In the culinary arts, allspice is a spice made from the dried berries of a plant known as Pimenta dioica. A member of the myrtle family—the Spanish explorers confused it with pepper because of the berries, which resemble peppercorns— allspice is used in Caribbean, Middle Eastern, and Latin American cuisines, among others.
Allspice was sent back to Europe by the early explorers to the Caribbean. While the spice itself was a welcome addition to Old World palates, attempts to grow allspice in both Britain and Spain failed.
The flavor of allspice brings to mind cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and pepper. The versatile seasoning can be used to flavor desserts, side dishes, main courses, and beverages, including mulled wine and hot cider.
Ground or Whole
Allspice can be used in ground form or whole. Once ground up, though, allspice quickly can lose its pungency. But on the whole, ground spices are more intense than whole cloves or berries. Whole allspice berries are sometimes used in stews or soups, and for pickling and brining. You will certainly have better success using the ground version in desserts, such as pumpkin cake or pie, spice cakes, and gingerbread.
Allspice With Meat
Season a beef or lamb roast with allspice berries. Tuck the berries into your meat just as you would garlic cloves. The taste is a bit sweeter. Or, you can use half garlic and half allspice. If you want to tame the berries a bit, cook them before you use them as seasoning. You can bake them for 10 minutes or heat them in a cast-iron skillet on the stovetop.
Allspice's Mediterranean taste shines in Cincinnati-style chili, which is a meat sauce that goes well on spaghetti or as a topping for coney dogs.
Allspice's Jamaican Accent
Allspice, which also is known as Jamaican pepper and newspice, is also one of the key ingredients in Jamaican jerk chicken. Ground allspice is combined with sugar, salt, ginger, cloves, cinnamon and other herbs and spices, along with soy sauce, lime juice, and oil to form a marinade. Whole chicken legs are coated in the marinade and refrigerated overnight.The chicken can then be grilled or cooked in a cast-iron skillet.
Allspice and Vegetables
Toss a scant 1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon over string beans, carrots, cabbage, or mushrooms for a more exotic flavor. After all, how many times can you serve them flavored only with butter, salt, and pepper? Or try a mix of white and black pepper with a few allspice berries ground into the mix.
Substitutions for Allspice
If a recipe calls for allspice and you don't have any, you could mix up a substitute by combining equal parts ground cloves, ground cinnamon, and ground nutmeg. Conversely, if you don't have nutmeg, cloves, or cinnamon on hand, use allspice instead.
Keep your allspice fresh and ready to use by storing it in an airtight jar or another container away from direct sunlight. It will last for years whether whole or ground. There's no need to freeze or refrigerate it.