Mace and allspice are a pair of relatively common spices that you may see in recipes for both savory and sweet dishes. Every so often both of them show up in the same dishes. The SPICEography Showdown below will go into the nature of each spice and the roles that they play.
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How does mace differ from allspice?
Mace and allspice come from different plants. Mace comes from the Myristica fragrans tree, which also provides nutmeg. The tree is native to the Moluccas in Indonesia and is a distant relative of the magnolia. Allspice comes from the Pimenta dioca plant, which is native to the West Indies and belongs to the myrtle family.
Mace and allspice have different appearances. Mace consists of a fleshy coating — called an aril — that grows over the exterior of the nutmeg seed and within the nutmeg fruit. It is peeled from the seed — which is a shell containing the nutmeg — and dried. The best-known mace is leathery and red when fresh and becomes yellowish-pink when it is dried, which also makes its consistency brittle. Allspice consists of small spherical fruits that are green when harvested but are dried in the sun until they darken. Whole dried allspice berries resemble black peppercorns.
Mace and allspice have different flavor profiles. Mace tastes and smells like its relative nutmeg. It has the same warm nuttiness with elements of caramel and pepper, but it is milder and not as sweet. Allspice gets its name from its complex flavor profile that tastes and aromas from other spices. The combination of its name and flavor has led to the misconception among some cooks that it is a spice blend rather than a single spice. Allspice is often described as having notes of nutmeg, cinnamon, and cloves.
If your recipe calls for one, can you use the other?
Mace can work in many of the dishes that require allspice but will be most effective if it is to provide a background note rather than be one of the main flavors. It won’t be an ideal substitute if it is to be the main spice in a dish because it doesn’t share allspice’s complexity. Mace might not ruin the dish, but you will be dramatically changing its flavor profile.
You can use allspice as a substitute for mace, and it may work, but it may not be ideal in every application. Allspice does have some of the notes that you might detect in mace and nutmeg. Because it shares some of the flavor notes, allspice may work in those dishes where mace plays a background role. If mace is meant to be at the forefront, the dish should still be enjoyable with the allspice substitution, but the difference will be noticeable.
When should you use mace, and when should you use allspice?
Mace is a common ingredient in Indian dishes like banjara gosht and the spice blend jeerawan masala. You will also see it in some variations of India’s most famous spice blend garam masala. Mace shows up in many recipes for pickles and relishes, including apple and mango chutneys. Mace is a great addition to desserts where a milder alternative to nutmeg is needed.
Allspice is — somewhat famously — the main flavoring ingredient in Jamaican jerk pork and chicken. It is also an important element in most pumpkin and apple pie spice blends.