This wonderful spice is the aril, or covering layer of the nutmeg that acts as a placenta, transferring nourishment from the fruit to the seed of the nutmeg tree, Myristica fragens.
The tree is native to the Banda Islands in Indonesia, but is now grown in spice producing nations the world over. It is a tropical evergreen that grows to a height of 10 metres (25 feet). The tree is fully mature and hence produces a reliable crop at the age of 15 years. The fruit itself bears more than a passing resemblance to a nectarine, but has a pungently sour flavour and is of only limited culinary interest.
Opening the fruit reveals the nutmeg. It is enmeshed in a blood red lacy web, clinging so tightly to the nutmeg that it leaves its imprint, this web is mace.
Once dried, the colour of mace tones down to a dull reddish brown colour. When sold whole or in pieces mace is referred to as a blade, however, it is more often found powdered. The flavour of mace is unsurprisingly reminiscent of nutmeg, with a slightly subtler taste containing overtones of coriander seeds. Unlike nutmeg, mace will often be found flavouring seafood and lighter meat dishes, such as chicken, in line with its more gentle flavour. It is an indispensable ingredient in the ancient English bread sauce.
Just like nutmeg, mace contains small amounts of the hallucinogenic compounds myristicin and eleminicin.