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I read a while ago that nutmeg and cinnamon are really similar and you can easily substitute one for the other. Yet many recipes call for both cinnamon and nutmeg so it seems like there must be some kind of difference.

What are the specific differences between cinnamon and nutmeg? And are they significant enough to justify buying both cinnamon and nutmeg?

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I think this is a valid question; maybe not one I would upvote, but I don't think a downvote is required either. @Kyra: I would perhaps remove your wording "Do you think that" in favor of "Are" just so it is less subjective. –  JYelton Jul 9 '10 at 20:54
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+1 Good to see this question turned around into a useful resource. –  JYelton Jul 9 '10 at 22:25
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3 Answers

up vote 4 down vote accepted

They're completely different.

Cinnamon is warm, woody, hot, sweet, spicy, bark. Nutmeg is eggnog. If you want something to taste like Christmas, use it.

They're both delicious, versatile, and can work well together.

By volume, you can use much more cinnamon than nutmeg. Nutmeg is "a dash of" kind of spice, while cinnamon can be mixed with butter or sugar and slathered on basically any pastry. (Equivalent amounts of nutmeg would probably get you stoned, but that's for another forum).

Also, nutmeg shares flavor notes and aroma with allspice and cloves.

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Heh, great description of cinnamon. Nutmeg doesn't remind me of Christmas though, sage does. I can't put nutmeg into words. –  hobodave Jul 27 '10 at 17:55
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As ocaasi alluded to, nutmeg is a hallucinogen in large enough quantities: ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1699804 ; In our family, its used in more than eggnog -- bechamel and other cream sauces, banana bread, cookies, etc. (and like hobodave, I can't explain it in words ... it's that 'je ne sais quoi') You also have to remember that there are two major varients of cinnamon (cassia vs. ceylon). What we get in the US tends to be cassia, not 'true' cinnamon. –  Joe Jul 27 '10 at 19:22
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Don't discount the use of nutmeg in savory foods... Gravies, roasts, and stews can benefit from a bit of the stuff as well (a small bit...) –  Shog9 Jul 27 '10 at 21:08
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Cinnamon is from the bark of a tree, and nutmeg is a seed. Cinnamon is the "hot" flavor in a lot of candies, e.g. "Hot Tamales", as well as being used in apple pie and cinnamon rolls. Nutmeg is more subtle, often used with other spices, sometimes including cinnamon. Beyond this, let your taste buds decide.

And yes, it's worth it to buy both spices if your recipes call for them.

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Well said. It's also worth picking up some mace, which is basically the shell of a nutmeg, if you're into playing with these flavors in detail. Oh, and there are a couple of varieties of cinnamon, and they taste somewhat different, and you get what you pay for! –  Harlan Jul 9 '10 at 21:42
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Try to remember where you read that. And then don't read them anymore.

If you find your nutmeg and cinnamon tasting at all similar, they've both turned to dust and should be discarded.

And next time, buy whole nutmeg - it tastes much better freshly-grated, and keeps much longer without turning into vaguely-spicy-bitter dust.

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+1 for condescending (but completely correct) answer! –  Harlan Jul 9 '10 at 21:41
    
+1 for gutsy answer –  papin Jul 15 '10 at 4:43
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