Allspice

The flavor is a mixture of nutmeg, cinnamon and clove. Used worldwide in pickles; stews and casseroles; broths for meat and fish; in cakes, puddings, relishes and chutneys.

How to identify allspice

Allspice is a mildly pungent and aromatic berry of a beautiful evergreen tropical tree, the pimento tree. The berries are picked fully grown, but still green, and dried in the sun for a week until they turn a dark reddish brown.

The pimento tree belongs to the myrtle family. It grows to 30ft (9m) with thick leathery leaves and clusters of small white aromatic flowers that appear around mid-summer. It bears a fruit about the size of a currant. Ripe berries are dark purple.

Originally from the West Indies, Central and South America, it is the only major spice grown exclusively in the Western hemisphere. Most allspice comes from the island of Jamaica today, but it is also grown in Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, and Brazil.

How to use and store

It is available whole or ground. Buy preferably whole berries and store them in an airtight jar; grind in a mortar or pepper mill, as necessary. Ground allspice quickly loses aroma and flavor.

In European cooking, it is commonly used as a pickling spice for fish, notably Scandinavian raw herrings, beef and pork, and in marinades, pates, sausages and terrines. Ground allspice is used in baking, fruit desserts, pies and puddings, especially Christmas pudding.

It is well-liked in the Middle East and the Levant where is used to flavor meat and rice dishes.

In Jamaica it is popular in local dishes, as their Jerk Pork, and it is used in pickles,marinades, soups, and stews. It is used, as well, for a Jamaican liqueur known as the pimento dram.

How to grow allspice

Pimento trees, which can live up to 100 years, are grown on tropical plantations along hillsides. Once established, they need little attention. Allspice berries are picked by hand.

It has proved difficult to grow pimento trees other than their natural area. Individual trees have been grown in the warmer zones around the Mediterranean.

Cooking with allspice

Right from the heart of Caribbean cuisine, an all time Jamaican favorite, although you are more likely to find chicken prepared this way.

Jerk pork

1/4 cup allspice berries
3 Tbs olive oil
3 scallions, chopped
1-2 fresh red or green chillies, seeded and chopped
1-2 bay leaves
Salt and pepper, best if it is freshly ground
4 pieces of pork chops or boneless loin, approx. 1/2 lb each

  1. Toast the allspice berries in a small pan for 3-4 minutes.
  2. Combine them in a blender with the scallions, chillies, bay leaves, oil and seasoning. Work to a thick paste., adding a little olive oil or water, if necessary. 
  3. Rub the paste into the pork and leave it covered for at least two hours, preferably overnight, in the refrigerator.
  4. Slowly grill the chops for about 40-60 minutes, turning them after half the cooking time. A charcoal fire is preferable.

Tip – to give the meat an authentic aroma, throw allspice berries on the charcoal.

Experiment

You can use allspice, a versatile but ignored spice, in many ways.

  • Add berries to soups and stews, as the Jamaicans do.
  • Add ground allspice to pureed root vegetables.
  • Goes well with game, pork or ham, and veal or beef.

pimenta dioica, syn p. ofiicinalis (myrtaceae) - English allspice, Jamaican pepper - French poivre de Jamaique - German Jamaicapfeffer - Italian pepe di giamaica - Spanish pimienta de Jamaica.