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Allspice

Newspice, Jamaica pepper, Kurundu, Myrtle pepper, Pimenta, Clove Pepper

Pimenta dioica

In the US and western culture, allspice seasoning is used in many desserts like cookies, cakes, fruit pies, puddings ice cream and pumpkin pie but, Allspice (Jamaica pepper) is one of the most important ingredients of Caribbean cuisine. Not only are the ground allspice berries used in the famous Caribbean jerk seasoning, the wood is used to smoke "jerk" meats like pork, chicken, and beef while the leaves are used as food wrap in Jamaican style cooking. Allspice (also known as kurundu) is used in many Jamaican soups, stews, and curries.

Jamaica pepper, kurundu, myrtle pepper, pimenta
Allspice with the flavor
of cloves, nutmeg and cinnamon

The addition of allspice imparts a rich, complex flavor to mole sauces, and used in pickling spice and spiced tea mixtures. In Europe, it serves as an important ingredient in commercial sausage preparations, marinades, mulling spices and curry powder. Many patés, terrines, smoked and canned meats include allspice.

In Middle Eastern cuisine it is popular to flavor a variety of stews and meat and rice dishes. Some Indian curries and pilaus contain allspice and in the West Indies, an allspice liqueur called "pimento dram" is produced by macerating allspice in rum. It is also used in other liqueurs, particularly Benedictine and Chartreuse.

Using Allspice

Allspice is the perfect complement to a wide variety of foods; its subtle, warm sweet flavor is commonly used in both savory and sweet foods. The addition of about 1/4 teaspoon ground Allspice to 2 pounds of ground beef to impart a special essence to meatloaf or hamburgers. Whole Allspice is a great aromatic, use cracked Allspice berries or a few drops of essential oil to enhance potpourri. To create your own unique seasoning blend, add whole allspice berries to a mixture of green, white, and black peppercorns to your pepper grinder. Whole, cracked allspice berries added to simmering beef stew, pot roasts, or hearty bean soups create a captivating experience. Use allspice in marinades to spice up chicken and pork. Simple desserts such as applesauce, fruit compotes, and oatmeal cookies are enhanced by the warm, sweet flavor of Ground Allspice. Allspice may be substituted for cloves and is a clever understatement when added to cooked winter squash and carrots.

Allspice in history

Allspice is native to the Greater Antilles, southern Mexico and Central America. Christopher Columbus first encountered the spice on the island of Jamaica during his second voyage to the New World and it was soon introduced into European and Mediterranean cuisines. Pimenta, (Pimenta dioica,) is derived from the Spanish word for "pepper," because the Spaniards thought the fruits look like pepper. The name "allspice" was coined as early as 1621 by the English, because its flavor resembles that of a combination of Cinnamon, Cloves and Nutmeg.

It is believed Allspice was used by the Mayans as an embalming agent and by other South American Indians to flavor chocolate. The Arawaks were though to have first settled on the borderland between Bolivia, Peru and the forests between the Amazon and Orinoco Rivers. They migrated northeast to Venezuela and Guyana, where some settled while the rest pushed across the Caribbean.

At the time of Columbus, the indigenous peoples of the West Indies, the Arawak, were divided into several groups, the Lucayanos in the Bahamas, the Borequinos were in Puerto Rico and the Tainos lived in Cuba, Jamaica and Haiti. Taino is an Arawak word meaning peace and the name 'Jamaica' comes from the Arawak word, Xamayca, meaning 'land of wood and water'. These natives used allspice to help cure and preserve meats. Interestingly, the word 'buccaneers' is also of this origin. The Arawak call these cured meats 'boucan' and the Europeans that adopted this meat curing process using allspice became known as boucaniers (finally; buccaneers).

Medicinal Usage

Because of its eugenol content, allspice has attributes similar to clove. Allspice is an aromatic stimulant and carminative for the gastrointestinal tract and is a natural source of beta-carotene, vitamins B-1, B-2 and C. The oil is classed as rubefacient, meaning that it irritates the skin and expands the blood vessels, increasing the flow of blood to make the skin feel warmer. In the Napoleonic war of 1812, Russian soldiers put allspice in their boots to keep their feet warm. They discovered the consequential improvement in odors and even today the cosmetic industry associates pimento oil with men's toiletries, specially in products with the word 'spice' on the label.

The tannins in allspice provide a mild anesthetic that, with its warming effect, make it a popular home remedy for arthritis and sore muscles, used either as a poultice or in hot baths.


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