Herb and Spice of the Week – Allspice

May 8, 2014 at 8:41 AM | Posted in spices and herbs | Leave a comment
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Allspice

Allspice

The past few months on Thursdays I’ve been doing articles on different Grains. I covered most of them so I’m moving on to Herbs and Spices, starting with Allspice.

 

 

Allspice, also called Jamaica pepper, pepper, myrtle pepper, pimenta, pimento, English pepper or newspice, is the dried unripe fruit (“berries”, used as a spice) of Pimenta dioica, a midcanopy 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 P. dioica plant. The fruit are picked when green and unripe and are traditionally dried in the sun. When dry, they are brown and resemble large brown peppercorns. The whole fruit have a longer shelf life than the powdered product and produce a more aromatic product when freshly ground before use.

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.

 

 

 

Whole allspice berries

Whole allspice berries

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 the U.S., 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, as in Germany, it is used in large amounts by commercial sausage makers. It is a main flavor used in barbecue sauces. In the West Indies, an allspice liqueur called “pimento dram” is produced.

Allspice has also been used as a deodorant. Volatile oils found in the plant contain eugenol, a weak antimicrobial agent.

 

 

 
The allspice tree, classified as an evergreen shrub, reaches heights between 32 and 60 ft. 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 planted underneath it. 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.

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 unsuccessful. Eventually, passage through the avian gut, either the acidity or the elevated temperature, was found to be essential for germinating the seeds. Today, pimenta is spread by birds in Tonga and Hawaii, where it has become naturalized on Kauaʻi and Maui.

 

 

 

 

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