Country of Origin: Mexico
Allspice is the dried aromatic berries of an evergreen tree called Pimenta dioica, native to the Caribbean islands, Mexico and Central America. It was discovered in Jamaica by Columbus who mistakenly thought he found pepper as the allspice berries resemble pepper berries. The Spanish named the tree pimienta (pepper), eventually the name was changed to Jamaica pimento. It took the name from its country of origin and it was thought that the plant cannot grow anywhere else. Nowadays its cultivation has spread from the Caribbean islands to the Pacific Ocean and the Hawaiian islands.
Allspice berries are harvested from the plantations when they are still green and unripe. They are then left to dry until the seeds inside the berries rattle under the shell. The color of the dried allspice berry is reddish brown to dark brown and the size of it varies between 4 to 7mm. Allspice resembles black peppercorn as they have similar appearance. The aroma of allspice is the reason for its name. It smells like cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg and it contains the essential oil eugenol which is also present in cloves. It has a rich aroma combined with a peppery, pungent taste. Ground allspice can lose its essential oils overtime so it must be kept in an airtight container to preserve its taste and aroma. It has a short shelf-life when ground, so it is better to buy small quantities according to the needs of the household or whole berries that can hold for up to 3 years if properly stored.
Allspice has been used by the native people of the Caribbean islands to preserve meat and fish long before it was discovered by Columbus. Today, allspice is still an important ingredient for the Caribbean and Jamaican cuisine, used in jerk spice mixes to be used as a marinade for meat, chicken and fish. Allspice is also an essential ingredient for Mexican sauces, for Indian curries and pilafs, for Middle Eastern stews, for sauerkraut and pickled vegetables, for sausages and other processed meat products. In Greece it is used for hare and beef stews cooked in thick tomato sauce.
Ground allspice can also be used in sweet recipes, in desserts, cakes and fruit pies, that require cinnamon and cloves. Allspice enhances the taste of baked fruit such as apples, quince, pineapples and plums. It can also be used in spicy chocolate recipes, in cookies and pumpkin pies.