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nutmeg fruit

The Oxford Companion to Food

Alan Davidson

, Tom JaineTom Jaine

nutmeg fruit 

Myristica fragrans, normally thought of as just the receptacle from which the valuable spices nutmeg and mace are extracted, does have edible flesh, sometimes referred to as the ‘fruit-wall’.

In Sulawesi the entire fruit is peeled and split into two and fruit halves (after the mace and nutmeg are removed) are spread out, sprinkled with palm sugar, and left for three or four days in the sun. After this treatment they have become translucent, with a pale brown tinge from the sugar, and are slightly fermented. They can be eaten as they are, as a snack food or at the end of a meal.

The dried fruit could be described as looking a little bit like crystallized pear or ginger, and the taste and feel in the mouth are a bit like crystallized ginger. The names used in Indonesia are manisan pala and pala manis, evidently two versions of the same name, manis meaning sweet.

Eating an unusually large amount of nutmeg can produce a ‘high’, and the same effect (no doubt attributable to the same chemical substance) occurs if much of the fruit is eaten. An incident in the 1990s, involving two young British visitors to Sulawesi who ate a substantial amount of the fruit, left them convinced that it had had an aphrodisiac effect. This impression was heightened by the hilarity accompanying their consumption of the fruit in the market place. Consideration was subsequently given to their testimony by a London-based organization devoted to the study of spices, but no definite conclusion was reached. It was noted that Burkill (1965–6), who gives a characteristically thorough description of the processing and candying of the fruit, makes only the briefest of allusions to possible aphrodisiac properties. Nor has there been any suggestion that the jam made from the fruits in Sri Lanka has any special attributes of this sort.