Nutmeg in Jamaica

In the West Indies, Grenada is perhaps better known for this spice than Jamaica, however, the tree is grown here and there have been some recent studies on its chemistry done in the Department.
The seed from the tree (Myristica fragrans) is called nutmeg and the yellow to red aril covering the seed is called mace.

nutmegnutmeg and mace

McCormicks consumer guide has a few more details.
The annual production of nutmeg oil is around 300 tonnes and the major producers are Indonesia and Sri Lanka. The major market is the USA (75%). Some European oil is distilled from Grenadian nutmegs and in general the yield on steam distillation is about 11% oil.

A plot from a GC/MS of the volatile oil from the seed is given below and the numbered peaks are identified as:

GC/MS of nutmeg

  1. (2902) α-pinene MOL or MS
  2. sabinene PDB or MS
  3. (2903) β-pinene PDB or MS
  4. myrcene PDB or MS
  5. (2633) limonene MOL or MS
  6. α-terpinene PDB
  7. (2248) terpinen-4-ol PDB or MS
among the major ingredients. The numbers in brackets are the FEMA codes (Flavor and Extract Manufacturers' Association of the USA). An interactive display using JSmol is available as well.

A recent study on nutmeg oil from St Catherine, Jamaica and other West Indian nutmeg oils revealed significant differences that could be used to distinguish between them.

Weight percent (w/w%) composition of nutmeg oils by country
Compound Grenada Indonesia Jamaica
α-pinene 13.2 26.5 19.9
β-pinene 8.0 15.0 18.8
myrcene 3.4 3.7 4.7
α-phellandrene 0.7 0.9 1.6
α-terpinene 4.2 2.0 2.1
limonene 4.4 3.6 4.8
p-cymene 0.8 0.6 <0.1
linalool 0.3 0.2 0.3
terpinen-4-ol 4.7 3.0 17.8
α-terpineol 0.3 0.6 0.4

The myristicin component is insecticidal and is thought to contribute to the hallucenogenic properties of the extracts. It is normally lower in oil distilled from West Indian nutmegs and the recent study found only trace amounts in Jamaican nutmeg oil.


Antibacterial eugenol and lignan-types of constituents of the nuts are anti-carcinogenic.
Safrole is suspected of being toxic (carcinogenic)?
Most of the production of nutmeg oil is for use in cola flavours with smaller amounts used in meat seasonings and bakery products.

Monodora myristica is known by several names such as; calabash nutmeg, American nutmeg, Jamaica nutmeg and African orchid nutmeg. This is not listed in Adams, so perhaps not very common here?
"Food Flavourings", Edited by P.R. Ashurst, Blackie Academic and Professional, an imprint of Chapman and Hall, Wester Cleddens Road, Bishopbriggs, Glascow, G64 2NZ, UK. 2nd edit. 1995.
"Comparison of the Chemical Composition of East Indian, Jamaican and other West Indian Essential Oils of Myrista fragrans Houtt". G.I.C. Simpson and Y.A. Jackson, J. of Essential Oil Research, 2002, 14, 6-9.
"Natural Products in Caribbean Folk Medicine", C.E. Seaforth, UWI Press, revised 1991.
"Flowering Plants of Jamaica", C.D. Adams, Robert MacLehose and Company Limited, The University Press, Glasgow, 1972.

Return to links to the chemistry of other Jamaican items, including spices and fruit and vegetables.

Dr Bird logoReturn to Chemistry, UWI-Mona, Home Page

Copyright © 1995-2014 by Robert John Lancashire, all rights reserved.

Created and maintained by Prof. Robert J. Lancashire,
The Department of Chemistry, University of the West Indies,
Mona Campus, Kingston 7, Jamaica.
Created Feb 1995. Links checked and/or last modified 8th August 2014.