(Pimenta dioica – Family Myrtaceae)
Allspice is not a mixture of spices as some believe, but is obtained from a very tall plant native to Jamaica, but widely grown in Central and South America. It is the only spice whose production is confined to the New World. Efforts to introduce it to other parts of the globe have not been successful. The allspice tree belongs to the Myrtle family, and is not related to the pepper or Capsicum families, despite its alternate name. When the Spanish encountered the plant, they thought the dried, unripe berries resembled those of the peppercorn and gave it the names of ‘pimento’ and ‘Jamaica pepper’. When the dried fruits are ground, the flavour resembles a combination of pepper, cloves, cinnamon, and nutmeg, with a touch of juniper berries thrown in. At one time, it was the only major “sweet spice” of the New World. It was first taken to Europe by the Spanish and the English in the 16th century. However, it did not become popular there until the Dutch and the Danes made it so. Used mainly to flavour foods, allspice also aids in digestion. The flavour and aroma of the spice is because of its volatile oils. The main one is eugenol, which is also the principal flavouring in cloves. However, the source of their pungency has not been fully identified; but the known substances tannin and quercitannic acid do produce some astringency. Commercially, the essential oil is known as ‘pimento berry oil’, and can be used instead of the ground spice for flavouring; although, it does lack some of the characteristics of the spice itself. Distillation of the oil takes place in Europe and North America, but a less expensive oil, made from the leaves, is produced in Jamaica and exported as ‘pimento leaf oil’.