Allspice, also called Jamaica pepper,
kurundu, myrtle pepper, pimenta, or newspice, is a spice that is the
dried unripe fruit ("berries") of Pimenta dioica , a mid-canopy tree
native to the Greater Antilles, southern Mexico and Central America,
now cultivated in many warm parts of the world.
The name "allspice" was coined as early as
1621 by the English, who thought it combined the flavour of
cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves.
Several unrelated fragrant shrubs are called
"Carolina allspice" (Calycanthus floridus), "Japanese allspice" (Chimonanthus
praecox) or "wild allspice" (Lindera benzoin). Allspice is also
sometimes used to refer to the herb costmary (Tanacetum balsamita).
Allspice 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.
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, so do not
figure in commerce. 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), in moles, and in pickling; it is also
an ingredient in commercial sausage preparations and curry powders.
Allspice is also indispensable in Middle Eastern cuisine,
particularly in the Levant, where it is used to flavor a variety of
stews and meat dishes. In Palestinian cuisine, for example, many
main dishes call for allspice as the sole spice added for flavoring.
In America, it is used mostly in desserts,
but it is also responsible for giving Cincinnati-style chili its
distinctive aroma and flavor. Allspice is commonly used in Great
Britain, and appears in many dishes, including cakes. Even in many
countries where allspice is not very popular in the household, such
as Germany, it is used in large amounts by commercial sausage
makers. Allspice is also a main flavor used in barbecue sauces. In
the West Indies, an allspice liqueur called "pimento dram" is
Allspice has also been used as a deodorant.
Volatile oils found in the plant contain eugenol, a weak
antimicrobial agent, Allspice is also reported to provide relief for
indigestion and gas.
Allspice can be a small scrubby tree, quite
similar to the bay laurel in size and form. It can also be a tall,
canopy tree, sometimes grown to provide shade for coffee trees that
are planted underneath them. It can be grown outdoors in the tropics
and subtropics with normal garden soil and watering.
Smaller plants can be killed by frost,
although larger plants are more tolerant. It adapts well to
container culture and can be kept as a houseplant or in a
greenhouse. The plant is dioecious, meaning plants are either male
or female and hence male and female plants must be kept in proximity
to allow fruits to develop.
To protect the pimenta trade, the plant was
guarded against export from Jamaica. Many attempts at growing the
pimenta from seeds were reported, but all failed. At one time, the
plant was thought to grow nowhere except in Jamaica, where the plant
was readily spread by birds. Experiments were then performed using
the constituents of bird droppings; however, these were also totally
Eventually, it was realized that passage
through the avian gut, either the acidity or the elevated
temperature, was essential for germinating the seeds. Today, pimenta
is spread by birds in Tonga and Hawaiʻi, where it has become
naturalized on Kauaʻi and Maui.
Allspice (Pimenta dioica) was encountered by
Christopher Columbus on the island of Jamaica during his second
voyage to the New World, and named by Dr. Diego Álvarez Chanca. It
was introduced into European and Mediterranean cuisines in the 16th
pepper" - another name for allspice - continues to be grown
primarily in Jamaica, though a few other Central American countries
produce allspice in comparatively small quantities.
The allspice "tree" is similar to the bay
laurel in size, form, and function - both are classified as
evergreen shrubs that reach of height of between 32 and 60 feet,
both are dioecious (with male and female flowers on separate
plants), fresh leaves are used in cooking as an infused flavor (the
leaves are removed from the food prior to serving).