What is nutmeg, anyway? This fragrant spice actually comes from the seed of an evergreen tree (no wonder it screams Christmas!). It can be found whole or ground, but many people prefer the whole seed because it lasts longer and can be freshly grated for the best flavor. All you need to do is grate whole nutmeg with a fine grater (like a Microplane). Ground nutmeg loses its flavor quicker, so keep an eye on the expiration date. Either way, nutmeg is an intense spice that should be used sparingly. It has a warm, nutty, and spicy flavor that packs a punch in both sweet and savory dishes. You’ll find nutmeg in desserts like pumpkin pie and gingerbread cookies, but it also adds flavor to creamy dishes like Alfredo sauce and green bean casserole. Luckily, nutmeg is often used in combination with other spices. So if your Christmas cookie recipe calls for nutmeg—and you realize that you’re all out—you can easily increase the amount of the other spices, or swap in one of these nutmeg substitutes instead.
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1Nutmeg Substitute: Cinnamon
Despite its name, allspice isn’t actually a blend of all different spices—it’s made from ground dried allspice berries. The flavor of allspice tastes like a combination of nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, and peppercorn. It makes a great substitute for nutmeg in any recipe—use it as a one-for-one replacement.
Another classic holiday spice: cloves! Just like nutmeg, ground cloves add warmth and spice to some of your favorite holiday desserts. These aromatic flower buds can be found whole or ground. You can swap ground cloves for ground nutmeg in equal parts, but if using whole cloves to add flavor to sauces or soups, be sure to strain them out before serving.
Ground ginger has a lot more zing than nutmeg, but it makes for a good substitute if you don’t mind a little extra spicy flavor. Plus, if you’re making a recipe that calls for both ginger and nutmeg (like gingerbread cookies), you can easily use more ground ginger in place of the nutmeg.
If you’re a fan of chai tea lattes, then you’ve probably had cardamom! It’s one of the main ingredients in chai spice blends. Cardamom has a very distinct flavor, so it can be tricky to use it as a substitute—but if your recipe only calls for a small amount of nutmeg, then a little cardamom could work in a pinch. If making eggnog, try dusting ground cardamom over the top for a unique twist.
Garam masala is a key ingredient in many Indian curries and other dishes. It’s a complex blend of spices that sometimes includes cinnamon, coriander, mace, nutmeg, and peppercorn, among others. Like nutmeg, garam masala adds warmth and a touch of heat. It works best as a replacement in savory dishes, not desserts. And because it contains so many flavors, be sure to only use a little at a time.
Just like pumpkin pie spice, this apple pie version is a combination of warm spices. The main difference between the two blends is that apple pie spice usually includes cardamom. It makes a good substitute for nutmeg when used in small amounts: Start with half the suggested amount of nutmeg and taste as you go.
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