The all-around appeal of allspice

allspiceDaniel Neman writes about the all-around appeal of allspice, underlining that it is not a spice blend, but a dried berry with a wide variety of uses, from savory to sweet.

Allspice is a victim of its own name. You can’t blame someone for seeing the word “allspice” and thinking that it is a blend of many spices — or even all spices. It’s a natural assumption.

But allspice is just one spice, a dried berry from a broadleaf evergreen tree that grows primarily on the islands of the Caribbean Sea and Central America. It got its English name, according to a book published in 1736, because it tastes like “all the other spices.”

Usually when people today try to describe the taste, they limit the mixture of spices it resembles to cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg. Sometimes they also add juniper, ginger and black pepper.

What this means to the home cook is that allspice can be counted on to add an extra kick to practically everything. Whatever tastes good with cinnamon, cloves or nutmeg tastes even better (or at least just as good) with allspice. And it is great in the sort of things you don’t necessarily associate with cloves or cinnamon too, such as soups and stews and vegetables.

The next time you make a chicken soup — or beef soup, or tomato — add a little allspice. Four or five berries will do for a gallon of soup, or one berry for every quart of liquid. Or if you are making a pot roast, stew or other braised dish, try three to five allspice berries for a lovely hint of the flavor of the islands.

And don’t forget to use it in desserts, too. Allspice is like cardamom; it is just as happy in sweet dishes as it is in savory. Cookies, cakes, oatmeal and even applesauce all perk up a bit when sprinkled with ground allspice.

I decided to use it in three distinctly different ways: as part of a flavorful rub on roast chicken, in a spicy marinade inspired (and perhaps used) by the indigenous people of the Caribbean islands, and in muffins made, surprisingly, with sweet potatoes.

Sweet potatoes? Yes, allspice also pairs well with all of your most popular orange vegetables — carrots, squash and sweet potatoes.

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