If you’ve ever made gingerbread cookies, you might’ve wondered, “what is allspice?”
Is it just a blend of all the spices? Or is it something more unique?
Allspice is a single spice made from the dried berries of the Pimenta dioica tree. Native to Jamaica, Southern Mexico, and Central America, it’s also known as Jamaica pepper or pimento. It was named after its import to Europe because it tastes like a blend of clove, cinnamon, and nutmeg.
If you’ve ever had gingerbread cookies or Caribbean or Middle Eastern cuisines, chances are you’ve tasted allspice.
Because this little seasoning is way more popular than you might think.
And yes, it really does taste like all the spices. It’s warm, spicy, peppery, and even a little sweet.
So, let’s learn more about this unique spice, including how to use it and possible substitutions.
What Is Allspice?
Allspice comes from pea-sized, dried berries that look like large peppercorns. Cultivated today in many warm parts of the world, it’s green when harvested, fermented, then dried in the sun, where it turns red-brown. You’ll often find it in cookies, cakes, and Jamaican jerk seasoning recipes.
It’s most commonly used in Caribbean cooking. But the Europeans quickly brought it home when they learned how versatile it is.
From there, allspice made its way around the world. And it turns out, many other cultures loved it too.
In fact, you can find allspice in everything from pumpkin pie to shawarma. Plus, it’s an ingredient in myriads of spice blends.
That’s because it’s delicious!
Though it doesn’t hurt that allspice also boasts some health benefits, including anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties.
So, it’s used to help fight colds, unhappy stomachs, and cramping. Gotta love a spice that can do it all!
What Does Allspice Taste Like?
Allspice tastes like several spices mixed into one – which is how it got its name. It has notes of cinnamon, nutmeg, fennel, clove, star anise, and pepper, too. Warm, strong, sharp, sweet, and spicy, it’s also woodsy and savory.
So yeah, it’s pretty darn versatile!
Whole Vs. Ground Allspice
Like nutmeg, you’ll find allspice ground or whole.
The kind you use depends on what you’re planning to make. And how often you plan to use allspice in your cooking.
Whole allspice looks a lot like large, dark brown peppercorns.
These tend to last longer than ground allspice because there’s less oxidization overall.
That said, the whole spice is very potent and aromatic when fresh. But the longer they sit, the less robust the flavor becomes.
This is due to the surface of the berries being exposed, which is the part that’s ground first.
To get the most out of whole allspice, buy in smaller packs, use within six months, and keep them somewhere dark and cool.
Ground allspice is very fragrant and has a more intense flavor when fresh.
This is because the whole berry has been ground, releasing the oils within, and blending into one, extra flavorful powder.
Unfortunately, it does lose that flavor quickly because ground spices oxidize faster.
For best results, buy in small tubs and use it within three months.
How to Cook with Allspice
As I’ve stated previously, allspice is versatile. So, you can cook with it in multitudes of ways.
But how you use it depends on whether it’s whole or ground.
- Whole allspice is commonly used to slowly infuse flavor into soups and brining liquids. It’s great in turkey brine, cocktails, simple syrups, stews, sauces, and pickles, too! Basically, if there’s liquid involved in the cooking process, berries are the way to go.
- Ground allspice is amazing in spice blends, meat rubs, and desserts! You’ll see it frequently called for in gingerbread and autumnal pie or cake recipes.
How to Store Allspice
Store allspice in an airtight container, at room temperature, and out of direct sunlight.
Honestly, this is how you should store all your spices. And it works for both ground and whole allspice.
There’s no need to refrigerate or freeze allspice. It will keep well in either form.
Just remember that whole berries keep their flavor much longer. So, if you need something for the long term, get whole and grind it yourself.
Out of allspice? No worries. Since it tastes like a mix of so many wonderful spices, you can substitute it pretty easily:
In sweet dishes, substitute allspice with equal parts ground cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg.
FOR EXAMPLE: 1 teaspoon allspice = 1/3 teaspoon cinnamon + 1/3 teaspoon cloves + 1/3 teaspoon nutmeg.
In savory dishes, substitute allspice with equal parts black pepper, cinnamon, clove, and nutmeg.
FOR EXAMPLE: 1 teaspoon allspice = 1/4 teaspoon black pepper + 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon + 1/4 teaspoon clove + 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg.
You can also substitute whole berries for ground allspice and vice versa. In this case, 6 whole berries is equal to 1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon of ground allspice.
Since ground allspice is so strong, I’d start with the lower conversion, then add more as needed.
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