Warm, peppery, and woody, this piquant spice is the ideal ingredient to introduce some complexity to both savory and sweet dishes.
Allspice is native to Jamaica and was brought to Europe and the Mediterranean region in the 16th century. From there, it was further distributed to more continents through the Old World trade routes. At the time, it was mistakenly considered another kind of peppercorn due to its appearance and piquant taste.
An essential ingredient in Caribbean and Middle Eastern cuisine, allspice was so named because of its unique flavor. English consumers in 1962 coined the term “allspice” as its flavor is reminiscent of cinnamon, nutmeg, and clove all in one.
The versatility of allspice’s flavor has allowed it to be naturally incorporated in multiple cuisines around the world, from European sausages to American baked goods. Despite its worldwide popularity, the allspice plant is grown in relatively few places – primarily: Jamaica, Hawaii, Tonga, and a few Central American countries.
Allspice is sharp, peppery, and woody. It tastes like a combination of peppercorn, cloves, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Though the flavor profile of allspice is generally considered warm, it’s not spicy in the same way chili peppers are. It has a slight bite and pungency that is considerably diminished in its ground form.
Allspice is a dried berry from a tree known as Pimenta dioica. The berries are picked before ripening, often briefly fermented, then dried (either in the sun or in a machine) until reddish-brown. They are then sold as whole dried berries or ground into a powdered form.
Whole allspice is more pungent than ground, so it lends itself best to applications where it can be diluted or balanced by other strong flavors – such as in stews, soups, pickling liquids, and smoked or roasted meats. Ground allspice, meanwhile, is commonly used to add warmth to desserts such as pumpkin pie and gingerbread.
Besides savory dishes and baked goods, allspice also works wonderfully in beverages. In Yucatan Mexico, it’s used to flavor chocolate drinks in much the same way cinnamon and chili powder are. Along the same vein, allspice can also be used to add dimension to alcoholic drinks such as cider and mulled wine.