by Jane Lawson
related to cloves
also known as pimento
Allspice is Mother Nature's spice mix in a single berry. The English named it for its aroma—a heady combination of cloves, cinnamon, and nutmeg. The erroneous name pimento, as it's also called, came from the Spanish. Columbus happened upon the spice in Jamaica on his 1492 voyage to the New World. Mistaking it for peppercorns—an important currency of the day he took sackloads of allspice back to Spain and named it from the Spanish word for pepper, pimena, which is also used for the bell pepper family. Consequently pimento is sometimes confused with pimenton, which is dried bell pepper powder.
Allspice grows on an evergreen tree belonging to the myrtle family. The berry is picked prior to ripening and packed in bags and allowed to "sweat," which releases the spice's flavor. The berries are then either sun- or machine-dried. Slightly larger than a peppercorn, dried allspice is dark brown, with a slightly reddish hue. It is sold both as a powder and whole berries. Fresh allspice berries have no culinary uses.
Allspice is native to Jamaica, and has a hard time flourishing elsewhere. Although it can be grown in Guatemala, Honduras, and some parts of Mexico, when buying, Jamaican is considered the superior variety. Not surprisingly, therefore, allspice turns up in Caribbean cuisine, and is an ingredient along with chili, dried thyme, and garlic in jerk seasoning-a mixture used to marinate meats before barbecuing over the wood from the allspice tree.
Another major use of allspice is in the pickling and preservation of meat and fish. In the Spanish dish escabeche, fish is first fried and then marinated in a mixture of oil, vinegar, and whole allspice berries. Once marinated through, the fish can last for up to a week. One of the volatile oils in allspice is a mild antimicrobial-this may explain its use, along with vinegar, as a preservative. This may also explain the Indian Mayan's use of the spice in embalming ceremonies.
The English found use for allspice in sweet cooking, where it is found in fruit-based desserts and baking.
Allspice recipes and page numbers in the book:
For other recipes with allspice see:
Buy The Spice Bible
This page created May 2008
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