate it at home as needed. If you only have ground, make sure you use a little more as it lacks the flavor of fresh nutmeg.