Spicing up Christmas

Spice Trees

As Christmas fast approaches, whether you are amazingly organised or yet to make a start, a mince pie and a glass of mulled wine or cider are a seasonal treat. For our final TreeMail of 2019 we are looking at those wonderful spice trees that give us the flavour of mulled wine and cider at Christmas.

mulled cider

Allspice, also known as Jamaica pepper, English pepper and newspice, is the dried unripe fruit (berries) of Pimenta dioica, the Allspice or Jamaica Pepper  tree which is native to southern Mexico and Central America. The name ‘allspice’ was coined as early as 1621 by the English, who thought it combined the flavour of cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves.

Cinnamon is obtained from the inner bark of several trees from the genus Cinnamomum and is used in both sweet and savoury foods. While Cinnamomum verum is often considered to be ‘true cinnamon’, most cinnamon in international commerce is derived from related tree species, which are also referred to as ‘cassia’ to distinguish them from ’true cinnamon’. Cinnamon is the name for perhaps a dozen species of trees.

Nutmeg is one half of two spices – the other being mace, and is harvested from the Nutmeg or Mace tree, an evergreen tree native to the Maluku Islands (or Spice Islands) of Indonesia. Nutmeg is the seed of the tree, roughly egg-shaped, while mace is the dried ‘lacy’ reddish covering or aril of the seed.

Cloves are the aromatic flower buds of the evergreen Clove tree which is also native to the Maluku Islands of Indonesia. The flower buds initially have a pale hue, gradually turn green, then transition to a bright red when ready for harvest. Cloves are harvested at 1.5-2cm long, and consist of a long calyx that terminates in four spreading sepals and four unopened petals that form a small central ball.

Star anise, also called star aniseed or Chinese star anise, is obtained from the star-shaped pericarp of the Star Anise tree (Illicium verum), a medium sized evergreen tree native to northeast Vietnam and southwest China. Star anise oil is highly fragrant and widely used in cooking, perfumery, soaps, toothpastes, mouthwashes and skin creams.

Now all you need is an orange and a couple bottles of red wine or a gallon of cider and you are ready to make a glass or two of mulled wine!

BBC Good Food Recipe: Mulled Wine

  • 750ml bottle red wine
  • 1 large cinnamon stick, or 2 small ones
  • 2 star anise
  • 4 cloves
  • 2 strips lemon zest, pared using a vegetable peeler
  • 4 tbsp caster sugar
  • 100ml sloe gin (we used Gordon’s) (optional)
  1. Put the red wine, cinnamon, star anise, cloves, lemon zest and sugar in a large pan. Cook on a low heat for 10 mins.
  2. Remove from the heat and cool, leaving to infuse for about 30 mins.
  3. To serve, heat without boiling, stir in the sloe gin (if using) and pour into mugs or heatproof glasses.

mulled wine

Merry Christmas!