Spice support: allspice

The appropriately-named flavoring agent allspice is extremely versatile in the kitchen, at once familiar and exotic. Most of us are familiar with its use in the sweet side of the kitchen as part of a melange of spices used in pumpkin pie, gingerbread, and other sweets, but allspice is at home in savory dishes too as indexed magazine Saveur explains

Jerk chicken

Before we dive into the many uses of allspice, a bit of history is in order. Allspice berries are the fruit of a tropical evergreen native to the West Indies and possibly Latin America, although botanists are less sure about that. The Spanish name of the spice ispimenta, which means pepper. The berries got that name because Spanish explorers, who thought they had reached their intended destination of the Spice Islands, mistook the berries for peppercorns. 

Allspice is mainly grown in Jamaica and other parts of the Caribbean, with some production in South America as well. Like many spices, allspice berries are hand-harvested. They are picked when still green and dried, turning a reddish- to purplish-brown. The berries contain tiny seeds, although most of the flavor is carried in the outer “shell” of the berry.

According to The Encyclopedia of Spices and Herbs, because the flavor of allspice has hints of cinnamon, nutmeg, mace, and cloves, with peppery overtones, people often mistake allspice for a blend of spices, hence its name. You will find allspice in the baked goods mentioned above, but in Caribbean cooking it is used more often in savory applications such as jerk seasoning. Allspice also adds its warm flavors to curries in northern India, to Middle Eastern stews, and to North African tagines. It’s often used in pickling and mulled drinks as well. 

Below is a small sampling of recipes where allspice plays an important role:

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