What is Allspice? What Can I Substitute for it?
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Posted on 26 Jun 2012 18:52

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Some of the best allspice comes from Jamaica.1

So, if you have a choice, buy a Jamaican variety.

The ground or whole spice is readily available in grocery stores so there is no need to substitute other spices unless you are in a pinch.

In that case, you can use around one part each of ground cinnamon and cloves, plus a pinch of nutmeg and pepper, adjusting as needed for desired flavor.

Do not use too much nutmeg, as it is extremely strong and will overwhelm a dish if used in excess.

Allspice is the dried, unripened, cured fruit from a tropical Pimienta dioca, commonly known as the pimento tree. T

The tree is indigenous to Central America and grows from Southern Mexico to Panama and throughout the Caribbean.

Once dried and cured, the whole spice is reminiscent of a peppercorn, which caused Spanish explorers to call it dulce pimienta, later Anglicized to pimento. In many languages, it is known as pepper.



Pimienta dioica tree, or Allspice tree

Pimienta dioca tree, Allspice
image by J.M.Garg via wikimedia

Pimienta dioica tree, or Allspice tree

Pimienta dioca tree, Allspice
image by J.M.Garg via wikimedia




In French, the spice is called poivre aromatique: aromatic pepper; in German, Nelkenpfeffer: clove pepper. Also, it is often called Jamaican pepper. 2


whole allspice

Whole Allspice

whole allspice

Whole Allspice



The name allspice was coined by English botanist John Ray, because the flavor reminded him of a combination of cinnamon, nutmeg, and clove. There is also a hint of pepper. It is a common ingredient in smoked meats, pumpkin pie and a central component of Jamaican jerk. It is also used in Scandinavian pickled herring and is common in Arabic cooking, flavoring rice dishes, kofte, and broths.1,2 All parts of the tree itself also gives off the same aromas and the leaves and bark can be used to flavor foods as well.4

pimento-dram.jpg

Jamaican dram (pimento dram)

pimento-dram.jpg

Jamaican dram (pimento dram)

Allspice has traditionally been used to flavor beverages, as well. It is used in a Jamaican liqueur called Pimento Dram, which is made by soaking the berries in rum and adding a sweetener. This liqueur is hard to find today, except in Jamaica. However, an imported brand, St. Elizabeth Allspice Dram is available.3 The Aztecs and Mayans flavored their chocolate drinks with the spice.4 See What is a Dram?

Historical and Other Uses Throughout the World

Allspice is popular in Western cuisines like British, Scandinavian, German and American as well as North African, the Middle East and, of course, Caribbean cooking. It is not popular in Asian cooking, however. Some of it's uses include:

  • Preserving meats - Caribbeans and Indigenous Americans and also learned by the Spanish explorers to those regions
  • Caribbean jerk, curries
  • Smoked and barbecued meat, used by Caribbean pirates in their boucan
  • As part of a spice blend for pickling or as part of a marinate for meats
  • Scandinavian meat patties and sausages
  • British stews, sauces, and pickled vegetables, mincemeats, cakes, puddings, sausages and cured meats
  • North Africa - Ethiopian berbere and Moroccan ras-el-hanout
  • Middle East - stews, kibbeh, and rice pilafs
  • Mexico - Some mole sauces in Oaxaca, Mexico
  • Some fish curries in Kerala, India
  • ketchup
  • jams
  • ham
  • gravies4
References
1. Sortun, Ana, and Nicole Chaison. Spice: Flavors of the Eastern Mediterranean. New York: Regan, 2006.
2. Peter, K. V, Ed. Handbook of Herbs and Spices, Volume 2. Boca Raton: CRC, 2004.
3. Haigh, Ted. Vintage Spirits & Forgotten Cocktails: From the Alamagoozlum Cocktail to the Zombie : 80 Rediscovered Recipes and the Stories behind Them. Gloucester, MA: Quarry, 2004.
4. Raghavan, Susheela. Handbook of Spices, Seasonings, & Flavorings. Lancaster, PA: Technomic Pub., 2000.

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