For the next several Sundays, we'll be highlighting different spices on Taste for Adventure.
What Is Allspice, Anyway?
Despite what many people think, allspice is not
a blend of other spices. Rather, it is the berry of an evergreen tree called the pimiento (not to be confused with the sweet pepper in stuffed green olives). Allspice was originally called pimienta, the Spanish word for pepper, because it was discovered by Christopher Columbus when he went searching for black pepper. Never having seen either before, he mistook allspice for pepper.
The modern name of allspice also stems from a misconception. Many people mistake it as a blend of cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg because that's what it tastes like.
Native to South America and the West Indies, and exclusive to the Western hemisphere, most of the world's allspice actually comes from Jamaica.
Allspice goes well in many savory dishes made with meats like beef, lamb and wild game. As far back as Mayan times, it was used to cure and preserve meats. Today, those same properties make it a common and recommended, addition to jerky—like chicken, pork and beef. Not surprisingly, smoked and canned meats also frequently contain allspice, as do Indian curry recipes.
As for vegetables, allspice works well with cabbage, Brussels sprouts and other members of the cabbage family; with beets, squash and other root vegetables; and with nightshades like tomatoes, spinach, peppers, mushrooms and eggplant. It adds texture to the flavor of soups and stews, and it perks up grains, from rice to couscous, millet to barley. You’ll also find it in sweet dishes like pumpkin pie, fruit pies, puddings, cakes and ice cream. In its native South America, tribes used allspice to flavor their chocolate.
In short, anything that might taste good with cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg (and some say ginger as well) probably tastes great with allspice too. The one difference in flavor between allspice and a blend of these other spices is that allspice can be a slight bit more peppery.
Allspice is often added to sauces and marinades, and is a standard ingredient in many mulling and pickling spice mixes.
Allspice Health Benefits
Allspice has many similar effects on the body as the spices associated with it. Like cinnamon and ginger, it has a warming effect on the body with beneficial effects for digestion. Like cloves, it can act as a mild muscular anesthetic.
There's never any need to put cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg into a dish that also has allspice in it. The exception is if you want to bring out specific flavors further.
It's not called allspice because of its versatility in flavoring both sweet and savory dishes – but it could be!
Fall Pumpkin Recipes with Allspice
'Tis the season for pumpkin desserts...here are a few that throw allspice in the mix.