Allspice Vs. Black Pepper: SPICEography Showdown

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Allspice and black pepper look a lot alike, so much so that early Spaniards in the New World mistook allspice berries for peppercorns. When dried, both spices consist of small dark spheres. They have a similar enough appearance you might consider them great substitutes for each other if all you have to go on are the looks. Are they interchangeable? What makes them similar or different? We will examine those questions and more in our SPICEography Showdown: Allspice vs Black Pepper. 

How does allspice differ from black pepper?

Allspice comes from a very different part of the world from black pepper’s source, which is in Southeast Asia. Allspice is a New World spice in the sense that allspice originated in West Indies. 

Allspice is popular with true bakers and serious cooks. Every well-stocked spice cabinet will have this spice, but you won’t find it everywhere. It is far from being as ubiquitous as black pepper, which you can find in almost all kitchens whether or not the spice cabinets are well stocked. 

Unlike the whole spice, ground allspice has a noticeably different appearance from ground black pepper. Ground allspice is uniformly brown, while ground black pepper has more of a speckled appearance. 

The flavor is the most important factor when you are comparing any two spices and it is the most striking difference between allspice and peppercorns. Allspice offers a complex medley of flavors that account for its name. It got the name allspice because so many spices seem to show up in its flavor profile, including black pepper. Depending on the pungency of a particular batch, you may detect notes of cinnamon as well as clove and nutmeg. While you can detect notes of citrus in some of the more aromatic black pepper varieties, the flavor is much less complex. Black pepper’s flavor is distinctive but simple. 

You will often see Allspice described as being a warm spice but the warmth in this context does not indicate that it is hot. Allspice has no heat. On the other hand, black pepper contains a compound called piperine that does give it heat. Black pepper is nowhere near as hot as chili peppers, but its heat can be noticeable depending on the variety of black pepper. 

Can you use allspice in place of black pepper and vice versa?

The short answer is that they probably won’t make great substitutes for each other except in very specific situations. Their flavors are different enough from each other that you can’t pass one off as the other. Allspice will not provide you with the heat you would get from black pepper. Also, its complex flavors may not be great in dishes that demand something simpler.

Similarly, black pepper will not bring the complexity you want from allspice. While you can use it along with allspice, black pepper’s flavor profile may seem bland and uninteresting without allspice’s sweet and savory notes. 

When should you use allspice and when should you use black pepper?

Use allspice in West Indian favorites like jerk chicken where its distinctive character is the most important part of the flavor profile. Include it in desserts like fruit pies as well.

Use black pepper as an all-purpose seasoning in everything from dry rubs to the breading for fried foods. Black pepper is great for jerk chicken, but it is not essential.