The "Magic" of Allspice
with Samuel Garrett
allspice bananas Caribbean coconut Jamaican jerk pepper peppercorns
Allspice, also known as Jamaica pepper, can almost be labeled a “magical” spice for its all-encompassing flavor. The term “allspice” was first used by the English in 1621. They felt this one unique berry contained a combination of flavors, including of cloves, ginger, nutmeg, and cinnamon; and so it was coined “allspice”.
Unripe allspice berries on an allspice tree
Allspice was discovered by Spanish explorer Christopher Columbus during his voyage to the New World during the 16th century. The Spanish originally thought the berry they found on the island of Jamaica was the elusive black peppercorn, as they bear a striking resemblance to each other, and called them “pimiento” or “pimento”. Much confusion has come from this name, as pimento also refers to chile peppers in Spain and Portugal. Through the years, however, the name pimento has stuck with allspice and we have embraced its linguistic trickery.
Making allspice even more “magical” is that it is grown exclusively in the Western Hemisphere. Coming from an evergreen tree, allspice berries are native to the rainforests of Central and South America, where they grow wild. This tree is essential to authentic Jamaican cuisine and almost every part of the tree can be used in cooking. The wood of the allspice tree, along with its green leaves and crushed berries, is smoked to produce a sweet smoke that flavors meat with warm, woody pepper notes. Today, plantations in Mexico and Central America export allspice to all areas of the world; but the best allspice still comes from Jamaica as their “terroir” (the characteristics of the geography, climate, and culture) is the best suited to producing these magical berries.
Allspice is harvested before the berries have matured, while they are still unripe. Once harvested, they are sun dried until the seeds inside produce a rattling sound. If you hold one of our whole allspice berries close to your ear and shake, you might hear it! Allspice is aromatic and pungent, providing a flavor reminiscent of cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger, with slight peppery overtones. Along with Caribbean cuisine, allspice is a popular ingredient in European cooking as it provides great flavor to marinades, pickle brines, and even in pâtés and terrines. Allspice also goes wonderfully in many baking recipes such as pumpkin pie and various cakes.
If you had an opportunity to read our post on The Quest for Authentic Jamaican Jerk, you learned that—after searching high and low—Savory’s founders, Mike and Janet Johnston, discovered that the addition of more allspice to our already popular Jamaican Jerk Seasoning gave it a more authentic flavor, reminiscent of true Jamaican Jerk from the Caribbean. For an even more authentic Jamaican experience, we now carry a Jamaican Jerk Smoking Set, which includes the pimento wood and leaves essential to creating bona fide Jamaican Jerk.
Allspice is a crucial ingredient in creating genuine Caribbean cuisine as its flavor is unmatched, almost “magical”. Try any of the recipes below and you’ll feel like you’re on a beach in the Caribbean, drinking tropical beverages and feeling the ocean breeze on your face.
Recipes Featuring the "Magic" of Allspice
Caribbean Coconut Rice: Freshly ground allspice is essential to this recipe as its warmth pairs perfectly with the rich flavor of coconut. This rice is used as the base for our Pineapple Coconut Fried Rice and makes a great side dish for any of your favorite Caribbean-inspired grilling recipes.
Grilled Spiced Sugar Bananas with Spiced Nuts: Bananas are a staple in Caribbean cuisine and pair wonderfully with allspice. The sweetness of the bananas helps quell the peppery notes of allspice. Serve with coconut ice cream for late summer island-style dessert.
Able’s Peppercorn Puerco Pebil: Whole allspice berries provide authentic Caribbean flavor in this twist on a traditional Mayan-style puerco (or cochinita) pebil, a flavorful slow-roasted pork dish. A combination of peppercorns, ground fresh with allspice berries, are the seasoning base for the pork marinade, along with tangy orange juice, earthy achiote paste, and a healthy shot of tequila. This one is a crowd pleaser!