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Fresh nutmeg adds flavor and aroma that pre-ground bottled nutmeg simply cannot match. Before you can give your recipes a boost with fresh nutmeg, though, you will need a nutmeg grinder. When considering which nutmeg grinder to buy, you will need to consider features such as design, durability, storage and cost.
Nutmeg comes from grating the seed of the evergreen Myristica fragrans, the nutmeg tree. Its taste is sweet and spicy, similar to allspice and cloves. The dried nutmeg seed can be ground into a fine powder and added to savory meals, soup and stews; Indian and Mideastern dishes; deserts such as cakes, pies and custards; and even spiced mulled wine. Whole nutmeg seeds can keep for a year or more, but ground spice loses it flavor quickly, making fresh nutmeg the preferred choice for most serious cooks.
Choosing a nutmeg grinder begins with deciding which type of grinder suits best: the hand grater or the mill. Hand graters are small and light, easy to use and store with a minimum of fuss. They work well when nutmeg is used only occasionally. In kitchens that see a lot of baking, a mill might be a better option. Mills can grind large quantities of nutmeg easily, and cooks don’t run the risk of scraping their knuckles.
The hand grater style of nutmeg grinders is a small, curved rasping tool with tiny cone-shaped teeth. These grinders are very easy to use, but care must be taken to keep fingertips and knuckles clear of the rasp. If you are choosing a hand grater, select a sturdy nutmeg grinder made from stainless steel instead of a cheap acrylic model that is likely to blunt quickly. Some designs include a reservoir to catch ground spices and to store unused whole nutmeg, which can be a handy feature when space in smaller kitchens is at a premium.
A mill-style nutmeg grinder works in similar fashion to a pepper mill. Whole nutmeg is placed in a chamber, and turning a handle in the top of the mechanism spins blades in the bottom of the mill, shaving and grinding the nutmeg. A quality mill can grind nutmeg much faster than a hand grater and doesn't place fingers in harm’s way, but cheaper models might not work properly, grinding too coarsely or not at all. Mills are larger than hand graters and more difficult to store, and mills are more complex devices, meaning that there are more things that potentially can go wrong.
No matter which nutmeg grinder design you choose, you are likely to consider cost when purchasing. Discount models of either style might be unreliable and could become dull or break after only a few uses. High-end devices often include unneeded features and attachments, adding to cost and clutter. A simple grinder with quality parts should be sufficient for most kitchens.