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!

Did you like this? Share it:
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. http://www.whatallergy.com was voted in the top 5 allergy blogs and Ruth also judges regularly for the FreeFrom Food Awards and FreeFrom Skincare Awards. She runs a support group for the Anaphylaxis Campaign and also writes regularly for Exchange, The National Eczema Society quarterly magazine.

Comments

  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.

  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, …

  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 nutmet? Well I never knew that. And you’re right, I have an allergy to peanuts and tree nuts but I’m find 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 out 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.

Speak Your Mind

*


9 − seven =