Mace: The Protector of Nutmeg

By Patty Erd

Years ago I celebrated a milestone birthday on Granada, the “Island of Spice” in the West Indies. Grenada is a beautiful place and you should visit.

As a spice person, I made the most of this vacation by connecting with the wonderful folks at the Grenada Cooperative Nutmeg Association. We tried renting our own car when we arrived, but gave up after my husband — aka the Spice Boss — got frustrated with stick shift driving on steep hills. Fortunately, Pilton Campbell from the nutmeg cooperative offered to spend the day showing us around in his jeep.

Nutmeg trees are beautiful. The nutmegs grow high up the tree, making their picking a bit complex. The pods are green and look similar to chestnut fruits. The pods split open when they are ripe, revealing a beautiful bright scarlet aril covering the outside of the seed. This brightly hued aril is mace. Mace is Latin for “the protector” which is a fitting name, as the mace protects the nutmeg. A mace spray, which also protects you, is made of much sterner stuff in the form of eye watering chile pepper. This will also tend to choke you in its spray form.

Modern technology is not part of the nutmeg harvest. This crop is harvested by hand. Farmers transport sacks of nutmegs on their heads, walking up and down the hilly terrain. The smell of nutmeg is everywhere, since nutmeg shells cover the footpaths. You grind a little nutmeg with every step.

Nutmegs are sorted by hand and separated by size and grade. The best nutmegs are dense and sink in water. This is what we sell at the Spice House. The lighter nutmegs float and are not sold whole. Workers pull the nutmeg seed from its mace covering. These pieces are large and beautiful. We are pleased to offer this highest grade mace to our customers.

We wish we had made our own video back then, but this trip happened in an era before smartphones. This video will show some of what we experienced:

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    What a delightful video about nutmeg! We are very grateful to everyone involved in this ages-old process. Thank you for sharing this!

    I tried African nutmeg,which is a lot stronger.Went to a community meal @ Irie Zulu.She brought out some of the African spices she brings back from Cameroon.The nutmeg was stong and you only use a little bit!

    Great post, Patty. Makes me want to head to Granada — and definitely makes me appreciate the nutmeg we have such ready access to these days. And loved the video. Thanks for including that. Hope you have a fun — and successful — summer.

    You let me know when you want to go, and I will join you! We could also pop over to St. Vincent right next door.

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