Nutmeg - Encyclopedia




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NUTMEG (from "nut," and O. Fr. mugue, musk, Lat. muscus), the commercial name of a spice representing the kernel of the seed of Myristica fragrans (fig. 5), a dioecious evergreen tree, about 50 to 60 ft. high, found wild in the Banda Islands and a few of the neighbouring islands, extending to New Guinea.

Nutmeg and mace are almost exclusively obtained from the Banda Islands, although the cultivation has been attempted with varying success in Singapore, Penang, Bengal, Reunion, Brazil, French Guiana and the West Indies. The trees yield fruit in eight From Strasburger's Lehrbuch der Botanik, by permission of Gustav Fischer. FIG. 1. - Myristica fragrans. (Official.) 1. Twig with male flowers (2 nat. size).

2. Ripe pendulous fruit opening.

3. Fruit after removal of one-half of the pericarp, showing the dark brown seed surrounded by the ruptured arillus.

4. Kernel freed from the seed-coat.

years after sowing the seed, reach their prime in twenty-five years, and bear for sixty years or longer. Almost the whole surface of the Banda Islands is planted with nutmeg trees, which thrive under the shade of the lofty Canarium commune. In Bencoolen the tree bears all the year round, but the chief harvest takes place in the later months of the year, and a smaller one in April, May and June. The ripe fruit is about 2 in. in diameter, of a ?. rounded pear-shape, and when mature splits into two, exposing a crimson arillus surrounding a single seed (figs. r, 2). When the fruit is collected the pericarp is first removed; then the arillus is carefully stripped off and dried, in which state it forms the mace of commerce. The seed consists of a thin, hard testa or shell, enclosing a wrinkled kernel, which, when dried, is the nutmeg. The kernel consists mainly of the abundant endosperm, which is firm, whitish in colour and marbled with numerous reddish-brown vein-like partitions, into which the inner seedcoat penetrates, forming what is known botanically as ruminated endosperm.

To prepare the nutmegs for use, the seed enclosing the kernel is dried at a gentle heat in a drying-house over a smouldering fire for about two months, the seeds being turned every second or third day. When thoroughly dried the shells are broken with a wooden mallet or flat board and the nutmegs picked out and sorted, the smaller and inferior ones being reserved for the expression of the fixed oil which they contain, and which forms the so-called oil of mace.

The dried nutmegs are then rubbed over with dry sifted lime.

The process of liming, which originated at the time when the Dutch held a monopoly of the trade, was with the view of preventing the germination of the seeds, which were formerly immersed for three months in milk of lime for this purpose, and a preference is still manifested in some countries for nutmegs so prepared. It has, however, been shown that this treatment is by no means necessary, since exposure to the sun for a week destroys the vitality of the kernel. Penang nutmegs are never limed. The entire fruit preserved in syrup is used as a sweetmeat in the Dutch East Indies.

"Oil of mace," or nutmeg butter, is a solid fatty substance of a reddish-brown colour, obtained by grinding the refuse nutmegs to a fine powder, enclosing it in bags and steaming it over large cauldrons for five or six hours, and then compressing it while still warm between powerful wedges, the brownish fluid which flows out being afterwards allowed to solidify. Nutmegs yield about one-fourth of their weight of this substance. It is partly dissolved by cold alcohol, the remainder being soluble in ether. The latter portion, about Io% of the weight of the nutmegs, consists chiefly of myristin, which is a compound of myristic acid, C 14 H 28 0 2, with glycerin. The fat which is soluble in alcohol appears to consist, according to Schmidt and Roemer (Arch. Pharnt. [3], xxi. 34-48), of free myristic and stearic acids; the brown colouring matter has not been satisfactorily investigated. Nutmeg butter yields on distillation with water a volatile oil to the extent of about 6%, consisting almost entirely of a hydrocarbon called myristicene, CioHis, boiling at 165° C. It is accompanied by a small quantity of an oxygenated oil, myristicol, isomeric with carvol, but differing from it in not forming a crystalline compound with hydrosulphuric acid. Mace contains a similar volatile oil, macene, boiling at 160° C., which is said by Cloi z to differ from that of nutmegs in yielding a solid compound when treated with hydrochloric acid gas.

The name nutmeg is also applied to other fruits or seeds in different countries. The Jamaica or calabash nutmeg is derived from Monodora Myristica, the Brazilian from Cryptocarya moschata, the Peruvian from Laurelia sempervirens, the Madagascar or clove nutmeg from Agathophyllum aromaticum, and the Californian or stinking nutmeg from Torreya Myristica. The cotyledons.of Nectandra Puchury were at one time offered in England as nutmegs.

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