Ingredient Intelligence

Allspice Is a Spice Cabinet Star — Here’s Exactly How to Use It

published Apr 27, 2022
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Wood surface with a glass bowl of ground allspice sitting on a piece of burlap, and a large wooden spoon full of whole allspice pods in the foreground.
Credit: HandmadePictures/Shutterstock

If you’re a fan of pumpkin spice, you’ve tasted allspice — one of pumpkin spice’s key components. But there’s so much more to love about allspice (even if you are not a fan of pumpkin spice). The warm, versatile spice earned a permanent spot on my spice rack for the way it brings warmth to hearty stews, depth to cookies and cakes, and an enigmatic essence to pickling brines.

What Is Allspice? 

Allspice is the dried, unripe berry of the Pimenta dioica, a tropical evergreen in the myrtle family (and a relative of cloves) that’s native to Central America, Mexico, and the West Indies. It’s not, as the name suggests, a blend of spices. It’s just one potent berry with a ton of culinary potential. 

The green allspice berry, which is also known as Jamaica pepper or pimento (not to be confused with the sweet-hot pimento peppers), is picked prior to ripening and then briefly fermented and air-dried or machine-dried before being sold. 

What Is the Flavor of Allspice?

Because of its relation to cloves, allspice has a warm, slightly peppery flavor with fragrant notes of cinnamon, anise, and nutmeg. Although it is its own individual spice, it shares characteristics of pumpkin spice and Chinese five spice.

How Do You Buy and Store Allspice?

Whole and ground allspice are available from spice retailers in most grocery stores. Whole allspice resembles a slightly larger peppercorn. When ground, it looks like a light brown powder. In any form, allspice should be stored in an airtight container away from direct sunlight, but it does not need to be refrigerated or frozen. Stored this way, whole allspice can last about two years. 

Ground allspice begins to lose its potency quickly, so a smart move is to buy it whole and grind small amounts as needed with a manual or electric spice grinder.

What Can Be Substituted for Allspice?

You can get close to the flavor of allspice by combining ground cloves, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Or you can swap it for Chinese five spice or pumpkin spice blends.

How Do You Use Allspice?

As a rule, if you’re adding allspice to liquid, use whole allspice berries, as in recipes for mulled cider or the Swedish mulled wine known as glögg. Whole allspice is one of my secret ingredients for a great pickling brine. The slow-release warmth is perfect for zippy pickles, from okra to green beans. It’s also traditionally thrown into batches of sauerkraut for the same reason.

The whole spice can also provide a fuller flavor for braised meat and hearty stews, but remember to pluck the berries from the final product before serving because no one wants to chomp down on a whole allspice berry.

Ground allspice is one of the key ingredients in jerk seasoning. It’s also responsible for the warm hug inside Swedish meatballs and the subtle kick of Cincinnati chili. And like whole allspice, you can also use ground allspice in stews (try it in this lamb stew). 

But allspice may be best known for its contribution to baked goods such as gingerbread and molasses cookies. I love to sneak a little into my oatmeal cookies to give them a more rounded flavor, and a tiny pinch goes a long way in fruit-based desserts like apple pie or peach crumble.

How to Substitute Ground Allspice for Whole and Vice Versa

When substituting ground allspice for whole or vice versa in a recipe, keep in mind that about six whole berries are the equivalent of 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice.

Allspice Recipes to Try