What Exactly Is Allspice and How Is It Used?
If “allspice” doesn’t ring a bell, you might recognize it as that magical powder that makes everything smell like Christmas.
With a matter-of-fact name and an aroma that evokes cinnamon, nutmeg, and juniper berries, it’s easy to understand why many people assume that allspice is, in fact, a blend of all spices. Understandable? Yes. Correct? Absolutely not.
What Is Allspice?
Allspice is actually derived from berries that are native to Jamaica, Guatemala, and Honduras. The berry (also called the pimento, Jamaica pimento, Jamaica pepper, pimenta, or myrtle pepper) is picked from the Pimenta dioica, an evergreen tree in the myrtle family.
The fruit is then dried into small, dark balls that resemble peppercorns. The balls are often ground into powder and used to season food.
How Is Allspice Used?
Allspice is one of the most important spices in Jamaican cuisine. Among other traditional uses, it’s often used in Jamaican jerk seasoning, pickling, sausage preparation, and curries. It’s also a staple in many Middle Eastern dishes, where it is used to flavor a variety of stews and meat dishes.
Get the recipe: Jamaican Jerk Clams
Christopher Columbus, who “discovered” the berry in Jamaica on his second voyage to the New World, is responsible for bringing the spice to Western Europe. After he incorrectly guessed that it was a pepper, Columbus brought it home to Spain where it was named “pimienta” (Spanish for pepper) by Diego Álvarez Chanca.
In the United States and Europe, allspice is typically associated with desserts like cookies, pies, and cakes.
Get the recipe: Gingerbread Fudge
Don’t have any allspice on hand? No problem—you can DIY a substitute with just a few ingredients. To make 1 teaspoon of allspice, combine:
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
- a pinch of ground nutmeg