The 3 Best Substitutes for Nutmeg

Ground nutmeg

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Once upon a time, voyagers traveled the world in search of priceless spices—including nutmeg. This seed of an evergreen tree in the family Myristicaceae is native to Indonesia and was once so sought after that, in the 1600s, it caused a war between Dutch merchants and Indonesian farmers.

These days, if you have run out of nutmeg, there is no need to go globetrotting (or go to war) to find a replacement. Instead, multiple other common spices can stand in as substitutes. Here is all you need to know about this unique spice, plus three simple swaps to make.

Nutmeg Uses

Nutmeg’s flavor is usually described as sweet and nutty. Its distinctive taste works well in baked goods, cheese dishes, and desserts, and as a finishing touch on eggnog. It’s often used in mild, creamy sauces, like bechamel, as well as in more vibrant tomato sauces and curries.

Egg dishes like custards and quiches can get a lift from a moderate sprinkle, and dusted on roasted vegetables, such as butternut squash or sweet potatoes, it adds a pleasingly warm undertone.

In baked goods like muffins, cookies, and cakes, nutmeg often plays a supporting role in other spices like cinnamon, ginger, or allspice. While it can stand alone as a flavoring agent, it melds especially well in spice blends.  

Finally, it is not very common to see recipes that call for whole nutmeg, since the seeds are quite large. However, some people prefer to purchase whole nutmeg in order to grate it freshly into foods. According to many professional chefs, a fresh-grated sprinkle of nutmeg atop a cappuccino or eggnog adds something special the pre-ground variety cannot quite emulate.

Why Use a Nutmeg Substitute

Aside from being out of nutmeg, some people look for alternatives for a variety of other reasons. For instance, some people simply do not like the taste and others have an allergic reaction to it.

Despite the “nut” in its name, nutmeg is not a tree nut, nor is it derived from nuts—so it is not a common allergen like tree nuts. Still, it may cause allergic reactions in some people. Although allergies are rare, if you do have an allergy to nutmeg it is important to keep it out of your cooking.

Meanwhile, nutmeg’s unique flavor is not everyone’s favorite. If you simply dislike the taste of nutmeg, switching it for a different spice usually will not pose major problems in recipes.

Nutmeg Nutrition Facts

Like most spices, nutmeg is used in small amounts and does not contain high levels of any nutrients. The following information, for 1 teaspoon (2.2 grams) of ground nutmeg, is provided by the USDA.

  • Calories: 12
  • Fat: 0.8g
  • Sodium: 0.35mg
  • Carbohydrates: 1g
  • Fiber: 0.46g
  • Sugars: 0.06g
  • Protein: 0.13g

It is important to note that this is a larger amount than you would ingest directly but is more likely what you find to serve an entire recipe. Depending on the recipe, it may call for an even smaller amount.

What to Look for in a Nutmeg Substitute

To choose an appropriate substitute for nutmeg, you will first want to consider how you will be using it. In savory dishes, such as quiche or roasted veggies, a warmer, bolder spice like allspice or garam masala could do the trick. Sweet baked goods, on the other hand, might benefit more from a lighter, sweeter choice like cinnamon.

Because spices do not generally interact chemically with other foods in ways that alter cooking, they can be used fairly interchangeably. And because nutmeg and other, comparable spices are not a major source of nutrients, substitutions will not create dramatic nutritional changes to a recipe. Meanwhile, as long as you choose a spice with a similar brown color to nutmeg, a substitute will not alter the visual appeal of the finished food.

Best Substitutes for Nutmeg

Even the most well-stocked spice cabinet may be out of nutmeg from time to time. If you have exhausted your store of nutmeg, try any of these three alternatives.

Mace

Interestingly, nutmeg and mace actually come from the same plant. Whereas nutmeg comes from the Myristica fragrans tree’s seed, mace is derived from the thin seed covering. Not surprisingly, then, these two spices have similar flavors and can be easily substituted for each other in both sweet and savory dishes.

You may find the flavor of mace to be spicier and stronger than that of nutmeg, so try adding it gradually. Mace’s color also is slightly darker than nutmeg’s, but this won’t notably change a finished recipe.

It is easier to harvest nutmeg (mace is found in much smaller quantities on the plant). Also, mace is the more expensive ingredient of the two. Consequently, you may prefer to look for a less expensive substitute.

Cinnamon

In sweeter preparations like cakes, quick bread, and pies, cinnamon makes a simple swap for nutmeg. Unlike mace, the two spices are unrelated—cinnamon comes from the bark of the cinnamon tree, whereas nutmeg is a seed—but their flavors are relatively similar.

Still, cinnamon can have a more intense effect. Start by adding half the amount of cinnamon as nutmeg called for and taste as you go if possible.

Using cinnamon in place of nutmeg won’t significantly change the nutrition or appearance of recipes. And because cinnamon is a common pantry spice, it might be your best bet for not having to make a grocery run mid-recipe!

Allspice

Allspice might sound like a combination of lots of spices. But, it is actually made from the dried berries of the Pimenta Dioica plant. This common pantry staple is an easy go-to when you’re out of nutmeg. Similar to nutmeg, it is used in both sweet and savory recipes.

Allspice is not quite as pungent as nutmeg, so feel free to use it as a one-to-one switch, or even add extra allspice. As with other substitutions, color and nutrition are similar enough between allspice and nutmeg to make very little difference to a finished dish.

A Word from Verywell

Although nutmeg adds one-of-a-kind, nutty sweetness, to everything from vegetables to desserts, it is not impossible to create a near-substitute flavor with any of the spices listed above. Or, try blending your own combination of mace, allspice, cinnamon, or other similar spices to create the perfect stand-in for nutmeg. Experimenting in this way can expand your confidence in the kitchen—and open up new worlds of delicious meals.

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2 Sources
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  1. The Spruce Eats. Nutmeg and mace history.

  2. USDA, FoodData Central. Spices, nutmeg, ground. Updated April 1, 2019.