Latin name: Pimenta dioica
Other names: Pimento, Jamaica pepper, kabab chini (Hindi)
Uses: spice, pickling

Don’t be misled by its name; allspice — a boldly perfumed Caribbean ambassador — is not a spice blend. It’s actually the berry from an evergreen shrub in the myrtle family, with close ties to cloves. Picked when they are green and unripe, the berries are then left to ferment and dry in the sun, where they turn a dark maroon-brown. At this stage, they look similar to peppercorns, which is why early Spanish explorers called it pimento.

Why is allspice healthy? 

Allspice is immensely popular in several folk medicine traditions for treating colds, menstrual cramps, upset stomach, toothaches, and fatigue. Compounds like eugenol, quercetin, and gallic acid have all been shown to have antibacterial, antitumor, antiviral, and anti-inflammatory effects.

What does allspice taste like?

The warm woody notes and sweet heady aroma of winter spices – cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and pepper – defines allspice’s complex flavor perfectly and is the reason for its confusing name. Its tropical aroma will remind you of your favorite hot beverage on a cold winter afternoon. Be sure to buy allspice whole and grind the berries as needed, since they lose flavor quickly when ground.

Where does allspice grow?

Native to the West Indies and Central America, Westerners first encountered allspice when Columbus and his hunt for pepper brought him to Jamaica. Despite continued efforts, the shrub doesn’t seem to thrive much outside of Jamaica but grows in smaller quantities on some Hawaiian islands and a handful of countries including Guatemala, Honduras, and Mexico.

How do I prepare allspice and what do I pair it with?

Jamaican jerk seasoning is incomplete without allspice’s complex foundation. This perennially underrated spice found favor in Europe early on, flavoring preserved meat and adding depth to British puddings, cakes, and sausages as well as the quintessential mincemeat pie. In the Middle East, allspice appears in everything from kebabs to keema, enhancing meat-based dishes, stews, and tomato sauce. North Indian biryani and meat curries also rely on this essential addition. Whole allspice frequently appears in pickling brines for vegetables and fish. Swedish meatballs derive their distinctiveness from it as well.

Freshly ground allspice is an easy seasoning for soups, curries, and baked goods like apple pie, pumpkin pie, and gingerbread. Allspice dram is a West Indian liqueur flavored with the berries, and the leaves are also edible and aromatic. They can elevate a simple black tea, while also adding an edge to winter staples like mulled wine and spiced hot cider.

Surprising fact:

The oil derived from the berry is used in some men’s fragrances, including — appropriately — Old Spice.