The botanical name for Allspice is pimento dioica. It is a member of the myrataceae family. Allspice was given its name because the aroma is like a combination of cloves, nutmeg, ginger, and cinnamon. In many places throughout the world, allspice is also known as pimento.
When dried, the berries look a lot like brown peppercorns. They are harvested before they ripen and then sun-dried. The average diameter is between 4 and 7 mm, the color is dark brown, and the skins are wrinkled. The outer casing houses two kidney-shaped seeds. You can get allspice in its whole form, or ground. It has a pungent aroma with hints of cinnamon, clove, ginger, and nutmeg. The flavor also resembles this combination with sweetness, warmth and a slight peppery overtone. On a scale of 1 to 10, the hotness factor is 4.
Allspice is only grown in the western hemisphere where the evergreen tree that bears the berries is native to the rainforests of Central and South America. Sadly, many of these wild trees were felled for the berries and only a few remain. There are now allspice plantations in parts of Central America and Mexico. The most superior berries come from Jamaica where the soil and climate provide ideal growing conditions.
South American Indians, especially the Mayans, used allspice as an embalming formula. The Arawak tribe used it to preserve and cure meat which they called ‘boucan’. When Europeans later imitated this curing method, they were called ‘boucaniers’ which eventually led to the name ‘buccaneers’.
Allspice found its way into Europe when the new world was discovered. Several attempts to grow it in eastern spice-producing areas were unsuccessful because the trees produced minimal, and inferior, berries. Even with its potent flavor and warm fragrance that resembles other famous spices, allspice never enjoyed the same popularity of pepper and cinnamon in Europe.
During the Napoleonic War, soldiers packed allspice into their boots to prevent foot odor and keep their feet warm. This has carried through to modern cosmetic industries and allspice oil is an ingredient in many male toiletries. This is why some products’ names include the word ‘spice’.
Allspice forms an integral part of marinades, pickles, terrines, pates, and meat dishes. The Scandinavians add berries to sauerkraut, pickled herring, games dishes, and soups. It is also used in many traditional desserts like pumpkin pie, as well as in cakes, ice-creams, and fruit pies. Several authentic Indian curries contain allspice, while in the Middle East it is used in many rice and meat dishes. It can act as a substitute for nutmeg, cloves, or cinnamon.
Allspice contains eugenol and therefore offers the same health benefits as cloves. It has a carminative action and helps a variety of digestive problems. If you are feeling cold, rub allspice oil on your skin. It will enlarge the blood vessels, increase circulation, and make you feel warmer. The natural tannins act as a mild anesthetic which, combined with the warming effect, soothe sore muscles and arthritis.