What’s Allspice?

Jamaica Pepper, Myrtle Pepper

FR: Piment jamaique, Poivre aromatique, Poivre de la Jamaque, Toute-epice GER: Jamaikapfeffer, Nelkenpfeffer IT: Pimento

SP: Baya o fruta delpimiento de Jamaica BOT: Pimenta dioica (Pimenta officinalis)

FAM: Myrtaceae ILL: Plate 18, No. 4

This spice comes from a tree native to the West Indies and Central and South America. It is now grown in many tropical countries, but flourishes so profusely in Jamaica that this island produces most of the world’s supply. The tree has purple berries. These are picked while still green and then dried in the sun. They turn brown, and this is the familiar allspice of the kitchen, looking like large brown peppercorns.

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Allspice is not, as some think who only buy it ground, a compound of several spices, although its taste is very like cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg mixed together. It is a useful spice and should, like other spices, be stored whole rather than bought pre-ground. When a light mixed spicing is required, one or two corns can be easily powdered in a mortar. Cloves and cinnamon are more difficult to pulverize.

Allspice is used in almost every country. Ground, it is used in cakes, and is one of the common pickling spices: it is, for instance, a usual spice in Scandinavian raw marinated herring. It can also be used in curries and pilau though it is not one of the traditional Indian ingredients. It is much used in the Near and Middle East and is a spice which most cooks will want to keep on the shelf.

There are several aromatic garden shrubs popularly called ‘allspice’- the Carolina allspice, Japanese allspice and wild allspice or spice bush – but these have nothing to do with Jamaica pepper.

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