What's up with the price of nutmeg?

I went to the store today to buy nutmeg for the pumpkin bread I’m making tomorrow and I was shocked.

FOUR DOLLARS for a tiny little plastic jar. I didn’t look but I imagine it held, at the very most, 1/4 of a cup.

Why? Is it because the nutmeg people know that nobody ever uses nutmeg except during the holidays, so they have to inflate the price? Is it grown on Jupiter? Does it come from the ass of some endangered mammal? Is there union out there of nutmeg people that shoot those who would grow more of it and increase the nutmeg supply??

Well, I’m not so sure that this can be considered a “factual answer,” but IME all jarred spices you buy at supermarkets are overpriced. The same coriander seeds (just to give one example) you can buy at a supermarket for about $2.50 for less than a quarter cup you can buy at an Indian grocery store for about 99 cents for 100 grams. I think nutmeg has a similar markup.

As for where nutmeg comes from…well, it isn’t from Jupiter, but it is mainly grown in Indonesia. It’s the dried seed of a fruit tree. It doesn’t grow outside of the tropics, so it’s sort of hard to grow some non-union nutmeg in your backyard, unless you happen to live in Sri Lanka or somewhere like that.

And, yes, it is just possible that McCormick jacks up the price of nutmeg for the holidays. The solution, of course, is to visit your friendly Asian or Indian neighborhood grocer. Unless you live, like I do now, in rural America, in which case I guess you just have to buy online or bite the bullet.

Here’s two suggestions for getting cheaper herbs and spices. First don’t buy things in glass jars. Glass jars are expensive compared to plastic. Second find an independent retailer. At my store we have Nutmeg $7.99 for 8 OZ. I can tell you we make a decent profit on it, but nothing compared to what a major chain would be charging for the same thing, and they’d probably get if for less.

Perhaps because supposedly you can get high from it? I’m not going to provide links…search yourself (in Google and in General Questions - it’s been discussed here a lot.)

Nutmeg in WWII … I get this story from my parents. evidently, England was having a problem with people hoarding things that they thought were about to become scarce. The government decided to burn all these hoarders by putting out a perhaps false story that nutmeg was about to become scarce. Then all the hoarders bought up lots of nutmeg and probably still had lots when the war ended. I dunno if it is true but it was told to me as if it was.

If at all you can, don’t buy pre-ground nutmeg - get the whole seed and grate it with the finest holes of a box grater (you always wondered what those were for…) - your taste buds will thank you.

Second on what Mangetout said. The whole nutmeg, freshly-ground is the way to go. It’s cheaper in the long run, as the shelf life of the “nut” is practically forever. I bought about 30 of the nuts 4 or 5 years ago, and whenever I use them they are still potent and very aromatic. That preground stuff is like using sand.They DO sell a special grater just for nutmeg, costs about 2 or 3 bucks. Once you see how easy it is to use nutmeg, you’ll find it can be used in a wide variety of dishes, from sauces to vegetables, and of course, many baked goods.

You might want to try ethnic groceries. I got a six ounce bag for a couple of bucks at an Indian grocery.

You need to buy spices where they move quicky.

The price of nutmeg is determined by supply and demand.

Slight Hijack, but the book “Nathaniel’s Nutmeg” gives an excellent history of Nutmeg (much more interesting than you’d think). It was pretty much the most valuable thing in the world at one time.

In our kitchen there’s a glass container of nutmeg with one of those mill-twisty-top-thingees. Tastes great.

I’ll have to do some research, but the history of nutmeg is interesting…I believe it used to be grown on the Spice Islands in Indonesia (where’d you think they got the name?).

Mace is also made from nutmeg trees.

Nutmeg, marjoram, paprika, chili powder-- I keep running into this problem myself. Wash little jam jars or baby food jars, buy your spices in a bulk store, and keep them in your own jars. Much cheaper and probably fresher too.

I believe a lot of our nutmeg comes from Grenada, in the Caribbean (at the far southern end of the chain, just before Trinidad and Tobago). The processing is a fairly long, labor-intensive undertaking, though it makes for a neat place to visit when you’re there - don’t pass up the nutmeg factory tour!

Other than tourism, it provides one of the only sources of income for the Grenadian people, and they’re very poor by our standards, so I don’t begrudge them the income they get from nutmeg. After all, it’s not something you’re buying every week, is it? Think about how much a cup of some fancy coffee concoction costs at Starbucks!

Not like the Grenadans would actually see much of that money. McCormick’s probably pays them peanuts and marks it up when they jar it and put it on the shelves. Which, I might add, is also the situation with coffee.

Coffee farmers get paid less than production costs by middlemen sometimes known as ‘coyotes’, who then loan the farmers more money to start next year’s crop. Continuous supply of coffee for the coyote (who sells it at a premium to Starbucks), continuous cycle of poverty for the farmers. (If you ever see ‘fair trade coffee’, that refers to coffee which the seller buys directly from a farmer or a co-op at a fair price, eliminating the middleman.)

I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of the exotic spices are farmed in similar unfair fashion.

McCormick is not a wholesaler of spices. There are a number of conglomerates which trade spices on the commodity exchanges of the world’s markets. McCormick is a middleman company with a redlabel monopoly.

The most expensive spice on the world market is saffron at 200 dollars a pound (or thereabouts). The second most expensive is vanilla at about 20 dollars a pound (wildly fluctuating because vanilla has a lot of supply and demand issues). The third most expensive spice is cardamom at about 16 dollars a pound. Nutmeg does not feature prominately up there.

While nutmeg’s history is painful and interesting, it pails in comparison to that of cloves: the deadliest of all spices, cloves inspired the massacre of an entire island’s population in the Moluccas. The penalty for being caught smuggling cloves from Zanzibar up until the 1970s was death.

Nutmeg features on the flag of Grenada. It is the only spice to appear on a national flag.

Mace is the outer coating of the nutmeg nut. The same weight of mace is roughly four times the price of nutmeg.

The fruit of nutmeg can also be eaten. It tastes roughly like a bad apricot. You can make a decent jelly from it, though. You will not find nutmeg fruit in any American grocery stores, AFAIK.

Ground spices should NEVER be bought. Never. That’s a cardinal rule of the universe. Grind your own spices and you’ll thank me. Ground nutmeg goes bad in a matter of hours. Whole nutmeg will keep for up to two to three years. If you freeze it, even longer. And nutmeg is really easy to grate. And whole nutmeg is cheaper!

I second the recommendation to buy in ethnic groceries. WHere I live, the Indian ones are by far the cheapest. Plus the turnover is really high. Half my freezer is full of Ziploc baggies of spices. Basically, it usually costs half the amount to buy a 4-oz. bag of any given spice in an Indian market than to buy a 1/2 oz. glass jar at my supermarket. I usually give half to my mom.

I’ll second this notion - my Indian grocery has many very nice spices for about 1/3 the price of the pre-packaged, mass-produced variety. Especially if you like things like cardamom, asafoetida, fenugreek…

You’re shopping at the wrong stores. I just bought a bottle of McC whole nutmeg at something like $2 off regular. In fact, all of the McC spices were on sale at some nice %-off. (Something like 15-25%, depending on the item) I’m sure I can get it cheaper, but as a bottle is about a half-year supply, it’s still pretty cheap and I can’t complain.

Another benefit to grating your own nutmeg is showmanship in serving. Unless you’re serving “foodies” I’ll bet none of your dinner guests have ever seen nutmeg being grated, much less had it fresh.

Yes, the place to buy spices is at an Indian market. Not only do they move the stock through, they have far more variety than a supermarket. To figure out what that variety is, try some of the spice sites out there; I like http://www-ang.kfunigraz.ac.at/~katzer/engl/index.html for having all sorts of info on the spices: botany, history, uses in cooking, names in different languages,…

FTR, just today I bought half a pound of ground ginger at a local ethnic grocery for $3.75 - and it’s actually good, too. Compare that to the typical price…