Mace is a spice made from the waxy red covering that surrounds nutmeg seeds. The flavor is similar to that of nutmeg, with a hint of pepper and a more subtle note which can be overwhelmed by heavy-handed cooks. It is readily available in many cooking supply stores in both whole and ground form, and it has a wide range of uses from desserts to savory roast meats. The versatile flavor can make mace a useful spice to have around, especially since many recipes call for it.
The nutmeg tree is native to tropical Indonesia, in a region known as the Spice Islands, and parts of Southeast Asia, where it has been used to produce spices for centuries. The fruits of the nutmeg tree enclose the richly flavored nutmeg seeds; mace is found between the exterior fruit and the internal seed, and it takes the form of bright waxy red bands which surround the seed. Europeans were introduced to this spice by the Dutch, who at one point held a formidable spice monopoly in much of Southeast Asia.
As mace dries, it turns more orange in color; high quality spice retains this orange color, although some varieties are also creamy or brown. Whole dried mace is known as a blade; blades are preferable to ground mace since cooks can grind what they need as they need it, preserving the flavor. Ground mace is sometimes more readily available, depending on the region. Both should be stored in a cool dry place, and they should not be exposed to moisture.
Because the flavor is very delicate, blades and ground mace should be carefully stored and used quickly to maximize the flavor. Many recipes which recommend mace also call for the spice to be added at the end of the cooking process, if possible. This practice is actually very common with a wide range of spices, since cooking changes the flavor profile and tends to make spices bitter. Obviously, in things like baked goods and roast meats, the mace is added at the beginning, along with all the other ingredients.
Mace can be used much like nutmeg would in things like cakes, scones, and spice cookies. It can also be used in curries, soups, cream sauces, roasts, and a range of other ingredients. Some traditional Middle Eastern and Southeast Asian spice blends also call specifically for mace. To refresh spice that has gone stale from long storage, lightly toast it before use.