Allspice—A Versatile Spice

Allspice comes from a tall tree (20 to 40 feet) that is native to the West Indies. It is grown throughout the American tropics, and common in Jamaica. Allspice is also known as Jamaica pepper and Myrtle pepper.

The berries for this spice are picked green and dried in the sun. They become wrinkled and reddish-brown. The drying process intensified the aroma. Within this one berry are the flavors of clove, nutmeg, and cinnamon. Ovens are sometimes used in the drying process. However, berries dried in the sun are preferred for their flavor. Precautions must be taken with the sun drying process. The berries must be brought into a room to avoid attracting moisture during rainy or damp days. This twelve day process is considered tedious and time consuming.

Allspice (Pimenta dioica) can be purchased as whole berries (dried) and as a finely ground spice for instantly sprinkling on your latte, instead of cinnamon. This versatile spice can be used from pickling to main dishes to dessert and drinks. It can be used in pickled beets instead of clove. It adds a hint of cinnamon and nutmeg. While commonly used in preparing relishes, it is also used in meats, especially pot roasts. Allspice is well known in Middle and Near East cooking, especially in curry sauces.

It is best known for its delicious flavor and aroma in pies, cakes, cookies, and puddings made with milk. Preserved and stewed fruits are enhanced by the addition of allspice, as is mincemeat.  Less well known uses are in dishes flavored with tomatoes. Allspice works well with other spices.

In early medicine, Oil of Pimento, made from pungent volatile oil of allspice, was used to aid digestion and relieve the symptoms of abdominal gas. While it is mostly used in culinary applications, it seems to help in relieving colic and abdominal gas.

To get the best flavor from allspice, it should be bought whole and then ground. It can also be made into a paste with a mortar and pestle, and then added to your dish.

The versatility of this spice encourages experimenting. Buy some ground allspice or grind your own. Then try a dusting on your morning coffee or hot chocolate. Instead of cinnamon toast, use allspice for a change in flavor. A dusting of allspice on your morning oatmeal will jazz it up a bit.

For a savory pot roast, rub flour, allspice, and pepper into the meat, and roast in the oven with a bit of water to keep it from burning, and to provide a base for the gravy you can make when the meat is cooked.

Stews and casseroles take well to allspice. You can use it with beef, lamb, veal, pork, and chicken. If you are putting dumplings in your stew, you can add a bit of allspice to the dumpling dough as you are making it.  If you are preparing biscuits with your casseroles, a small amount of allspice will add zest and flavor. Add the allspice with the dry ingredients.

Happy cooking—with allspice!

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