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Nutmeg vs. Cloves

By Gryphon Adams

Nutmeg and cloves are aromatic spices used in desserts, beverages such as mulled wine or spiced cider, and for general cooking. These spices are also used in folk medicine. They're often used together, in pies, main dishes and combinations of spices, such as "four spices" or quatre-epices, a blend that usually contains ground white pepper, cloves, nutmeg and ginger.


Nutmeg, Myristica fragrans, comes from the seed of the nutmeg tree. The spice Mace comes from the covering of the nutmeg seed. This tropical fruit is the only one that produces two different spices, according to Palomar College. Nutmeg serves as a popular dessert spice and works well sprinkled on pale surfaces to garnish beverages and dishes such as eggnog and creamy pasta dishes such as fettucine alfredo. Nutmeg's use to relieve diarrhea began with its use as a folk remedy in Europe. It seems to be safe to take in reasonable amounts and has no known side effects, according to the Carcinoid Cancer Foundation.


Cloves, Syzygium aromaticum, grow in the Spice Islands, located in the East Indies. The spice is the dried, unopened flower buds of the plant. This spice is a member of the myrtle family and is a relative of allspice, which grows in central America. Whole cloves resemble tiny rose hips with stems. The essential oil from cloves has antiseptic properties and reduces the pain of toothache, gum pain and other mouth irritations because it tends to cause numbness. Cloves have a reputation for relieving upset stomach and cough and may help with clearing phlegm. They're also used for gas, nausea and vomiting, according to MedlinePlus. Clove oil is unsafe for use on children.

In Cooking

Using nutmeg in food can improve flavor and create a satisfying sweetness to help in cutting down on sugar. Nutmeg enhances hot cereal, muffins, cakes, breads and main dishes. Sprinkling nutmeg on hot vegetables can add flavor in place of salt to help you reduce sodium. Cloves have a sharper, hotter flavor than nutmeg. Clove spice is generally used in small amounts, such as a dash. Ground cloves enhance spice cakes, chai -- a spiced tea -- persimmon cookies, glazes for carrots, sweet potatoes and meats. The spike shape of whole cloves makes them convenient to flavor and garnish meats such as baked ham.


Allspice and pumpkin pie spice generally contain nutmeg and cloves in addition to similar spices such as cinnamon and mace. In recipes, you can substitute nutmeg for cloves and vice versa, although because cloves have a stronger flavor, it's best to adjust the amount to keep from the flavor in balance. You can also use a dash of cloves or nutmeg to substitute for allspice, a dash of cloves in place of mace, or create your own apple pie spice with cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice and a dash of cloves, Dartmouth University suggests.

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