Nutmeg and mace became known in Europe comparatively late because of the very limited geographical distribution of the nutmeg tree. Only in the 11. th century it was introduced to European markets by Arab traders; it was first used chiefly for flavouring beer (see gale). The spice was thought to originate from India.
Although nutmeg was available in Europe since the 13. th century, significant trade started not before the 16. th century, when Portuguese ships sailed to India and further, to the famed Spice Islands (Moluccas), today the Maluku province in Eastern Indonesia. During the 17. th century, the Dutch succeeded in monopolizing the nutmeg trade, as they did with cloves. Keeping the monopoly was easy as the Banda islands, the only place where nutmeg grows naturally, were so tiny and isolated.
Naturally, nutmeg is limited to the Banda Islands, a tiny archipelago in Eastern Indonesia (Moluccas). Main producing countries today are Indonesia (East Indian Nutmeg) and Grenada (West Indian Nutmeg); while Indonesian nutmegs are mainly exported to Europe and Asia, Grenada nutmeg mostly finds its way into the USA.
Both spices are strongly aromatic, resinous and warm in taste. Mace is generally said to have a finer aroma than nutmeg, but the difference is small. Nutmeg quickly loses its fragrance when ground; therefore, the necessary amount should be grated from a whole nut immediately before usage.