Not a blend but a spice in its own right, allspice is the berries of an evergreen myrtle native to South and Central America. Its name simply refers to its fragrance, which resembles a pungent mixture of cinnamon, cloves, ginger and nutmeg. Confusingly, allspice is called “pimento” or “Jamaican pepper” in many parts of the world, as the Spanish at first mistook it for black pepper, or pimentia.
Allspice was used by the Mayans in embalming and by other South American Indians to flavour chocolate and preserve meats. The discovery of the New World brought the spice to the attention of Europeans, though it was never coveted like pepper or cinnamon. In England, it came to be known as “English spice” and made its way into cakes, fruit pies, puddings and ice-cream, mulled wine, pâtés and terrines.
Most good quality allspice now comes from Jamaica, where the berries are harvested from the tall trees before they are fully ripe and purple. Berries are “sweat” for a few days, then spread out on a concrete platform called a “barbecue”, where they are sun-dried until brown and wrinkly and the two dark seeds inside them rattle.
Use allspice in ...
cakes, puddings and fruit crumbles, apple or pumpkin pie, pickles, marinades, chutney, fish and game dishes, sausages, grilled, barbecued or minced meat dishes, terrines, soups, chicken stock, Indian curries and pilaus, Middle Eastern meat and rice dishes. It’s a component of the sweet blend mixed spice and the savoury blend baharat.
To make a substitute for allspice, combine one part nutmeg with two parts each of cinnamon and cloves. Whole, dried allspice will keep for a year in an airtight jar in a cool, dark place. It can be ground in a spice mill or an electric coffee grinder. The ground spice loses flavour quickly, so buy in small quantities.
Allspice goes with ...
fish, chicken, pork, ham, minced beef and lamb, eggplant, pumpkin, carrot, cabbage, onions, apples, pears, oranges, dried fruit, custard, wine, chocolate.