If you’re looking to add a bit of warmth and dimension to your culinary creations, look no further than the pimento berry (aka allspice, or Jamaican pepper). The name “allspice” is misleading as it comprises solely of the dried berries of the pimento tree (Pimenta dioica). It’s not actually a blend of spices.
This versatile spice invokes flavors of cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg with a peppery and savory bite. So, what is allspice used for, exactly? This seasoning is a mainstay in Caribbean cuisine, and pairs well with dishes that are sweet (think breads, cakes, and pies), savory, and spicy. We often use whole pimento berries for pickling too!
How does one little berry add so much warmth and depth to dishes? We’ve rounded up a few tips on how to incorporate this handy seasoning to your dishes, plus we have a roundup of 16 favorite recipes featuring allspice.
What is allspice, exactly?
Allspice comes from the dried berries of a pimento tree which belongs to the Myrtle family (Myrtaceae).¹
Sometimes these berries are also called pimento, newspice, Myrtle pepper, or Jamaica pepper. The berries are harvested while green and unripe. Once dried, they turn brown. They are used whole, or ground into fine powder.
The Myrtle family comprises many evergreen trees, of which the main variety is P. dioica, also known as true allspice. This tree grows natively in the West Indies and Central America.
Don’t confuse true allspice with other varieties of “allspice” trees, including:
- Carolina allspice (Calycanthus floridus), aka Eastern sweetshrub, which grows throughout south-eastern parts of North America.²
- Californian allspice (Calycanthus occidentalis), aka Western sweetshrub, found in south-western parts of North America.³
- Japanese allspice (Chimonanthus praecox), an aromatic shrub that grows natively in eastern Asia.¹
- Wild allspice or spicebush (Lindera benzoin) found throughout eastern regions of North America.¹
Whole allspice vs. ground allspice
Allspice comes as dried whole berries, or a finely ground powder. Note that whole spices have a longer shelf life—up to 2 years if properly stored.
Ground spices are best used within 6-12 months but may keep up to 2 years.
Use whole berries when pickling (ground herbs and spices can make your brine cloudy). Whole spices are also ideal for dishes that require a longer cooking time, such as stews, soups, sauces, and oven roasted or braised meat dishes.
Tip: If you have a choice between whole berries or ground, choose whole allspice. Not only does it last longer, when freshly ground with a spice grinder or mortar and pestle, it imparts a stronger flavor.
What does allspice taste and smell like?
Freshly ground allspice has a fragrant and warming aroma.
This wide flavor profile lends itself nicely to a variety of dishes that are sweet, savory, spicy, and occasionally sour.
What is allspice used for? Here’s how to use it
There are countless ways to incorporate this flavorful seasoning in the kitchen.
To get the biggest flavor punch when cooking or simmering foods, add whole allspice berries at the beginning of the cook time. The warmth of the cooking process allows the flavors to infuse slowly into the foods.
Here’s how to use this versatile seasoning:
- Use it as a pumpkin spice substitute.
- Add some warmth to hot beverages, including mulled wine, apple cider, eggnog, and hot chocolate.
- Spruce up cocktails.
- Add dimension to braised meat and stews.
- Make your own homemade pickling spice.
- Create a spice rub for meat, poultry, and fish.
- Use it in baking. Spice cakes, vanilla, hazelnut, or carrot cakes would all pair well with allspice.
- Add to cookie recipes such as raisin oatmeal, ginger, or other holiday favorites.
- Add warmth to fruit pies, fruit cobblers, and crumbles.
- Add some kick to your favorite sweet bread or loaf recipes.
- Season fish and other seafood dishes.
- Green beans (aka string beans) are a match-made-in-heaven with the warming effects of allspice.
- Smoked sausage or other savory dishes come to life with the slightly sweet, yet peppery flavor profile of pimento berries.
- The mild taste of pan-fried or oven-roasted cabbage works well with allspice berries.
- Many classic pork chop dishes feature both savory and sweet flavors (such as apple). Allspice adds deeper flavor dimension.
- There are so many ways to do chicken dishes, from savory to spicy. This single spice adds depth to plain poultry dishes.
- While spice is nice, the sweet notes of pimento berries round out the delectable flavor of curries.
- Virtually all soups and stews could benefit from a warming spice.
- Tomato-based dishes, including pasta sauces and soups, could do with a touch of sweetness to cut the acidity.
16 sweet, savory, and spicy recipes featuring allspice
What is allspice used for? Let us count the ways…
Use allspice to enhance the flavor of pretty much any dish.
Sweet recipes featuring allspice
1. Sara’s Pumpkin Pie
A classic pumpkin pie spice recipe with allspice, and fragrant cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger (via All Recipes).
2. Autumn Spice Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting
Cooler weather brings about a hankering for autumn spices, and this recipe satisfies that sweet tooth! Here’s an old-fashioned spice cake featuring cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, allspice, and cloves—topped with decadent cream cheese frosting (via Cooking Classy).
3. Sweet Potato Pie with Allspice
Spiced, spiked with bourbon and topped with marshmallow whipped cream, this is no ordinary sweet po’ pie. If you’d like a change from the usual pumpkin pie, this classic old-fashioned sweet potato pie recipe makes for a brilliant choice (via Well Plated).
4. Chai-Spiced Banana Bread
5. Homemade Allspice Dram (for Tiki Cocktails)
Fall drinks are perfect for adding warming spices into the mix. While cinnamon and nutmeg are classic spices to add to warm beverages, here’s how to make Allspice Dram, a spiced (and slightly bitter) liqueur flavored by whole berries of the pimenta tree. Use this dram for your own Tiki-style cocktails (via Gastronom).
Savory allspice recipes
7. Allspice, Orange and Lemon Crockpot Chicken Thighs
This comfort dish featuring allspice chicken with a zesty orange-lemon sauce, and a dash of thyme make for an easy weeknight dinner. It’s also gluten-free (via Recipes from a Pantry).
8. Old Fashioned Beef Stew
Here’s pure comfort food perfect for fall and winter meals. This hearty, savory stew with cubed beef, potatoes, pearl onions, carrots, and celery is easy to throw together in a slow cooker. The seasonings shine through over slow, low heat: salt, sugar, parsley, paprika, oregano, basil, black pepper, and of course, allspice (via The Stay at Home Chef).
9. Apple and Sage Pork Chops
This recipe brings together both sweet and savory flavors for a knockout main dish. Sage, garlic, thyme, ground allspice, paprika, brown sugar, and a splash of apple juice make the pan-fried pork chops sing (via McCormick).
10. Cincinnati Chili
For a party in your mouth, check out this tasty chili served on top of spaghetti with the works. Unexpected spices like cloves, allspice, and unsweetened chocolate along with the usual suspects (chili powder, oregano, salt, and pepper) come together easily in a slow cooker (via Culinary Hill).
11. Lebanese Green Beans with Tomatoes
Green beans (or string beans) and allspice are a (surprising) match-made-in-heaven. This dish also calls for tomatoes, onions, and other warming spices including cinnamon and nutmeg (via The Lemon Bowl).
12. Fish Seasoning
Make your own spice rub mix to liven up any fish you plan to pan-fry. This fish seasoning mix is based on the classic Old Bay Seasoning mix that has been handed down many generations (via Recipe Tin Eats).
Spicy recipes featuring allspice
13. Jamaican Curry Chicken Recipe
Some like it hot! This curry recipe is easy to throw together and calls for whole pimento berries (allspice). Serve with rice (via Jamaican Foods and Recipes).
14. Jamaican Jerk Chicken
This classic fire-y recipe features fragrant allspice together with Chinese five-spice for a flavor punch. Let the chicken marinate overnight for maximum flavor (via Food and Wine).
Sour recipes with allspice
15. Homemade Pickling Spice
Make your own DIY pickling spice! Round up some whole spices including cloves, cinnamon sticks, mustard seeds, whole allspice berries, coriander seeds, bay leaves, and red pepper flakes (via All Recipes).
16. Sticky Spiced Red Cabbage
This red cabbage dish adds a splash of color to your dinner table. Featuring a sweet and sour blend of spices and red wine vinegar served with cooked cabbage, onions, and ginger (via BBC Good Food).
- Britannica, Allspice, https://www.britannica.com/plant/allspice. Accessed June 2022.
- Plants for a Future, Calycanthus floridus, https://pfaf.org/user/Plant.aspx?LatinName=Calycanthus+floridus. Accessed June 2022.
- Plants for a Future, Calycanthus occidentalis, https://pfaf.org/user/Plant.aspx?LatinName=Calycanthus+occidentalis. Accessed June 2022.