Mace, often overshadowed in the world of spices, is a culinary gem that remains underappreciated and misunderstood. Similar to marjoram, it's one of those intriguing ingredients that many feel they ought to have in their pantry, yet it frequently goes unused. The under utilization of mace is a culinary tragedy, considering mace's captivating complexity and allure, particularly noted in the extensive collection at The Spice House.
Mace boasts a mysterious and rich history, intertwined with global trade. Its very name, aggressive and bold, hints at a spice that has much more to offer than meets the eye. Unlike its more famous counterpart nutmeg, mace imparts a more delicate, yet distinctly piquant flavor. This makes it an exceptional choice for a variety of dishes, adding a subtle, warm spiciness that is both nuanced and comforting.
Beyond its culinary uses, mace carries a tapestry of cultural and historical significance. In medieval times, it was prized for its medicinal properties and used as a preservative.
Cooking with mace is an adventure. Similar to nutmeg, mace also pairs wonderfully with savory dishes like stews and curries, adding a depth that is hard to replicate with other spices. In sweet dishes, it brings a comforting warmth, perfect in baked goods like pies and spice cakes.
Mace is a spice truly worthy of both understanding and regular use in the kitchen. Its complex profile and rich history make it not just a seasoning, but a bridge to recipes of the past, and a key to unlocking an array of extraordinary flavors in culinary creations.
What is the taste of Mace?
Mace, nutmeg's sister spice, holds a unique place in the culinary world. It originates from the nutmeg tree, which is distinguished as the only plant to yield two distinct spices. This is in contrast to plants like dill, which provide both a spice and an herb but not two spices. Nutmegs are the actual seeds of the tree, while what is mace's flavor is the aril – a delicate, lace-like coating that envelops the seed.
The flavor and aroma of mace set it apart from its sibling, nutmeg alone. While both share a common origin, mace presents a more piquant and somewhat less sweet profile than nutmeg. It offers a complex bouquet of flavors – a blend of warmth with additional undertones of pine, a hint of black pepper, and a coriander-like citrus zest. This intricate flavor profile makes mace a versatile spice in both sweet and savory dishes.
Moreover, the essential oils found in nutmeg and mace and nutmeg differ in their chemical compositions. This results in essential oil in each spice having its distinct flavor characteristics, despite their common source. This phenomenon is akin to the difference in taste and aroma between an orange peel and its flesh – both parts of the same fruit but with distinctly different sensory experiences.
Mace's unique properties extend to its applications in cooking. Its sharper, more aromatic flavor makes it a preferred spice in certain culinary traditions. Mace adds depth to stews, sauces, and baked goods. It is particularly favored in European, Indian, and Middle Eastern cuisines, where it is used to impart a subtle yet complex flavor to a variety of dishes.
How Do I Use Mace?
Whole blade mace is a wonderfully versatile spice that can be used similarly to a bay leaf, particularly in recipes that require long cooking times to gradually infuse their flavors. For an aromatic twist, try breaking the mace aril in half. You can then use a piece to subtly perfume a pot of steaming basmati rice, enhancing the rice with its unique scent. Mace is also excellent for adding depth to simmering chicken stock or introducing a nuanced flavor to homemade pickles, where it pairs exceptionally well with beets.
Additionally, mace can be ground at home for a fresher, more intense flavor. Using tools like a Microplane Spice Mill, you can easily grind fresh mace to use in a variety of dishes. Ground mace, best when fresh, should ideally be used within 6-8 months. As a spice, ground mace is highly versatile. It can be used as a key ingredient in your cooking or even as a fine addition to a condiment at the dining table. For an inventive twist, try replacing nutmeg with mace as a topping on your cappuccino. Its warm, slightly sweet flavor profile also makes it an excellent complement to desserts. A light sprinkle of mace over a scoop of vanilla ice cream, for instance, can add an intriguing layer of complexity to this classic treat.
Both ground and whole mace benefit from proper storage. They should be kept in a cool, dry place, away from direct light and heat, to preserve their flavor and aroma. This careful storage ensures that the mace retains its characteristic qualities, ready to enrich a wide array of dishes with its distinctive taste. Whether mace is used in its whole form or ground into a fine powder, mace is a spice that offers a unique opportunity to explore and expand your culinary palette.
Recipe Ideas for Mace
Mace, known for its subtly sweet and warm spice profile, offers a myriad of possibilities in both sweet and savory culinary creations. In sweet dishes, it's a natural fit for the comforting flavors of pumpkin pie, lending an extra layer of warmth to the classic dessert. Berry cobblers, too, can benefit from a pinch of mace, where it subtly enhances the fruit's natural sweetness. For a warming, aromatic beverage, consider adding mace to a hot toddy, creating a cozy and inviting drink perfect for chilly evenings.
The versatility of mace spice shines in savory applications as well. It adds a unique and delightful twist to Swedish meatballs, enhancing the dish with its distinct flavor. Incorporating mace spice into homemade barbecue spice rubs can also elevate your grilling experience, adding a touch of complexity to the flavors. Mace's compatibility with other spices such as cloves, allspice, ginger, vanilla, saffron, cinnamon, cumin, coriander, caraway, and fennel makes it a valuable addition to spice blends, allowing for creative and flavorful combinations.
Mace pairs wonderfully with various ingredients, enhancing the flavors of meats like lamb, veal, and pork, as well as fruits and vegetables including apples, sweet potatoes, carrots, mangoes, squash, and even dairy products like cream and cheeses. Its use is prominent in Northern European cuisine, particularly in English pork pies, Swedish meatballs, mashed potatoes and rhubarb cakes and crumbles.
In Indian cooking, mace is a key ingredient in many curry and chutney recipes. A common method involves toasting whole mace blades with spices like cardamom, cloves, and black pepper, then grinding them with fresh ingredients like fresh ginger, garlic, and turmeric to create a flavorful paste. This technique is exemplified in dishes like lamb korma, where mace complements and enhances the other spices, contributing to a richly flavored and savory dish. The use of whole mace blades in these various culinary traditions highlights its adaptability and the unique depth it brings to a wide range of recipes.