Serious Eats

Spice Hunting: Mace

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[Photograph: Max Falkowitz]

Mace doesn't get much love anymore, which is a big shame. In the golden age of the spice trade, mace strode across the skin of the world just like its cousin nutmeg. But it seems the modern age only has room for one magical sweet spice that seems to go with everything, and mace lost. Let's fix that.

But first, some plant biology. Nutmeg is actually a fruit with a hard stone at its center, like peaches, plums, and cashews. That stone (a seed, really) is what we use as nutmeg. Surrounding the seed is a bright red alien webbing, which dries into what we call mace in units called blades. As you'd expect, the two spices have similar flavors. But mace is a whole different game, as worthy of a culinary adventure as nutmeg, if not more so.

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Fresh mace. [Photograph: ciamabue on Flickr]

Everyone says mace is lighter, subtler, and sweeter than nutmeg. This is all true, but doesn't really capture the essence of what mace is like. Imagine a cross between nutmeg and coriander, tinged with citrus and cinnamon. Add to that the same nostril-widening properties that nutmeg, mint, and basil share. Then add the complexity raw sugar. So yeah. That's mace. Why did we stop using this stuff again?

Mace is perfect where nutmeg would be too heavy. Consider: fruit of all kinds, white-fleshed fish, chicken, lighter dairy applications, pork, cookies, cream soups, root vegetables, and anything with a tart element. Mace is where the depth of spice meets the lilt of the floral. Where nutmeg deepens, mace elevates.

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Bourbon peach raspberry crisp. [Photograph: Max Falkowitz]

I'm most fond of mace with fruit, especially rich floral ones like peaches and raspberries, where the spice can fill out nose and enrich powerful fruity aromas. But I've also been replacing nutmeg with mace in pastry for a lighter touch that seems to complement butter and cream all the better. Mace is a fine addition to your evening punch of cocktail. Nutmeg may be most fitting for a powerful rum, but I've enjoyed mace in cocktails featuring luscious but floral whiskies.

While nutmeg needs special hardware to harvest its sweet, pungent shavings, blades of mace are easily dispatched in your spice grinder. Yes, you can buy mace ground, and it's easier to find that way, but I recommend against it. Mace is all about resonance disguised as delicacy. Pre-ground versions will lose that disguise quickly, leaving you with an inferior nutmeg powder. The Spice House sells excellent blades of mace, as pretty to look at as they are to cook with. So pick some up and join the Medieval revival. The blade is back.

About the author: Max Falkowitz is a proud native of Queens, New York. He'll do just about anything for a good cup of tea and enjoys long walks down the aisles of Chinese groceries. He is known to make ice cream on occasion. You can follow his exotic spice- and ice cream-based ramblings on Twitter.

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