The "Magic" of Allspice
A common misconception is that allspice is a blend of different spices. The truth, however, is much more magical. Allspice does contain all the flavors of cloves, ginger, nutmeg, and cinnamon combined - in one single berry.
A common misconception is that allspice is a blend of different spices. The truth, however, is much more magical. Allspice does contain all the flavors of cloves, ginger, nutmeg, and cinnamon combined - in one single berry. Which is, legend has it, how this unique spice got its name.
But before we go any further, let's clear something up. Many sources will tell you that Allspice was "discovered" by Spanish explorer Christopher Columbus during his voyage to the New World during the 16th century. However, the people native to the region knew about this little spice gem and had long been using it for such varied purposes as flavoring chocolate and for curing meats.
Making allspice even more “magical” is that it is the only spice that grows exclusively in the Western Hemisphere. Coming from a type of evergreen tree, allspice berries are native to the rainforests of Central and South America.
Ok, now back to the Spanish colonizers...
They thought the berry was the coveted black peppercorn of India. These two spices bear a striking resemblance, so the Spanish called these (new) berries, “pimento”. As with some other misnomers, much confusion has come from this name. In Spain and Portugal, "pimento" can also refer to chile peppers.
In some circles, the name pimento stuck while other spice traders seized on the flavor and renamed this little berry allspice.
Whatever you call it, pimento or allspice, at this point we have just embraced the linguistic trickery.
This tree is essential to 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, can be added to fire 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 even hear that little rattle!
Allspice is aromatic and pungent, providing a flavor reminiscent of cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger, with slight peppery overtones. The unique taste is part of what makes this one spice so versatile. Allspice 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.
Allspice is a crucial ingredient in creating genuine Caribbean cuisine as its flavor is unmatched. Here are a few recipes that feature this magical flavor.
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. This one is a crowd pleaser!
Fresh allspice is essential to this recipe as its warm-spice notes pair perfectly with the rich flavor of coconut. This rice makes a great side dish for any of your favorite Caribbean-inspired grilling recipes.
A simple syrup infused with sweet Jamaican Allspice and minty California Bay Leaves gives this refreshing Cuban cocktail a new twist with layers of complex flavors.
We upped the coconut factor in this traditional dessert by using coconut extract in both the pudding filling and the creamy whipped topping. Dusting the graham cracker crust with allspice gives this southern favorite a Caribbean twist. It makes a great dessert for a summer backyard barbecue.
What's your favorite way to use allspice? Let us know in the comments below!