Allspice is the name of a highly aromatic dried fruit, commonly used as a culinary spice, either whole or after being ground to powder form. This spice is obtained from a tree (Pimenta dioica) belonging to the myrtle family that is a native of Central America and Southern Mexico, but now cultivated elsewhere in warm climatic conditions. Allspice, is also known by several other names including Jamaica pepper, myrtle pepper, newspice, pimento/pimento or simply pepper.
The Allspice tree, Pimenta dioica, was by chance encountered by Christopher Columbus during his second voyage to the New World, on the island of Jamaica. It was soon after named by Dr. Diego Álvarez Chanca. It was much later, in the 16th century that this spice was introduced into European and Mediterranean cuisines. Although it was grown primarily in Jamaica, some other Central American countries began producing allspice in comparatively smaller quantities.
The fruit is selected and picked when it is still unripe and green, after which, it is traditionally dried in the sun. The fruits turn brown and resemble large peppercorns in shape by the time drying is complete. Whole fruits tend to exhibit a longer shelf life as compared to the powdered product. Also these release more aroma when freshly ground just prior to use.
Fresh leaves from this tree may also be used when available. These are quite similar in texture to bay leaves and hence are also infused during the process of cooking and subsequently removed before serving. But unlike bay leaves, they lose flavour on drying. Both the leaves and wood from the Allspice tree are very often used for smoking meats. Essential oil extracted from Allspice is also available and may be used to flavour cakes and desserts.
Allspice is a very fragrant spice ingredient and pairs quite well with different meats and chicken to create a very interesting blend of flavors. Meat can be slow-cooked, oven roasted or cooked in a skillet with little oil along with plenty of onions, tomatoes and generous amounts of garlic powder, ground allspice, allspice berries, salt and pepper as seasoning.
Served with potatoes and other vegetables like asparagus or broccoli, an allspice-seasoned chicken makes for a healthy and flavorful meal.
· Allspice is an important ingredient in Caribbean cuisine, typically used as a spice for pickling, curry powder mixes, commercial sausages and most importantly as a jerk seasoning.
· In the Middle East and Palestine, it is used to flavour many meat dishes and rich stews.
· In America, it is used mainly in desserts, but is the key element responsible for offering Cincinnati-style chili its characteristic flavour and aroma.
· Allspice is commonly used and appears in many dishes, in Great Britain, including cakes.
· Allspice provides Vitamin A, B-vitamins especially B6, Pantothenic acid and folate.
· It is a source of minerals Calcium, iron, magnesium, copper, potassium, phosphorus and manganese. Zinc and selenium are present in trace amounts.
· It is a fair source of dietary fiber.
· It is packed with antioxidant components that fight disease causing free radicals.
The ‘eugenol’ constituent of the allspice fruit not only provides an unusual aroma but may also ease digestive symptoms like nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea. In addition, allspice may have carminative or gas-relieving effect. This fragrant spice supposedly acts as an effective relaxant that relieves stomach cramps and also acts as a stimulant to support digestion.