Mace is the lacy coating that is found on a nutmeg seed. The lacy aril, which is red, is removed by hand from the outer shell of the nutmeg and then dried, becoming a yellowish-brown mace. Mace is sold in whole pieces called blades or in the more commonly-found ground form.
The color can often help you determine the origin of mace. Orange-yellow blades most likely come from Grenada, where it is the national symbol and proudly emblazoned on the country's red, yellow, and green flag, while orange-red blades tend to be from Indonesia. Botanically known as Myristica fragrans, the nutmeg tree that produces mace, originates in Banda, the largest of the Molucca spice islands of Indonesia. The English word nutmeg comes from the latin nux, meaning nut, and muscat, meaning musky.
The History of Mace and Nutmeg
In the first century A.D., Roman author Pliny speaks of a tree bearing nuts with two flavors. Emperor Henry VI had the streets of Rome fumigated with nutmegs before his coronation. In the sixth century, nutmegs were brought by Arab merchants to Constantinople. In the fourteenth century, half a kilogram of nutmeg cost as much as three sheep or a cow.
The Dutch waged a bloody war, including the massacre and enslavement of the inhabitants of the island of Banda, just to control nutmeg production in the East Indies. In 1760, the price of nutmeg in London was 85 to 90 shillings per pound, a price kept artificially high by the Dutch voluntarily burning full warehouses of nutmegs in Amsterdam. The Dutch held control of the spice islands until World War II.
The Unique Taste of Mace
Mace has a flavor described as a combination of cinnamon and pepper, a more pungent version of nutmeg. It is used in baked goods, particularly donuts, cakes, puddings, custards and desserts, but also in cheese dishes, souffle, sauces, soups, poultry, and fish. It especially complements dishes with cherries or chocolate.
Mace Storage and Ground vs. Blades Equivalent
Unlike most spices, ground mace has a longer shelf-life when stored properly in a tightly-sealed jar or container in a cool, dark place. One teaspoon ground mace equals 1 tablespoon mace blades. Nutmeg may be substituted for mace in a pinch and vice versa, but obviously the flavor of the end result will be affected as with any substitution.
Nutmeg vs. Mace
If a recipe calls for mace, you can use nutmeg instead. Another substitute for ground mace is ground allspice. Mace is typically harder to find and more expensive than the more popular of the warming, highly aromatic spice pair. Mace is a component of spice mixtures, including curry powder, garam masala, and ras el hanout. Not surprisingly, it figures prominently in Indian, Caribbean, Moroccan, and Asian cuisine, and is also used in Dutch, French, and British cooking.