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Ingredient Guide

A Guide to Mace

25 April 2022

All you need to know about nutmeg’s sister spice.

What is mace?

When you hear the word mace, you may think of self-defence spray or a spiked metal club. You’d be right. But we’re talking about the flavoursome spice, and it does have some similarities… it can pack a punch to pastries, cakes, cookies and crumbles, and savoury dishes too. But just to be clear, it doesn’t have any relationship to the defensive pepper spray, so don’t put the wrong one in your bag.

Mace is a delicate, aromatic and versatile spice that grows on the tropical nutmeg tree (Myristica fragrans). This fragrant evergreen tree produces two spices from its fruits: mace and nutmeg. That’s why mace is often called nutmeg’s sister spice, because they come from the same mother. And like a big sister, it’s also nutmeg’s protector, because its bright red, web-like, leathery coating (called the aril) encases the nutmeg, shielding its hard shell from harm. 

The spice was very common in the 18th and 19th centuries, but has since fallen by the wayside. Which is a real shame, because mace is just as worthy a spice as nutmeg, and some would argue more so. 

DID YOU KNOW?

Nutmeg trees (Myristica fragrans) are the only trees that produce two spices: nutmeg and mace. And that’s why you’ll hear mace referred to as nutmeg’s sister spice, or sibling spice.

Where does mace come from?

Since mace is grown on tropical evergreen trees, you’ll find it in many tropical regions, like South America and the Caribbean. In the Caribbean you’ll most definitely find mace in Grenada, which is the second largest producer of nutmeg in the world. That explains why nutmeg is their national symbol, appearing on the country’s flag.  But mace is actually native to the Moluccas Islands, or Spice Islands of Indonesia, and that’s where it’s mainly grown. You’ll also find mace in the West Indies, China and Sri Lanka. The colour of mace can help determine its origin. If the blades are orangey-red, they tend to be from Indonesia. If they have a more orange-yellow hue, then you’re probably using mace blades that have come from Grenada.

Mace versus nutmeg: what’s the difference?

Even though mace and nutmeg are related, they are different. Nutmeg is the seed found inside of fruit of the evergreen tree and mace is the lacy, waxy webbing that surrounds it. They’re flavour is similar, but mace is spicier, more aromatic and resembles black pepper. But it won’t keep its flavour as long as nutmeg, which is why it’s recommended you use fresh mace, instead of from a jar that’s been sitting in your kitchen cabinet a bit too long. One of the obvious differences between the two spices is colour. Nutmeg is brown, while mace is bright red, and once dried it takes on a darker yellow-orange, or brown hue. Because of its diverse colour spectrum, mace is the perfect spice if you want to give your plate a splash of colour.

What does mace taste like?

Mace is milder and sweeter, with a hint of citrus, cinnamon, black pepper and pine. It’s more delicate than nutmeg, and that’s why it’s commonly used in pastries, cakes, doughnuts, fish dishes, soups and casseroles. 

What cuisine can mace be used in?

Mace is widely used in Indian cuisine to make aromatic curries and nutritious soups. It also features prominently in Asian, Caribbean and Moroccan cuisines. Plus British, Dutch, and French cooking too, making it a truly well travelled and utilised spice. Mace can be used in both sweet and savoury dishes. From pastries to cakes, casseroles to stews. And it’s great for flavouring meat and fish dishes. You can also use mace to uplift your pumpkin pie, elevate your cauliflower cheese and béchamel sauce and pickle your veg.

Top tip: try adding mace the next time you make mashed potato – trust us, it’s a game changer.

Whole versus ground mace: what’s the difference?

Like nutmeg, mace is sold either whole or ground. When whole and dried, it’s called a mace blade. But it’s more commonly ground to a rough powder. If you want to experience the full flavour of mace, we recommend buying it whole and grinding it yourself using a mortar and pestle, spice mill or coffee grinder. If you don’t have any of these in your cupboard, put the whole mace into a bag and then smash it with a rolling pin. But a word of caution, although ready-ground mace is easier to use, it deteriorates faster than whole mace. One blade of mace is strong enough to flavour a meal of four to six portions – so it’s certainly a powerful spice.

How to use mace

Although mace is less widely used than nutmeg, the majority of sweet and savoury recipes call for this delicate, sister spice. Ground mace doesn’t require any preparation and can be used straight out the jar. Add it to your Worcestershire sauce, sprinkle it on porridge, in your mulled wine, or use it to add some spice the next time you make hot dogs, or barbeque chicken. It’s also a fine addition to your evening cocktail – so try it in your rum or whiskey. If ground mace is cooked too long it can become bitter, so it’s best to add it towards the end of cooking, to give your dishes the perfect finish. If you’re using whole mace blades, gently roast them and let them cool off before you grind them with your mortar and pestle. This simple step wakes up the essential oils within the mace blades, giving you a more fragrant spice. Whole mace blades can be used in exactly the same way as a bay leaf, slowly releasing flavour in recipes that take a long time to cook, like lasagne and casseroles. And like a bay leaf, just make sure you remove the mace blades before serving. By cracking mace’s leathery coating (the aril) in half you can use it to perfume basmati rice, season your chicken stock and also a jar of your favourite pickles. Mace blade has an intense flavour and can become quickly overpowering. So don’t confuse a tablespoon with a teaspoon. Everyone’s tastes are different, so you may be best off adding just one pinch at a time until you’ve reached a level of spice your taste buds are happy with.

Where to buy mace

You can buy mace in most supermarket spice aisles and oriental grocery stores. As well as whole foods and health food shops. Failing that, it’s easily found online. You’ll find it ground in glass jars, while mace blades tend to come in bags. 

How to store mace

Whether whole or ground, due to its delicate flavour, make sure you keep mace away from direct sunlight and store it in an airtight container to keep its aroma. You can also store whole blades of mace in the fridge or freezer to maximise its shelf life. 

Substitutes for mace

As they have similar flavour profiles, nutmeg is the obvious substitute for mace. But remember mace is the stronger spice, so if you’re using nutmeg double the amount. Cinnamon is a strong second choice due to its spicy notes, and it’s also easier to find in your local supermarket. But cinnamon is more intense, so if you’re using it as a substitute to mace, use about half the amount. Allspice is another option if you can’t get your hands on mace in your local supermarket or wholefood store. It tastes like a mixture of spices, one of which is nutmeg and it also tastes a little like cinnamon. Like mace, allspice can be used to add flavour to both sweet and savoury dishes. But although it has a similar flavour profile to mace, it’s stronger. So if you plan to use it as a substitute in your dishes, reduce the amount by half. You can always add more if needed.

Does mace have any health benefits?

Mace is an antioxidant. It’s high in vitamins A and C and also contains a number of minerals including calcium, iron, magnesium and potassium. By adding it to your meals you can improve your digestion, boost your blood flow and protect your kidneys. It can also help alleviate cold and flu symptoms, and even combat stress. Mace has been used for hundreds of years in Chinese medicine as pain relief – a few drops of the essential oil mixed with an ounce of carrier oil or grapeseed, massaged on to the affected area, is said to help treat arthritis, muscle pain and aching joints. It’s great for dental health too. Used as a mouthwash it can help eliminate bad breath, treat tooth pain, and aching gums. While protecting your teeth from a number of dental issues. That’s why you’ll also find mace in toothpaste.

Recipes with mace

Now you’re clued up on mace, it’s time to use this versatile spice in your cooking. So where to start? For savoury recipes, try adding it to your favourite curries, stews, white sauces (like Alfredo, Mornay and Allemand), lasagna and even ketchup. It’s a fantastic flavour addition for meat, too. You can use it as a dry rub, or stir it into your barbeque sauce before coating chicken or pork ribs. If you want to experiment with this delicate spice in sweet dishes, it’s a wonderful addition to pumpkin pie, cookies, muffins, custards, cakes and pastries.

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