Nutmeg – another nutty problem? or just innocent food?

The nutmeg tree is used to produce nutmeg, just as the name suggests, but did you also know that mace is produced from the same seed as nutmeg? Something I never knew before researching this spice. Nutmeg is the seed of the nutmeg tree, it’s kind of shaped like an egg and mace is the dried “lacy” reddish covering or aril of the seed.

So nutmeg and mace are spices, right? But since they come from the seed of a tree, does that put them right back into the nut camp?

After hearing that someone’s wife, with a severe nut allergy, avoids nutmeg, as well as every food with the word nut in it’s title, I felt I should investigate further to discover what this nutty little spice really was. For the record, I’m not allergic to either, as far as I’m aware! I have both spices in the cupboard and use them in baking when the recipe requires it, having been told it was fine, and indeed finding it so.

So, Should people with nut allergy avoid nutmeg and mace?

The Anaphylaxis Campaign provide the following advice on their website: “Because of its name, many people with nut allergy believe that nutmeg must be avoided at all costs. It is possible that they are being over-cautious because there is no hard evidence to suggest that people with nut allergy are particularly at risk from nutmeg, and the incidence of nutmeg allergy is thought to be rare. However, not enough research has been carried out to be certain about how much of a problem it is. Nutmeg is the kernel of an apricot-like fruit and there is just the possibility that there might be cross-reactivity with almond, which is also a fruit kernel. If you are allergic to nuts and have never had a reaction to nutmeg it is likely that nutmeg poses no greater risk than many other foods. However, it would be sensible to be cautious, particularly if you are allergic to almonds or other fruit kernels such as apricot.”

Watch out for a wooden nutmeg!

Did you know that Connecticut in the USA was given the nickname of ‘the nutmeg state’ or ‘nutmegger’ after many of its inhabitants carved pieces of wood to resemble a real nutmeg and sold them fraudulently! Nutmeg must have been highly prized and expensive for such lengths to be gone. I guess you’d be quite annoyed when you tried to bite into or grind up your nutmeg only to discover all you had was a broken tooth or sawdust! The term ‘wooden nutmeg’ can be used to mean fraud for this reason.

It was also used as a drug due the fact that large doses can cause delirium and phsychoactive effects.
Pregnant women should beware because nutmeg was also thought to induce an abortion; it’s perfectly safe in culinary uses but large quanitites should be avoided. Just thought I’d mention that in case any of you were going to go and smoke a jar of nutmeg any time soon! Ref: Wikipedia

Nutmeg, a high histamine food

I learnt from the Allergy UK website that nutmeg is classified as a high histamine food, meaning it causes the body to produce histamine; for someone with a histamine intolerance this could cause problems. Read more about foods that are high and low in histamine on the Allergy UK website.

Can you be allergic nutmeg?

It’s very rare to be allergic to nutmeg but there are people who are. Due to it being a spice it can be very tricky to avoid. It’s not one of the top eleven allergens so it doesn’t need to listed as an ingredient and could come under the rather useful umbrella of ‘spices’. Nutmeg and mace could be used in baked goods, pastry, crisp flavourings, cakes, biscuits, curry sauces; you name it, it could have spices in it.

I found one first hand account from a mother who discovered her child had a nutmeg allergy but on the whole it appears to be pretty rare.

This has made me think about nutmeg. It isn’t a spice one would consume regularly, but since I’ve had more anaphylactic reactions than I’d care to remember where the culprit has not been identifed perhaps I should be looking farther afield to find the trigger. With peanut and tree nut allergies under my belt I could well be harbouring a nutmeg in there somewhere. Another one for the challenge test!

Anyone have an allergy to nutmeg or mace? Or have a peanut or tree nut allergy but are able to eat nutmeg? Don’t let this little spice get past you with a sneaky nutmeg!

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About Ruth

Ruth works freelance as a copywriter and writes the What Allergy blog to share information with people who have allergies, eczema, asthma and food intolerances. was voted in the top 5 allergy blogs and Ruth also judges regularly for the FreeFrom Food Awards and FreeFrom Skincare Awards. She also won the Foods You Can People's choice Best FreeFrom blogger award 2014.


  1. Excellent article. Presumably Connecticut residents’ practices are responsible for the term “to nutmeg” someone when playing football (kick the ball through your opponent’s legs)?

  2. I have a sudden nut allergy as of 3 years ago. So far it has been all nuts. I used mace instead of nutmeg in a pumpkin pie not knowing that mace was from nutmeg.I too was under the assumption that with nut being in the name that it was a nut. I did have a allergic reaction which is hives and a rash on my face and lips and ears so far.

    • I have an allergy to the birch tree which is co-allergic to many tree fruits and tree nuts including apricots and almonds. I just tried a cleanse drink that has nutmeg in it. My tonsils seemed weird, my face got flushed and my face puffed… all allergy signs. I checked on the net and as I cannot eat apricots, peaches, almonds etc. have realized it is the nutmeg I am reacting too. It is not a severe allergic reaction but will avoid it from now one and discontinue this cleanse.

      • Yes nutmeg has a confusing name and I think often many people with a nut allergy might be able to eat it, but it has lots in common with birch. It currently doesn’t have to be labelled as an allergen so watch out for ‘spices’ on labels where it could be hidden. Also avoid mace which is from the same plant so could well give you a similar problem.

  3. My 3.5 year old son is allergic to Nutmeg. He has positive cap rast histamine reactions to sesame, sunflower and mustard seeds, nuts and peanut, so it came as no surprise when he reacted (hives on face) to a trace amount. I hate it that most of what is found on the internet claims that nutmeg allergy is such a rarity. With seed allergy being the fastest growing allergy these days I’m sure nutmeg allergy isn’t the rarity that most articles claim it is.

    • Dee L. Molitor says:

      I am an 80 year old with a long standing nutmeg allergy which includes respiratory symptoms and chest pain. This allergy is well documented. In your list of foods that often include nutmeg in the “spices” listing, add many sausage products. I know it is used in many bratwurst and other products. It drives me “nuts” that it is not listed separately. Incidently, I am NOT allergic to any nuts, though I do have many other allergies.

  4. some caramel color and flavoring is nutmeg or mace

  5. I’m so happy to come across this website. I have so many food allergies (gluten, soy, dairy, flax). Last week my allergist tested me for nuts and seeds as well as nutmeg and it came up positive. I recently had some pumpkin spice coconut milk (coconut hasn’t caused me any problems) and had a terrible reaction. I thought it was the coconut milk because the label didn’t list “nutmeg” it listed “spices”. After e-mailing the company they ensured me that nutmeg was part of the spices. I had no swelling just my heart beating so fast I thought it was going to beat out of my chest. Companies don’t realize that anyone can be allergic to anything and that they need to be more clear when they use terms like “spices” Anyone else have a reaction like that?

    • Hi Angela, it’s a bit a eureka moment when you work out what’s causing your allergic reactions isn’t it? My lastest weird one was kidney beans. Full on, instant massive reaction. I don’t even like them! ‘Spices’ should now become your alarm bell, especially at Christmas when everything seems to contain nutmeg, mace (from the same plant) and coriander – another of my nemesis allergens. I have only had a reaction like you describe to some drugs I was prescribed which contained some lactose – it was very weird, I also felt dizzy, confused, a bit light headed and it lasted for a good 3-4 hours, like I was VERY drunk.

      • Yes that is exactly what happened to me. I thought I was having a panic/anxiety attack. The heart palpitations were first and then full blown racing heart. Except I just woke up and was not anxious in anyway. I using the pumpkin spice coconut milk to make pancakes. I left the house for 2 hours and my boyfriend made the rest of the batter. Even though he had fans going when I came back my symptoms started right back up. This is so bizarre to me. I just tested positive for peanuts today so now my allergist wants me to stay away from all nuts including coconut. Is that normal? I’m so new the allergy world and there are so many controversies about them I get frustrated.

        • Hi Angela, I’m not sure about avoiding coconut as well, especially as you think you can eat coconut OK. Coconut is not technically a nut but you could discuss this with your allergy doctor. He may have his reasons. The fact you react to peanuts and nutmeg does suggest you are very sensitive. And the allergy world is very confusing. Some people can eat most nuts but not one type e.g. peanuts. Peanuts are actually a legume and not a nut but people with a peanut allergy often also react to other nuts. I can’t eat any nuts but I CAN eat coconut and I suspect I’m OK with almonds but I’m worried about cross contamination due to the way they are harvested and stored. Stay away from the pumpkin spice coconut milk though!

  6. I am allergic to nutmeg, licorice, dill, pimento and mustard. The allergist did a prick test and there was no reaction on top of my skin. But my arm was burning, I wanted to scratch my arm off. The nurse was wiping off the marker when she stretched my skin and could see the welts under my skin. I have to ask about spices at restaurants all the time, and check labels for the dreaded “spices”.

    • That is really interesting DeLona, I’ve not heard of welts hiding under the skin. Something maybe the allergy testers should look out for. When I had the tests done they didn’t wipe off the marker so in that case, they would never have noticed the welts. Did you tell them it was burning like crazy too? I’m sure you did anyway. If you are allergic to nutmeg you might also have a problem with mace which comes from the same family. I have a problem with coriander but weirdly mostly fresh coriander, or in large quantities. A small amount in a thai chilli paste seems to be OK for me. I suspect dill also gives me a problem and I KNOW celery is evil for me. Mustard I am glad to say causes me no problems. Licorice is an interesting one though. It’s quite a strong tasting thing. Is it a spice? Anyway thanks for sharing. Watch out for those spices. Avoid the mulled wine this Christmas!

  7. I am in the hospital right now with my 22mon old son who does have a serve nutmeg allergy this has helped me understand a little more about it…

    • Hi there, I am so sorry to hear about your son. How awful, just before xmas as well. Nutmeg allergy is very poorly understood, most doctors wouldn’t test for it. I have a nut allergy which started with peanuts but also to most other nuts but I CAN eat almonds, coconut, nutmeg and mace. All very confusing. And am terrified to try almonds due to cross contamination with other nuts. Hope you get home safely soon.

  8. I get swollen lips if I eat something with nutmeg. I’m allergic to almonds so it could be a crossed reaction.

    • Weirdly I am allergic to peanuts and other tree nuts but seem to be OK with nutmeg and almonds… don’t risk the almonds though due to all the warnings about may contain peanuts. Nutmeg is hidden in so many foods you least expect to contain it. Stay safe and thanks for sharing.

      • It’s in fact an allergy to birch pollen, with cross reaction to apples, almonds, hazelnuts, peaches, …

        • Ah yes the old oral allergy syndrome. I used to get that badly but seem to be OK as I’ve got older. I used to get swollen lips when I ate apples and have a problem with almonds. My hay fever has got much better and I can now eat apples with no swelling and I seem to be OK with almonds too. Still got the nut allergy. Could nutmeg be reacting due to your birch allergy? So complex all this. Shame it’s not always so well labelled.

    • Oh wow Elena, I just completed a patch test where I was tested for 100+ ingredients, after months of suffering with lip swelling and extreme dryness. I had a reaction to Nutmeg/Mace & curry. The fact that nutmeg is not listed as a ingredient sounds like a life long battle in food choices and figuring out wether is contains it or not 🙁

      • For me nowadays it happens with many veggies, fruits and cereals, including wheat, rice, corn and even olive oil. It’s a nightmare.

  9. Shannon says:

    I have had two cases of anaphylaxis after consuming nutmeg over the past month… even though I’ve never had a single allergy in my lifetime (until now). Needless to say I have been avoiding it at all costs! I have eating basically every common nut (peanuts, walnuts, almonds, etc) and have had no reaction, so I don’t think the two are at all related- people with nut allergies should be fine to eat nutmeg, considering it is a seed not a nut. For those of you who do have a nutmeg allergy, or think you might, Coca- Cola and spiced rum both contain nutmeg or nutmeg oil, so be careful it really is in more things than you know 🙁

    • Coke contains nutmeg? Well I never knew that. And you’re right, I have an allergy to peanuts and tree nuts but I’m fine with nutmeg. Hidden in so many things like mulled wine, cakes, biscuits, flavoured crisps, stock cubes, sauces, even jam sometimes… another tricky one to avoid. I wonder what sparked your nutmeg allergy then. Aren’t our bodies weird?

  10. I have recently developed an allergy to nutmeg. I started out with an allergy to peanuts at around age 12. Gradually the allergy spread to all nuts. Right around Christmas time this year I had a reaction to an eggnog latte from Starbucks. My tongue swelled and it was hard to speak for a few hours. Honestly I didn’t think much of it, the tongue I thought perhaps I had burned it and the ill feeling I associated with the dairy (which I also have an allergy for but less severe). The very next week I went to a dinner party that ended with home-made apple pie. The hosts knew I was allergic to nuts and were very good about that. BY the time I arrived home my tongue was swollen so large I could barely speak and my throat started to close off. My entire face ballooned so big I could barely see out of my eyes. This was one of my scariest reactions yet as I couldn’t figure out for a few weeks what had caused it. Nutmeg allergy can be very severe!!

    • Hi Jasper, now that is worrying. I too have a peanut allergy but so far can eat nutmeg without any problems. Shows you have to be on your guard and monitor any symptoms and always always be very aware of what you’re eating. Glad you have worked out what was causing it but it’s a tricky one to avoid.

  11. I do not have tree nut allergies. I have Celiac disease and I react badly to nutmeg – always have. I don’t get the traditional reaction. I get abdominal cramps and huge amounts of intestinal gas to the point I feel my insides will explode. Gas reducing medicines barely help. I avoid nutmeg – too painful!

  12. I have an allergy to nutmeg and am SO glad to read that I am not the only one! I felt so ‘weird’. It is strange that I get blotchy rashes from “warm spices” such as ginger, cardamom, cinnamon, clove, allspice, and coriander however not so severe as what I get from eating foods with nutmeg in it. Nutmeg gives me big hives and my lips and ears get puffy. So now I stay clear of nutmeg, for sure!

    • You’re right, it is very hard to avoid as it’s added as a ‘spice’ in so many things and because it’s not one of the 14 allergens that should be labelled, it may even not be mentioned if in very tiny quantities. Best to avoid all possible sources where spices are listed if possible unless you can check. Keep away from that nutmeg

    • Penny McShane says:

      I have had a severe nutmeg allergy since about 8 years old. Up to now I have only met one other person who had a nutmeg allergy, so I am so appreciative of these posts! My last incident was eating alfredo at a beautiful winery. I had only taken a few bites. Suddenly I had heart palpitations with a huge adrenaline release. I looked at my arm and it was starting to blister. I instantly started to itch all over. It is the same reaction I had with penicillin. I immediately grabbed my purse and took an antihistamine. The waiter checked for me, and the chef had grated fresh nutmeg on the alfredo, and in the alfredo, and I never noticed it. It was so scary. Allspice and coriander give me an instant headache. I always ask if an apple dessert has nutmeg in it. It seems really common today that apple desserts have nutmeg in them, along with chutney’s, curries, etc. That link to the UK Allergy website was really informative. I have wanted to try cardamon in recipes, but I have been afraid to.

      • Hi Penny, I’ve met more people avoiding nugmeg because they think it’s a nut and therefore they may also be allergic. But you are one of very few who who know they react to this spice. Unfortunately it is stealthily hidden in so many things from crisp flavourings to chutneys, mulled wine, biscuits etc. Thanks for sharing your comment.

  13. Kelli Johnson says:

    I discovered last fall that I have an allergy to Nutmeg. I was having my favorite pumpkin spice latte when I realized that my tongue because to feel really itchy. Thankfully, I was close to a pharmacy, having never had food allergies in my life until a couple years ago. She confirmed that it was an allergic reaction. Now, I have to be extra careful about what I eat and drink. It’s not always as easy as one might think. Oh, and by the way, thanks for the heads up about it being in spiced rum too. I’ll look into that.

    • So many of you who are allergic to nutmeg. I’m actually OK with it, though I do have an allergy to nuts and peanuts. I know people with a nut allergy who avoid it thinking it’s a nut but it has more in common with spices doesn’t it? And not easy to avoid so I do feel for you guys.

  14. I have a stone fruit allergy (peaches, plum, nectarine) anyway I found out the hard way I was allergic to nutmeg while eatting gluten free (non-celiac gluten allergy too) potato soup. I get super disoriented – lips buzz and swell. It’s really alarming had no idea nutmeg was the pit of a fruit. I saw that it is a high hystimine I am allergic to weed, tree and grass as well. Thanks for the super informative post.

  15. Hi Ruth!

    I haven’t got ‘allergies’ as such, just many, many food intolerances – lactose being the cause of most discomfort! I was wondering, as I am intolerant to Mace, and it comes from Nutmeg, is it okay for me to eat Nutmeg? I am confused about what compounds, etc, cause me to have a reaction. I have never experienced a prob with Nutmeg before, as far as I can remember, but Mace did come up on my intolerance test. It’s the same the pumpkin – I love pumpkin flesh, but am intolerant to the seeds. I just avoid it entirely now just incase the seeds have contaminated the flesh with what I am intolerant to…..arghhhh…it’s hard navigating this diet when I have so many intolerances! It doesn’t end with food items either, so I have to Google most things I eat just incase something is derived from the non-food items! Thanks 🙂 Very helpful article.

    • That is confusing but it’s so complex, as you have discovered. I would continue eating nutmeg if you’re OK with it. It’s from a slightly different part of the plant. I’m not an expert though and I’m OK with mace too so may not be the best person to ask on this one. Anyone got any ideas? Mace vs Nutmeg? I can eat cooked coriander in small quantities but can’t even go near fresh coriander. React really fast to it. Urgh! Tastes like soap too.

      • Thanks Ruth!
        I think it should be okay to eat Nutmeg, thinking about it, as I think the lab would have specified Nutmeg and not ‘Mace’.
        It’s funny, but I had a DNA test done (the 123 & Me test) and it does tell you whether you are likely to like Coriander lol I love it and the test did determine that, but it does say that some people experience ‘a mouth full of soap’ taste from it! I found that very interesting. Coriander’s my favourite herb and it’s very good for removing metal toxicity build up in the body. Maybe they do it in capsule form for those that hate the taste. 🙂

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