Substitutes

Out of Nutmeg? You Probably Have One of These Subs on Hand

Featuring 4 single spices, 3 spice blends, and 2 wildcards.

October 18, 2021
Photo by Julia Gartland

Nutmeg is the spice equivalent of a knitted sweater. Fragrant and warm, you’ll find it giving depth to pumpkin pies, apple spice cakes, cheesy gratins, eggnog, butternut squash soup, super-simple glazed ham…the kind of food you want to eat by a fireplace. But don’t let its absence in your spice rack stop you from cooking recipes that call for it. Here are 9 stupendous substitutes.


Best Nutmeg Substitutes

Mace

Mace is the outer, webbed layer of a nutmeg seed, which is typically ground separately from nutmeg because of its more assertive, piquant taste. Think of it as nutmeg’s sassy twin. Since most nutmeg recipes always call for a small amount—it is a sharp spice, after all—you are fine substituting it with mace 1:1.

Allspice

It sounds like a spice blend, but it’s not! Allspice comes from the Pimenta dioica tree, native to the West Indies, which is why you’ll notice it as a key ingredient in Jamaican jerk chicken. It gets its name because English colonists thought it tasted like a blend of cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg. And its sharp woodiness makes it a fine 1:1 substitute for nutmeg.

Cloves

Both cloves and nutmeg come from trees native to Indonesia and other subtropical climates, which give them a close affinity. Cloves are much more pungent and peppery than nutmeg, however, so you’ll want to use less when substituting. If you’re freshly grinding whole cloves, use 1/4 as much nutmeg; for pre-ground cloves, use half as much. But if a recipe calls for both cloves and nutmeg, don’t double up on the cloves—they are always best when paired with something more mellow to balance its bite.

Cinnamon

Warmer and more playful than nutmeg, cinnamon can sub in for nutmeg’s woody profile. Its brighter taste means you want to use half as much as your nutmeg-using recipe calls for. If your recipe already has cinnamon, then—unlike cloves—you can double up on it, especially if you love the taste of cinnamon (which, let’s be honest, 99 percent of us do).

Spice Mixes: Garam Masala, Chinese Five Spice, or Pumpkin Pie Spice

If you have any of these spice mixes on hand, they will save the day when it comes to substituting nutmeg.

Garam masala, which translates to "hot spices," varies widely, but as in this recipe from Nik Sharma, you can usually bet on it having nutmeg, cinnamon, and cloves. Since garam masala also tends to have cumin, we suggest only using it for savory dishes as a 1:1 substitute.

Chinese five spice, similarly, is a mix that varies greatly, but you can count on cinnamon and star anise making an appearance. It’s a great substitute in savory dishes; for sweet dishes, that’s for you to decide. It is a bit more versatile than garam masala in that the liquorice-y taste is more welcome than cumin or coriander. If you, like us, love peppery flavors in everything from stir-frys to vanilla ice cream, then five-spice makes an excellent sweet dish substitute as well.

Of these three, pumpkin pie spice is the most versatile spice blend to use as a nutmeg substitute, especially in desserts. It typically contains nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, and ginger, so you can count on it to add nutmeg-like warmth to any dish.

Wildcards: Ginger or Cardamom

If you’re willing to alter the flavor profile of your dish slightly, then consider using ground ginger or cardamom as your nutmeg substitute. Be warned that both these ingredients are loud and bright, and much less woody than nutmeg. But if your recipe calls for a small amount of nutmeg, then one of these could sub in for nutmeg’s warmth while providing a bit more zing.

What's your favorite nutmeg substitute? Let us know in the comments.
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1 Comment

judy October 29, 2021
Always lots of options. I find that I am sing a lot of anise lately. Certainly not a sub per se for nutmeg, but when substituting, you might find a new flavor profile that you really like, and would never have tried otherwise. That is what happened with me and anise. Have been using it a lot lately. It is an excellent substitute for Thai Basil, for example. They both have a licorice-esque flavor, and anise is much easier to keep on hand. I also have a very difficult time finding Thai Basil. But one of those elusive Thai flavors is licorice. I learned this while spending time in Chiang Mei. Simply did not have Thai Basil, and gave the anise a try. So good. I use it in all kinds of things now--both savory and sweet. So my point? give alternatives a try it might lead to great culinary adventure.!!