Mixed spice, also called pudding spice, is a British blend of sweet spices. This spice mixture can be purchased ready-mixed, but some cooks prefer experimenting and emphasizing different flavours and therefore make their own.
It is used in a variety of cakes and puddings, such as fruit cake, gingerbread and Christmas pudding. Buy or make in small quantities as the mixture loses its full rich flavour if stored for long periods of time. Keep in a cool dark place to prolong its shelf life. Allspice, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and ginger are the usual blend of spices, but some cooks add a few cardamom and coriander seeds.
The term "mixed spice" has been used for this blend of spices in cookbooks going back as far back as 1828. This date could probably be much earlier.
Do not confuse mixed spice with allspice and if a recipe calls for mixed spice, do not substitute with allspice. The flavours are completely different.
Allspice, also called Jamaica pepper, Kurundu, Myrtle pepper, pimento, or newspice, is a spice derived from the dried unripe fruit of the Pimenta dioica , a tree native to the West Indies, southern Mexico and Central America. It is available ground or in seed form, and used in a variety of dishes such as pickles, casseroles, cakes and puddings.
The name "allspice" was coined by the English, who thought it combined the flavour of several aromatic spices, such as cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves.
Therefore, ground allspice is not, as some people believe, a mixture of spices. Rather, it is the dried fruit of the Pimenta dioica plant. The fruit is picked when it is green and unripe and traditionally dried in the sun. When dry, the fruits are brown and resemble large brown peppercorns. The whole fruits have a longer shelf life than the powdered product and produce a more aromatic product when freshly ground before use.
The leaves of the allspice plant are also used in cooking. For cooking, fresh leaves are used where available. They are similar in texture to bay leaves and are thus infused during cooking and then removed before serving. Unlike bay leaves, they lose much flavour when dried and stored. The leaves and wood are often used for smoking meats where allspice is a local crop. Allspice can also be found in essential oil form.
Allspice is one of the most important ingredients of Caribbean cuisine. It is used in Caribbean jerk seasoning (the wood is used to smoke jerk in Jamaica, although the spice is a good substitute) and in pickling. It is also an ingredient in commercial sausage preparations and curry powders. Allspice is also indispensable in Middle Eastern cuisine but throughout the world, allspice is commonly used in cakes and puddings. Allspice is also a main flavor used in barbecue sauces.