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Did you know Russian soldiers sprinked allspice in their boots to keep their feet warm during the Napoleonic wars?
If there is one spice that is synonymous with autumn, it's none other than allspice. Often used as a subsitute for cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves, the sum of these three spices doesn't fully compare to the pungency of allspice. Not only is it fragrant, allspice is a versatile spice used in both savory and sweet dishes. Even if you think you've never tried it, you probably have. Apple pie, anyone?
Allspice is native to Jamaica. It is one of the spices Christopher Columbus encountered on his trip to the island back in 1494. He mistook it for black pepper, the main spice he set out for, which is why the tree that produces allspice is referred to as the pimiento tree (pimiento is Spanish for pepper). Used as a preservative and warming agent, allspice is commonly used in food, beverages, candy, perfumes and medicine.
Round and small, allspice is used in Jamaica´s famous jerk seasoning. Its antispeptic qualities made it ideal for the preservation of meat centuries ago. Germans and Scandinavians still use it for that purpose, whether its in sausage making or pickling fish or meats. Allspice is also featured in the French spice mix quatre épices.
While it is used in some savory dishes, allspice is famous the world over for its use in pastries. It's found in everything from pumpkin and apple pies to gingerbread cookies. The spice is also widely used in the production of soft drinks, flavored rums and liqueurs. It is also popular as a mulling spice.
How to Buy
When buying allspice, opt for buying it whole. The berries should be round, even textured, dark brown and aromatic. The spice loses a lot of its potency when ground so it is best to grind only when needed.
How to Store
Keep allspice in an airtight container away from light and moisture.
Allspice is full of antioxidants and has warming and antiseptic properties. It's been used to treat athlete's foot, alleviate rheumatoid arthritis and ease menopausal symptoms. Studies have shown it can also help lower blood pressure, according to Healing Spices, written by Bharat B. Aggarwal, PhD and Debora Yost.