What is Allspice and How to Use It
Allspice is one of the most versatile spices. Unfortunately, not many people know that. Most use it only in the making of their desserts. Learning what allspice is should help you extend the usefulness of this Jamaican pepper beyond sweet dishes.
An Overview of Allspice
Allspice comes from a species of midcanopy tree known as ‘Pimenta doica’. This tree is native to Central America, especially Jamaica. It is also abundant in the Greater Antilles and southern Mexico. However, many countries in warm parts of the globe now cultivate the tree.
The Pimenta doica tree bears fruit. It is this fruit that producers harvest and turn into allspice. The process of making the spice is not that difficult. Harvesters pick only the unripe berries and dry them under the sun. This is the traditional method, of course. Once dried, the berries take on a brownish color. They resemble large peppercorns with a smooth skin. Producers are careful not to dry the berries too much. This is to retain the volatile oils of the fruit, especially eugenol.
Christopher Columbus encountered the spice in Jamaica when he traveled again to the New World for the second time. Columbus’ companion, Diego Alvarez Chanca, named the Jamaican spice as allspice in 1621. This is because the spice had the combined flavors of cloves, cinnamon, and nutmeg.
They returned to Europe with the spice and introduced it to the different cuisines of the region. By the 16th century, allspice had become an important ingredient in many European and Mediterranean dishes.
Allspice comes in different names. Pimento, pimiento, Jamaica pimento, myrtle pepper, and Jamaican pepper are some of the more popular ones.
The Flavor of Allspice
Are you wondering what does allspice taste like? Try combining the flavors of cloves, pepper, nutmeg and cinnamon. Cinnamon is sweet and spicy. Nutmeg has a very distinct and strong aroma. It has a hint of sweetness that matches with its nutty and warm flavor. It can be spicy, too. Cloves have a very complex flavor profile. They can have an astringent and bitter flavor. It is sweet, pungent, and strong. There is also warmth in their flavor profile.
Uses of Allspice
Allspice is a very important ingredient in many Caribbean dishes, especially Jamaican cuisine. The classic jerk seasoning is never complete without this kind of spice. Jamaicans also use the wood of the Pimenta doica tree for smoking jerk.
Mexicans use allspice in the creation of moles. There are also those that use the spice in pickling different food items. Pickled fish can taste more delicious with the use of allspice. Pickling vegetables often involves the addition of black peppercorns, whole cloves, bay leaves, and mustard seeds. Adding allspice can further enhance the flavors.
Middle Eastern countries lining the eastern shores of the Mediterranean also use allspice in many of their meat dishes and stews. There are several Arab dishes that only call for allspice as the flavoring. They don’t need other spices. It is great in the making of Freekeh and Kibbeh.
The subtle peppery overtones of allspice can add depth to soups, curries, and stews. It can also be an excellent addition to roasted veggies as the spice can give a slight heat. Dark chocolate desserts, apple pies, and gingerbread can be made more delicious with the addition of allspice. It can give sweets a hint of spiciness to them.
The spice is also great for certain beverages. Spiced apple cider vinegar and mulled wine are two of the warming beverages you can have for the winter. Whole allspice berries can also make Chai tea and Gluhwein more flavorful.
Benefits of Allspice
Allspice is not only an excellent addition to both savory and sweet recipes. It can also be a wonderful substance for managing a host of symptoms. It contains a volatile oil known as eugenol. It can help reduce the severity of pain such as muscle pain and toothache. It can be effective in providing relief from sprains, joint pain, hemorrhoids, arthritis, and gout.
The eugenol in allspice can also help stimulate the more efficient production of digestive enzymes. This can improve overall digestion. There is also anecdotal evidence that allspice can be great for managing flatulence, vomiting, bloating, constipation, and diarrhea.
The antimicrobial properties of eugenol can also be beneficial in improving the function of the immune system. It can neutralize certain bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract, like Escherichia coli, Salmonella enterica, and Listeria monocytogenes.
Jamaican pepper also contains quercetin, Vitamin C, and Vitamin A. These substances have antioxidant activity that can neutralize free radicals. They can help improve the function of individual cells in the body.
Since allspice is ‘warm’, it can help improve the flow of blood. Massaging a body part with the essential oil of allspice can enhance blood circulation. This can reduce the different signs of inflammation, including, pain and swelling.
Alternatives to Allspice
There are many dishes that call for allspice. If you do not have this spice, then you can always make your own allspice substitute. Keep in mind that allspice has the flavors of nutmeg, cinnamon, and cloves. As such, one good substitute is to mix equal parts of these individual spices. Ground them to a fine powdery consistency so you will have a better chance of mixing them together.
You can also substitute whole pimento berries for ground allspice. A good rule of thumb to observe is to use 6 whole Jamaican pepper berries for every quarter to half teaspoon of the ground version. Make sure to remove whole allspice berries before you eat your stew or soup.
You can also grind the berries into a fine powder. This can provide your dish with more flavor than your typical, pre-ground allspice. As such, you will have to make a few minor adjustments to the amount of freshly-ground allspice you need to add in your dish.
Allspice is one of the most wonderful ingredients you can ever have in your kitchen. It can offer your dish a good blend of spiciness and sweetness to elevate the dish’s flavor profile.