The allspice berry comes from an evergreen tree that grows in Latin America and the Caribbean. In order to germinate, the seeds must be heated and softened by passing through the bodies of bats or birds. Juniper berries are European in origin and are not actual berries but pine cones. Both spices come from dramatically different regions, but have some commonalities. Figure out whether you need one or the other, or both with our SPICEography Showdown.
How does the flavor of allspice differ from that of juniper berries?
Allspice got its name from English explorers who thought that it tasted like a mixture of cinnamon, cloves, and black pepper. Some believe that juniper berries (along with nutmeg) should be added into that mix. The complexity of the flavor is the main difference between allspice and most other spices, including juniper berries. There is a sweet and spicy quality to its flavor that is indicated by the fact that it is likened to cinnamon and black pepper. The fact that it has so many flavor notes makes it useful for a range of different applications.
In comparison, juniper berries have a resinous and piney flavor that you may recognize if you have ever tasted gin. Juniper berries are the main source of flavor in gin.
Can you use allspice in place of juniper berries and vice versa?
These two spices do share some of the same flavor notes but may not be perfectly interchangeable. For example, you can use allspice in most of the same applications that require juniper berries. Juniper berries are typically used to cook strongly flavored game meats like venison. In much the same way, allspice was originally used as a seasoning for wild hogs in Jamaica. Its effectiveness for this purpose is why it continues to play a starring role in jerk seasoning blends. It is pungent enough to be used as a seasoning for other game meats as well. While using it as a juniper berry substitute should result in a pleasant dish, the flavor difference will be noticeable. Allspice does not have the strong pine characteristic that you would get from the juniper berries.
Juniper berries have a much less complex flavor, which makes them less versatile. Unlike allspice berries, they are not usually used in desserts. To tone down the pine notes and get a closer match to allspice’s flavor profile, combine the juniper berries with black peppercorns, cinnamon, and cloves.
What are the best ways to use allspice and what are the best ways to use juniper berries?
Use allspice as a part of your dry rub for grilling or roasting meat and especially if you are trying to replicate Jamaican jerk flavors. It works well in stews as well. You can also use allspice in many baked goods. It can be included along with cinnamon and nutmeg in many desserts including apple and pumpkin pies, and it is used in some cakes.
As an Alpine spice, the juniper berry works well in many classic European preparations. The traditional use of juniper berries is in game meats like venison or wild hogs. It is also a common addition to sauerkraut and other dishes that focus heavily on cabbage. Juniper berries also make a good addition to a dry rub for grilled or roasted meats like lamb and beef, and to some stews as well.