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I recommend reading other 2 blogs on spices:
In previous blog I was focusing on spices where main parts of the plant used are leaves. Today I will focus on kernels and seeds. In a table below there are (only) two spices that belong to this category; once important, now side-tracked to sweets mostly.
Table 1: Spice origin by plant part
Seeds as spices
Other important seeds we use in kitchen are mustard seeds, sesame, poppy and almonds.
Cardamom holds a reputation as the “third most expensive” spice (after saffron and vanilla). It was already high-priced in Ancient Greece. Pricewise also nutmeg is not lagging behind. During early 17th century the demand for nutmeg in Europe was very high. Dutch had a monopoly on its production and have easily dictated the price. The price has fallen only a hundred years later, when brave Frenchmen have smuggled nutmeg trees from the Spice Islands and broke the Dutch monopoly.
Nutmeg’s origin was traced back to Spice Islands (Moluccas), now a part of Indonesia. Today the producing countries are Indonesia (East Indian Nutmeg) and Grenada (West Indian Nutmeg); while Indonesian nutmegs are mainly exported to Europe and Asia, Grenada nutmeg mostly finds its way into the USA.
If Finland would be producing (grape) wine we wouldn’t have exported a single drop. We would have drunk it all. Same goes for India. Even if they produce by far the most cardamom in the world, they export only a handful of it because they are perfectly capable of consuming their whole yearly yield.
Use of cardamom and nutmeg
Cardamom is most often found in Oriental rice and meat dishes. It is sometimes combined with cinnamon. In Europe, cardamom is only popular in Northern Europe, where it is used for cookies, sweet buns, and pastries.
In Western cuisine, nutmeg and mace are more popular for desserts (cakes, crackers and stewed fruits). Nutmeg can be used to spice fondue. It is also use a spice for spinach ravioli filling. By far the biggest consumers of nutmeg in Europe are Dutch.
One not so known quality of nutmeg is its hallucinogenic effects, which include prolonged extreme nausea and long-term hypersensitivity to nutmeg. You would have to eat about half of the nutmeg or about 3-4 grams.
Origins of the name
There are no reliable sources as to where the name of cardamom origins. Nutmeg is a different story. English name comes from Middle English notemugge. Most of the European languages use Latin derivation of nux muscatus (“musky nut”).
Term “musk” is a scent obtained from the musk deer. The name musk comes from Sanskrit mushka (“testicle”), as musk comes only from male musk deer’s special glands that look like testicles.
Let’s speculate a bit. Where does the name of Oman’s, sultanate on the tip of Arabian peninsula, capital come from? There are so many theories, but I just made this one up: we all know that people have traded spices and even wars have been fought for spice domination. Ships with spices and musk have docket in port. People loved the “musk nut” so much that they named their capital Muscat. How do you like it?
There is another Muscat that comes to my mind, muscat wine. A sweet wine produced around the world. It can be also found in brandies, like Greek Metaxa.