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Allspice, also called Jamaica pepper, Myrtle pepper, pimento , or newspice, is a spice which is the dried unripe fruit of the Pimenta dioica plant. The name "allspice" was coined by the English, who thought it combined the flavour of several aromatic spices, such as cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves.
Christopher Columbus brought allspice to Spain from the Caribbean, where it got the name "pimienta," which is Spanish for pepper. Although he was seeking pepper, he had never actually seen real pepper and he thought allspice was it. Its Anglicized name, pimento, is occasionally used in the spice trade today. Before World War II, allspice was more widely used than it is nowadays. During the war, many trees producing allspice were cut, and production never fully recovered. Most allspice is produced in Jamaica, but some other sources for allspice include Guatemala, Honduras, as well as Mexico. Jamaican allspice is considered to be superior due to its higher oil content, which gives it a more appealing flavor.
Allspice is not, as is mistakenly believed by some people who have only come across it in ground form, a mixture of spices. Rather, it is the dried fruit of the Pimenta dioica plant. The fruit is picked when it is green and unripe and traditionally dried in the sun. When dry the fruits are brown and resemble large brown peppercorns.
Allspice is most commonly sold as whole dried fruits or as a powder. The whole fruits have a longer shelf-life than the powdered product and produce a more aromatic product when freshly ground before use. Fresh leaves are also used where available: they are similar in texture to bay leaves and are thus infused during cooking and then removed before serving. Unlike bay leaves, they lose much flavour when dried and stored. The leaves and wood are often used for smoking meats where allspice is a local crop. Allspice can also be found in essential oil form through companies such as Liberty Natural Products.
Allspice is one of the most important ingredients of Caribbean cuisine. It is used in Caribbean jerk seasoning (the wood is used to smoke jerk in Jamaica, although the spice is a good substitute), in mole sauces, and in pickling; it is also an ingredient in commercial sausage preparations and curry powders. Allspice is also indispensable in Middle Eastern cuisine, particularly in the Levant where it is used to flavor a variety of stews and meat dishes. In Palestinian cuisine, for example, many main dishes call for allspice as the sole spice added for flavoring. In America, it is used mostly in desserts, but it's also responsible for giving Cincinnati-style chili its distinctive aroma and flavor as well. Allspice is commonly used in Great Britain and appears in many dishes, including in cakes. Even in many countries where allspice is not very popular in the household, such as Germany, it is used in large amounts by commercial sausage makers. Allspice is also a main flavor used in barbecue sauces.
Allspice has also been used as a deodorant; 18th century Russian soldiers would put allspice in their boots. Volatile oils found in the plant contain eugenol, a weak antimicrobial agent (Yaniv, Sohara et al. 2005). Folklore also suggests that allspice provides relief for digestive problems.
Allspice is a small shrubby tree, quite similar to the bay laurel in size and form. It can be grown outdoors in the tropics and subtropics with normal garden soil and watering. Smaller plants can be killed by frost, although larger plants are more tolerant. It adapts well to container culture and can be kept as a houseplant or in a greenhouse. The plant is dioecious, hence male and female plants must be kept in proximity in order to allow fruits to develop.
To protect the pimento trade the plant was guarded against export from Jamaica. It is reported that many attempts were made at growing the pimento from seeds, all failed. At one time it was thought that the plant would grow nowhere else except in Jamaica where the plant was readily spread by birds. Experiments were then performed using the constituents of bird droppings, however these were also totally unsuccessful. Eventually it was realized that an elevated temperature, such as that found inside a bird's body, was essential for germinating the seeds.
|This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Allspice". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.|