Allspice is a berry which comes from the Pimenta dioica tree.
The reason for its name Allspice is simply its taste, with hints of clove, cinnamon, pepper and nutmeg. The English named it for its flavour, while the Spanish named it Pimenta (pepper) for its appearance, since it resembles black peppercorns.
This is another of those great things Christopher Columbus and his expeditions brought back to Europe after his travels in the “Americas”! And it quickly became popular as an ingredient in sweet dishes in England, although in Jamaica – where it was first found – its uses are much broader. Sometimes called Jamaica pepper, it gives their sauces/chutneys and marinades for meat that distinctive warmth and spice. The English loved it, and in some Middle Eastern countries it was also adopted. But allspice has not really been embraced further east, possibly because of the abundance of other aromatic spices. In Germany it is not well-known, and is often referred to as “English Spice”…
The allspice berry is picked before it ripens… the plantations in the West Indies must smell absolutely heavenly at this time! These green berries are then dried in the sun until they shrivel and turn black, just like peppercorns. Jamaica still provides most of the world’s supply – and apparently the best quality – having protected the plant from export early on. They can be bought whole, or ground… like mine… 😀
Allspice can aid digestion and can be used to relieve arthritis, rheumatism, stress and anxiety. It has even been used as a deodorant! (Soldiers in the Napoleonic wars put it in their boots for its warming effect and the side effect was sweet-smelling feet!)
I use it in baking quite often… like in these spicy rhubarb muffins here…