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Nutmeg vs. Cinnamon: What’s the Difference?

16 June 2023

Nutmeg and cinnamon provide strong, intense, and impactful flavours to sweets, warm drinks, puddings, and alcoholic beverages. Although recipes often use these spices together, they are inherently different.

While most individuals readily identify cinnamon in a recipe, can your taste buds distinguish nutmeg notes? As spice suppliers in Canada, we at Hela Spice know that most people struggle to differentiate between the two spices.

Nutmeg vs. Cinnamon

These two spices come from different trees. Cinnamon grows on a cinnamon tree’s bark. Meanwhile, nutmeg is a seed located on an Indonesian evergreen tree. Cinnamon is warm, spicy, and sweet. Nutmeg provides a pungent, subtle flavour with a slightly sweet aftertaste. When combined, cinnamon will overshadow nutmeg.

The ways these spices are used in recipes also differ. Cinnamon flavours sweet dishes, and nutmeg goes well in savoury dishes. Nutmeg will complement items like dairy and potatoes well. However, they are equally used in several dishes.

Now that we have provided a basic overview, let’s delve into each to understand their cooking usage better.

What is cinnamon?

Cinnamon comes in varieties, the most common being Ceylon from Sri Lanka and Chinese (cassia). Chinese cinnamon is more robust than Ceylon since it contains more cinnamaldehyde, which enriches the spicy flavour. This spice has a stronger flavouring, while Ceylon cinnamon is sweeter and slightly more delicate.

The only way someone can tell the differences in the spices is when they are in sticks. Ceylon cinnamon appears papery and thin. Chinese cinnamon is cut into longer pieces and is thicker.

What is nutmeg?

Nutmeg is a dried seed designed to be grated into or onto your food. Like cinnamon, it is ground. In appearance, nutmeg looks like an almond-walnut cross. It provides a vaguely sweet, yet pungent smell.

As nutmeg is a seed, it provides a smaller yield per tree, making it more expensive. The papery skin surrounding the nutmeg seed is mace, which is another spice even more costly than nutmeg.

Nutmeg is found in pre-ground formats in a tightly-sealed spice packet to retain freshness. You can buy whole nutmeg, but this is rare.

Comparing and Contrasting the Two Spices

Regarding flavour, cinnamon has sweeter and warmer notes. In large amounts, it can provide a spicy heat to a dish. Cinnamon is a deep, woody flavour and is easily recognizable when it comes to smell.

Meanwhile, nutmeg is milder. It only has a sweet aftertaste and pungent aroma. It is not easily discernible when paired with other spices. Nutmeg also is not as sweet compared to cinnamon. In fact, cinnamon will frequently overpower it.

While this may appear odd when considering nutmeg’s pungency, think of its application to milk. When added to milk, nutmeg will turn it from a little sweet to sour once it begins curdling. You should use it sparingly if you are sensitive to pungent or sour flavours.


Since nutmeg is produced in smaller quantities because it is a seed, it costs more. One Myristica fragrans tree has only so much nutmeg, and takes a minimum of seven years to create its first seeds. It reaches full production after 20 years.

Cinnamon produces a large yield. Therefore, finding it in markets is easier, and it’s simpler to use in a recipe. Experts recommend finding it in stick form and grinding your own. Grinding it yourself ensures the cinnamon is fresher-tasting than buying it pre-ground. Pre-ground cinnamon tends to lose its fragrance within a few weeks of opening.

When to Use Each Spice

Cinnamon pairs well with sweet dishes like pies, rice puddings, cookies, puddings, etc. Nutmeg is better suited for hearty recipes to cut through dense flavours. Scalloped potatoes, turkey, venison, and fish all benefit from slight uses of nutmeg. However, please don’t overdo it, as the taste will overpower the dish.

You can pair cinnamon and nutmeg together in a dish, as well. It works well in sweet dishes like braised duck breast sauces and pumpkin pies.

Which one is stronger?

As mentioned, cinnamon has a stronger flavour than nutmeg. People first note this difference when using both spices in a recipe. The taste is first sweet and spicy. The nutmeg pungency is only felt toward the end. If you omit nutmeg, you will notice these dishes’ differences as the flavour rounds out the cinnamon.

If you want the nutmeg to be the star, refrain from adding more of this spice. Adding more simply makes the dish overwhelming. Instead, use less cinnamon to allow the nutmeg to come forward more.

Can they be substituted for each other?

No, these spices are not suitable substitutes for each other. Their tastes are inherently different and thus create different notes in food. Cinnamon provides spicy and sweet notes, while nutmeg only contains a slight hint of sweetness and is more pungent. Nutmeg is like cardamom, as it holds its own flavour. It is also not as sweet as cinnamon.

The two spices can be used together and can taste great. However, you must maintain the proper ratio. A general rule of thumb is a 1:4 ratio of nutmeg to cinnamon. You can play around with this ratio. However, be sure not to use too much nutmeg, as it can be overpowering.

Why visit Hela Spice?

As spice suppliers in Canada, we are familiar with the different flavour profilings that nutmeg and cinnamon bring to your dish. Hela Spice leads the taste revolution by providing customized flavour systems.

We strongly believe that good spices create good food. We offer spices from earthy notes to decadent delights all in one location.

Hela Spice specializes in custom blending with fusion flavours that have never been previously tasted. The secret to making good food combines an intricate blend of flavours, sensory appeal, and texture. Customers can now blend their own spices with Hela Spice’s custom-blending expertise.

Our team of culinary experts and food scientists know food. We will deliver the correct blend of flavour explosions with each bite.

To discover our assortment of aromas and flavours, or to create your own blend, contact us at 905-852-5100 or visit our website here.

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