Benefits Of: NUTMEG

Myristicaceae (Nutmeg family)

The yellow fruit splits open when ripe, displaying a single oval brown seed surrounded by a bright red aril.

Description. Medium-sized evergreen tree with a dense, rounded crown. Alternate leaves leathery, elliptic, and shiny dark green on the upper surface. White, dioecious, 1-cm-wide (0.4 in) flowers are produced in the axils of the leaves. Yellow fruits are nearly spherical drupes that split open when ripe, displaying a single oval brown seed surrounded by a bright red aril (mace).

Benefits Of: NUTMEG Photo Gallery

Origin and Distribution. Nutmeg grows naturally on the Banda Islands in the Moluccas of eastern Indonesia. Although grown in many tropical countries, it is cultivated mainly in Indonesia, India, Sri Lanka, and Grenada.

Nutmeg was introduced to Europe in the eleventh century by Arab traders. For several centuries the real origin of nutmeg was unknown to Europeans. During the Middle Ages, it was a prized and very costly spice, with trade controlled by the Portuguese until the seventeenth century, when the Dutch gained control of the so-called Spice Islands (Moluccas) in 1621. During the Napoleonic wars, the English brought nutmeg seedlings to their colony Grenada.

Food uses. The seeds and the aril (which is called mace) are used as culinary spices. They are used to flavor bakery goods, meat and pasta dishes, stews, soups, and liqueurs. In Asia, fresh nutmeg seeds are grated to season many savory dishes. In India, where it is called jaiphal, nutmeg is a very popular spice and a common ingredient in many sweet and savory dishes. In Arab countries, nutmeg and mace are used in delicately flavored meat dishes. In Western countries, the spice is added to potato, pasta, and meat dishes as well as sauces such as the French sauce bechamel. In Grenada, nutmeg-flavored ice cream is sold. In Indonesia, the pulp of the fruit, which has an acidic taste, is made into jam or cooked with sugar to make candy.

Comments. Nutmeg seeds contain 7-16% myris-ticin, a weakly psychoactive organic compound that in high doses can cause hallucinogenic effects with very unpleasant side effects, including nausea and headaches. Consumption of very high doses, much higher than used in any cooking, is toxic to humans and can even cause death.

The seeds contain up to 75% fat, which is used as an industrial lubricant. Distillation of ground nutmeg seeds produces an essential oil used in pharmaceutical and cosmetic products and perfumes.

Description. Slow-growing, medium-sized evergreen tree 8-13 m (26-43 ft) tall. Alternate, glabrous, lanceolate leaves measure 8-10 cm (3-4 in) in length. New leaves are salmon-colored. Small, apetalous, dioecious flowers are produced in panicles every two years. Fruits are dark green to black, oblong, 1-seeded berries, 2-3 cm (0.8-1.2 in) long, with a brightly colored, cuplike cupule at the junction with the peduncle.

Origin and Distribution. Native to Amazon lowlands of Colombia and Ecuador as well as parts of Peru and western Brazil. The tree, which grows naturally in the understory of humid rainforests, has been widely used as a spice in tropical South America since pre-Columbian times. Rarely cultivated and little known outside its natural range.

Food uses. Leaves, cupules, and bark have a strong, cinnamon-like aroma. They are used as a spice in modern South American cuisine, especially in desserts and drinks. The leaves can be used to make a delicious tea. Ecuadorian cinnamon is still commonly used to flavor a pudding called mazamorra morada, a popular traditional dessert in Ecuador and Peru made from purple corn and various fruits.

Comments. The tree, called ishpingo in the Quechua language, has been used for millennia and is still used today in religious ceremonies and in the preparation of food offerings. It is also known as American cinnamon. The active ingredients mainly responsible for the cinnamon-like taste are methyl cinnamate and trans-cinnamaldehyde. O. quixos is currently being investigated for its medicinal properties, including anti-inflammatory activity and the prevention of blood clots.

Description. Evergreen, herbaceous, shrubby plant with brown aerial roots, growing to 0.5-1 m (1.63.3 ft) in height. Linear, smooth leaves without spines are arranged in a fan shape. The plant virtually never flowers or produces fruit. The leaves have a strong but pleasant nutty aroma.

Origin and Distribution. The plant may be native to Malaysia, Indonesia, and New Guinea. Pandan is widely cultivated as a dooryard plant from India and Sri Lanka to Southeast Asia and southern China. Very rarely cultivated outside tropical Asia. It requires a humid tropical climate or a monsoon climate.

Food uses. Fresh, fragrant leaves are used as a culinary herb and spice in Southeast Asian as well as Indian and Sri Lankan cuisine. The leaves are often cooked together with rice and coconut milk, enhancing the nutty taste of the rice. In Thai cuisine, pandan leaves are occasionally used as very fragrant wrappers. Pandan chicken (gai hor bai toey) is a favorite in many restaurants: marinated chicken bits are wrapped in pandan leaves and deep-fried in a wok. In Southeast Asia, pandan leaves are commonly used to flavor desserts and drinks, puddings, and ice cream.

Comments. Pandan is the only species of the genus with fragrant leaves. Several other species, including P. utilis, produce edible fruits.

Description. Perennial, shrubby vine, 8-12 m (2639 ft) tall with large pinnate leaves with serrated margins. Flowers pure white with yellow anthers. Red to orange fruits, borne in small clusters, split open when ripe and display a black seed. This lends the fruit the appearance of an “eye,” giving rise to many indigenous legends. The seeds are dispersed mainly by birds.

Origin and Distribution. The guarana grows naturally in tropical rainforests of the Amazon lowlands of Brazil, northern Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Venezuela.

Food uses. The ground guarana seeds contain 4-8% caffeine and other xanthine alkaloids like theobromine and theophyllline. Seeds are used in carbonated soft drinks and so-called energy drinks. They are a main ingredient in the Brazilian and Peruvian guarana sodas. Guarana is known to increase mental alertness and physical endurance and to combat fatigue. It is consumed as a health tonic, a stimulant, and a weight-reduction aid by millions of people. Because of its astringent properties, guarana extracts are used in skin creams and other body care products.

Comments. Indians of the Amazon region have been using guarana seeds for centuries, mainly for their stimulating effect and as medicine for the treatment of chronic diarrhea, headache, hypertension, and several other illnesses. Today 80% of guarana is still produced by traditional methods by the Guarani Indians in the forests of southern Brazil. Cultivation of this plant in its natural habitat is a good example of sustainable usage of tropical rainforests. The seeds are collected in the wild, roasted, and then processed with water into a paste that is then sold. Gurana is being researched for its phytochemical characteristics. It may help in the treatment of headaches and migraines, neuralgia, and rheumatism. The seeds have also shown antibacterial activities and an anitoxidant effect in humans. The popularity of guarana as a dietary supplemant is growing rapidly worldwide.

In Caribbean cuisine, allspice is used to flavor meat dishes, stews, and Jamaican jerk paste.

Description. Small evergreen tree, 8-14 m (26-46 ft) tall. Opposite, oblong, leathery leaves, 10-20 cm (4-8 in) long, give off an aromatic smell when crushed. Small white flowers with multiple long stamens are produced in axillary cymes. Fruits are dark brown ovoid drupes, 0.4-0.6 cm (0.16-0.24 in) long. The leaves and the fruits smell like a combination of cloves, black pepper, nutmeg, and cinnamon, hence the common name.

Origin and Distribution. Native to southern Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean Islands. The tree requires a humid tropical climate. Although cultivated in many tropical regions, allspice is produced mainly in Jamaica and also, but to a much lesser extent, in some Central American countries.

Food uses. The dried, unripe fruits are used as a culinary spice. In Caribbean cuisine, allspice is used to flavor meat dishes, stews, and the typical Jamaican jerk paste, which is made from onions, spices, and very hot chili peppers. This paste is usually used to marinate chicken and beef. In Mexico, allspice is used to flavor traditional mole sauces that are often employed in savory dishes. In Europe, allspice is important for pickling cucumbers and other vegetables.

The spice is also sometimes used as an ingredient in curry powders.

Comments. Allspice is one of the few spices used almost exclusively in the New World and parts of Europe. Although allspice is generally absent from South and Southeast Asian cuisine, the leaves have become a popular seasoning in southern India.

Essentials oils from the fruits are used in cosmetics and perfumes.

Description. Evergreen climbing plant, partly woody, growing up to 20 m (66 ft) in length. Alternate, ovate to cordate, glossy leaves with pointed apex 12-20 cm (5-8 in) long by 6-12 cm (2.4-5 in) wide. Small greenish-white monoecious flowers are produced in pendent spikes 10-12 cm (4-5 in) long. Fruits are small drupes containing a single seed 3-5 mm (0.12-0.2 in) wide. Origin and Distribution. Probably native to Southeast Asia, from where it spread in prehistoric time to India and Sri Lanka. The plant grows in humid tropical climates. Betel pepper is cultivated in home gardens in tropical regions of Asia and to a much smaller extent also in Africa. Food uses. The fresh leaves are usually chewed together with seeds of the betel nut (Areca catechu) or tobacco as a mild stimulant. The traditional betel quid consists of areca nuts, slaked lime, and sometimes tobacco and spices like cloves (Syzygium aro-maticum, p. 305) wrapped in betel pepper leaves and then chewed to release the chemically active compounds.

Comments. In South and Southeast Asia the leaves of betel pepper are of great mythological importance. They are used as offerings in temples and often present at weddings, funerals, and religious ceremonies.

The leaves are also commonly used in traditional medicine to treat infections, stimulate digestion, and kill intestinal parasites. Leaves contain 0.5-1.3% essential oils like chavibetol, chavicol, and eugenol, which are mainly responsible for the stimulating and antiseptic properties of betel pepper.

Description. Perennial woody vine, climbing with roots up to 8 m (26 ft) tall. Leaves alternate, oval, 1018 cm (4-7 in) long, with prominent veins and pointed apices. Tiny flowers are produced on pendulous, grayish-white spikes 10-15 cm (4-6 in) long. Fruits are bright red drupes, about 5 mm (0.2 in) in diameter.

Origin and Distribution. Native to the Malabar region of India. Pepper has been known in Indian cuisine for at least 4,000 years. Arabs brought black pepper to Arabia and Egypt, and from there it found its way into the Roman Europe. During the Middle Ages, black peppercorns were a highly prized trade item, often referred to as black gold. Trade with India was monopolized by Venetian traders, until Vasco da Gama found a new sea route to India by going around the southern tip of Africa in 1498. Today, the main producing countries are India, Vietnam, Brazil, and Indonesia.

Food uses. Peppercorns are used whole or ground as a spice in cuisines throughout the world.

Comments. Green, black, white, and red pepper all originate from the same plant. Green peppercorns are the immature fruits, which are harvested before turning red. They must be kept in brine, oil, or vinegar to prevent them from turning black through oxidation. Black pepper is obtained by harvesting fully grown but still green fruits, which are then dried in the sun. During this process the fruits turn black and wrinkle. Red peppercorns are fully ripe peppercorns; white pepper, which has the strongest pungency, is made from ripe fruits with the outer red hull removed.

The commercially most important form is black pepper. The pungent taste of pepper is caused mainly by the alkaloid-analog compound piperine. Black pepper contains up to 10% piperine and many other essential oils and compounds like limonene, and these are responsible for its distinctive taste. Pepper has also been used since ancient times as medicine against a variety of illnesses like insomnia, indigestion, and liver problems, among many others.

Description. Evergreen, erect shrublet, 0.5-0.9 m (1.6-3 ft) tall. Alternate, glossy, ovate-cordate to oblong 3-veined leaves 6-9 cm (2.4-3.6 in) long and with long petioles. Small flowers with white bracts are produced in erect spikes 2-3 cm (0.8-1.2 in) long. Fruits are red berries.

Origin and Distribution. Native to tropical Asia from India and Sri Lanka to southern China and Southeast Asia. Widely cultivated in warm regions of Asia and especially in Southeast Asia, but rarely elsewhere.

Food uses. The leaves, which have an aromatic, slightly bitter taste, are eaten raw in salads or used to wrap savory snacks like miang kham, a traditional Vietnamese dish consisting of roasted coconut shavings, shallots, shrimps or fish, lime juice, and spices. Cooked leaves have a peppery taste and are often served as appetizers with meat, steamed rice, and vegetables. In Thailand, the leaves are used to wrap snacks that are typically served with fish sauce and palm syrup.

Comments. The plant, which has a variety of vernacular names, is also called wild betel, but should not be confused with the betel pepper (Piper betle, p. 299), which belongs to the same genus.

The leaves are used in traditional Asian medicine to treat diabetes as well as joint aches and bone fractures.

Description. Perennial herbaceous plant 30-60 cm (12-24 in) tall. Opposite, round to oval, simple, fleshy leaves with toothed margins 6-10 cm (2.4-4 in) long. Leaves emit a strong aromatic odor when crushed. Purple, tubular flowers are borne in erect racemes. Fruits single-seeded, achenelike nutlets.

Origin and Distribution. Native to southern and eastern Africa. Widely cultivated throughout the tropics and subtropics. Naturalized in parts of tropical Asia.

Food uses. The fresh or dried, strongly aromatic leaves are used as a spice. They are commonly employed in the preparation of poultry, lamb, and beef dishes. The herb is sometimes used as a substitute for the similar tasting oregano (Origanum vulgare) and Mexican oregano (Lippia graveolens, p. 291).

Comments. The leaves are used in folk medicine to treat colds, fever, stomach aches, and diarrhea.

The hausa potato (P. rotundifolius), native to eastern Africa and Madagascar, produces round starchy tubers that are boiled, fried, or roasted and used in curries and as a side dish; in Southeast Asia, the boiled and mashed tubers are mixed with palm sugar and coconut milk and served as a dessert. P. esculen-tus (finger potato), native to tropical Africa, is also cultivated for its edible starchy tubers. Although several species of Plectranthus bear the name “potato,” they are not closely related to the true potato (Solanum tuberosum, p. 271), which belongs to the Nightshade family.

Description. Perennial grass 4-6 m (13-20 ft) tall with multiple solid stalks containing a juicy, soft fibrous mark. Leaves linear, 1.5-2 m (5-6.6 ft) long by 6-8 cm (2.4-3 in) wide with a prominent midrib. Flowers are produced in erect, silvery white, terminal plumelike panicles. Fruit is a single-seed caryopsis.

Origin and Distribution. S. officinarum is native to New Guinea and adjacent islands of the South Pacific. It spread in prehistoric times to northern Southeast Asia and South Asia. It was in India, between the sixth and fourth century BC, that the Persians, followed by the Greeks, discovered what they called “reeds that produce honey without bees.” Beginning in the sixteenth century, sugarcane was cultivated in the colonies of European nations such as England, Portugal, and Spain, and rapidly began replacing honey, which had been the only available sweetener.

Food uses. Cane stalks contain 12-18% soluble sugars, mainly sucrose, the main source of common sugar. In tropical regions, pieces of cane stalks are chewed for the sweet sap, which is also mechanically extracted and sold as a nonalcoholic drink in markets and at roadside stands. In Latin America, the dried, brown sugarcane juice is formed into bricks called tapa de dulce or rapadura that are used as a sweetener and made into sweets. Jaggery, a solidified molasses, is used in tropical Asia as a sweetener and in cooking.

Molasses derived from cane juice is fermented and distilled to produce rum and sugarcane-based liquors like the Brazilian cachaga. The young, unexpanded inflorescences are eaten raw, steamed, or toasted.

Comments. Sugarcane is one of the world’s largest crops, with Brazil the largest producer, followed by India, China, and Thailand. Ethanol distilled from sugarcane is used as biofuel.

The closely related species S. barberi, S. spon-taneum, S. robustum, and S. sinense are often hybridized with S. officinarum to produce more disease-resistant and productive varieties.

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