Mace isn't a spice that you use every day, and it tends to be a bit pricey. When you come across a recipe that calls for it, save yourself some cash and cupboard space by using one of these substitutes in its place. Possible mace substitutes include nutmeg, allspice, cinnamon, ginger or pumpkin pie spice. It all depends on the recipe, and how sweet or savory you want it to taste.
Side note: Other than the name, there's no relationship between mace the spice and mace the pepper spray used as a self-defense weapon.
Mace and nutmeg both come from the nutmeg tree, which is most commonly grown on the Banda Islands in the Moluccas near Indonesia (dubbed the Spice Islands). The tree produces nutmeg fruits. At the center of each fruit is a hard seed (similar to a peach pit), with a red lacy covering. The covering is removed and sold as mace, and the seed is sold as nutmeg.
Since the harvest results in much more nutmeg than mace, you'll pay quite a bit more for mace. The ounce by ounce price comparison is downright shocking and is why you're much more likely to find recipes using nutmeg.
Mace is used differently in different parts of the world. Some countries use it to flavor meat and seafood dishes; others use it to season fruits and desserts, like cookies and rice puddings. In the United States, it's often used to season soups and dishes featuring winter squash; and it factors in heavily in fall recipes.
Making a Substitute
Substitute the mace called for in your recipe with an equal amount of nutmeg. Since mace is the membrane that surrounds nutmeg, the flavor will be similar. Nutmeg just has a slightly more pungent flavor and fragrance.
If you don't have nutmeg, you can also one of the above spices as stand-ins as well. Replace them measure for measure.
If you decide to buy mace for your recipe, consider purchasing blades of mace (that's mace in its whole form), instead of ground mace. Once ground, mace tends to lose its flavor rapidly, so there really is a big difference in quality. And it really isn't much more work to grind your own. Just pop it in a spice grinder; give it a quick whirl; it'll be ready to add to your recipe.
Look for mace at an international grocery store, or purchase it from the bulk bins at a health food store. It's usually cheaper than buying a bottle on the spice aisle at the grocery store. But don't be surprised if the cost still gives you pause. At least now you know there's a good substitute if you can't get past the sticker shock.