Chances are, you’ve most likely seen allspice on recipe ingredient lists around the holidays. And while it can be used year round, its sweet and smoky aroma offers warm flavors found in fall breads and Christmas desserts. In other cultures, allspice isn’t a seasonal ingredient at all, but more so a staple. It’s one of the essential Middle Eastern spices and you’ll find it in many Caribbean recipes and Latin American dishes. So exactly what is allspice, and how is it used in recipes?

What is allspice?

In the name alone, it sounds like allspice would just be a blend of all spices, right? In reality, it’s not a blend at all, but rather, a dried and unripened berry that offers flavors akin to that of black pepper, cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg.

The berries grow on an evergreen tree called Pimenta dioica, which is native to Jamaica and Central America. While the berries growing on the tree are green and olive-like, once dried, they turn into small brown peppercorn-shaped pods.

Ground vs. whole allspice

Ground allspice is mostly called for in sweet treats like traditional pumpkin pie and savory meals like jerked short ribs. Like ground pepper or ground cinnamon sticks, ground allspice berries blend more seamlessly into silky desserts and dry rubs or marinades.

Whole allspice brings its powerhouse flavor to meals that like to steep. Think long-simmering stews, slow cooker soups and even pickled and canned veggies. Biting into a whole allspice peppercorn would not be the most pleasant sensation (not to mention hard on your teeth!), so they’re better saved for enhancing broths and juices in the same way bay leaves work.

How does allspice taste?

As the name suggests, allspice tastes sort of like a blend of other warming spices. Unlike something like Chinese five spice, which is a real blend, a single allspice berry simply tastes like the combination of black pepper, cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg all wrapped into one spice. Because the flavor and aroma of allspice resemble other common fall and winter flavors, you might be more likely to recognize it in cooler-weather recipes rather than summery dishes.

How do you use allspice?

Allspice might not be an essential spice in day-to-day cooking and baking, but it’s certainly an essential holiday spice. Outside of food recipes like fall pies, Christmas cookies, spiced breads and soups, it can be used in drink recipes like mulled wine and wintry gingerbread hot cocoa.

Apart from the holidays, you’ll definitely want to keep allspice in the cupboard if you enjoy exploring different cuisines. Top salmon dinners with jerk-spiced mango pineapple chutney, rub it into slow-cooked meats like beef and lamb and season barbecue meatballs with it.

Substitutes for Allspice

Because allspice is a specialand strongspice all to itself, it’s not easily substituted. When you’re in a pinch, though, try a mixture of ground cloves, ground cinnamon and ground nutmeg in equal measurements. If you’re using a substitute in a savory dish, feel free to add a little black pepper to the mixture too.

Due to its powerful flavor, most recipes don’t call for a lot of allspice. Since that’s the case, you can also add more of all the other spices in place of missing allspice; we won’t tell anyone!

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