Allspice - Misunderstood Spice

Allspice is the dried fruit of the Pimenta dioica plant. The fruits are picked when green and unripe, and are traditionally dried in the sun.

Illustration of twig, flowers, and fruits of the Pimenta dioica plant
Illustration of twig, flowers, and fruits of the Pimenta dioica plant

Production

The dried fruit of the Pimenta dioica plant produces allspice. The fruits are collected when they are still green and unripe, and then sun-dried. When dried, they resemble huge, smooth peppercorns and are brown. Fresh leaves have a texture similar to bay leaves and are used in the same way in the kitchen. Where allspice is a local crop, leaves and wood are commonly utilised to smoke foods.

Uses

The English coined the word allspice in 1621, valuing it as a spice that united the flavours of cinnamon, nutmeg, and clove.

Allspice is one of the most important ingredients of Caribbean cuisine. It is used in Jamaican jerk seasoning, and traditionally its wood was used to smoke jerk. In Mexico, an allspice liqueur is produced under the name "pimento dram".

Allspice is also indispensable in Middle Eastern cuisine, particularly in the Levant, where it is used to flavour a variety of stews and meat dishes, as well as tomato sauce.

Allspice is commonly used in Great Britain, Portugal and the United States. It is used to give Cincinnati-style chili its distinctive aroma and flavor. Whole allspice used heavily in traditional stews cooked in large terracotta pots in the Azores islands.

Whole allspice berries
Whole allspice berries

Cultivation and trade

Allspice can be grown as a houseplant or in a greenhouse. Smaller plants can be killed by frost; larger plants more tolerant of cold weather. Allspice can be a small, scrubby tree, quite similar to the bay laurel in size and form.

At the time allspice was encountered by Christopher Columbus, it was found only on the island of Jamaica. Allspice introduced into European and Mediterranean cuisines in the 16th century. Today, pimenta grows in Tonga and Hawaii, where it has become naturalized on Kauaʻi and Maui.

Pimenta dioica leaves in Goa, India
Pimenta dioica leaves in Goa, India

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