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?

  • 2
    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, 2010 at 20:54
  • 1
    +1 Good to see this question turned around into a useful resource.
    – JYelton
    Jul 9, 2010 at 22:25

4 Answers 4


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.

  • 2
    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, 2010 at 17:55
  • 2
    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, 2010 at 19:22
  • 4
    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, 2010 at 21:08
  • 2
    "Nutmeg is eggnog" is a really unhelpful part of what is otherwise a great answer, for those of us outside North America where eggnog is not traditional at any time of year.
    – dbmag9
    Nov 25, 2018 at 10:46

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.


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.

  • 1
    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, 2010 at 21:42

For once, "substitute one for the other" would imply "in equal amounts" ... which would be an obviously nonsensical and unsafe substitution - if you would sub in an equal amount of ground nutmeg for the amount of cinnamon in a cinnamon-heavy recipe, you would make it a) inedible to most - that would be an insanely intense nutmeg flavor, and b) poisonous if consumed in quantity (a tbsp of ceylon (see below) cinnamon to a dish would be just a tad strong, a tbsp of ground nutmeg would likely make you sick from toxicity.

BTW, If you plan on using cinnamon in large amounts, get something labelled ceylon cinnamon; the commonly sold ground cinnamon is actually ground cassia, which tastes a bit more intense but can, just like nutmeg, become unsafe (has far higher levels of coumarin, a substance that is found in woodruff too and is used to make ... rat poison!) from when using a lot of it.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.