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What is allspice?

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Allspice on two wooden spoons
Neil Overy/Photographer's Choice RF/Getty Images
Question: What is allspice?
Allspice tastes and smells like a combination of spices
Answer: Allspice, botanically-known as Pimenta officinalis, is native to Central and South America, but is most closely associated with the West Indies island of Jamaica. Jamaica exports the majority of allspice for consumption around the world, so it's no wonder that most classic Jamaican dishes such as jerk seasoning and beef patties make generous use of this spice.

Allspice is the dried berry of the Jamaican pepper tree, also known as pimento tree. At first glance, you might easily confuse the allspice berry with a peppercorn, just as early Spanish explorers did. The green berries, which contain two seeds, are slightly larger than peppercorns and have a rough dark reddish brown exterior when dried. They are harvested and dried when they reach full size but before they mature. The allspice berries lose their flavor and aroma when fully ripe.

Allspice comes by its name for a very good reason. The berries have a combined flavor of cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves with a hint of juniper and peppercorn. Some enterprising spice companies sell a mixture of spices as allspice, so be sure and check the ingredients on the label to be sure you are getting the real thing. Allspice is often called pimento, not to be confused with the capsicum pepper pimiento, which is a vegetable, not a spice.

Allspice holds a prominent place in Caribbean and Latin savory and sweet dishes. It is also an important ingredient in many spice mixes, pickles, chutneys, vegetables, soups, and of course, desserts.

More About Allspice

What is allspice?
Allspice Selection and Storage
Allspice Tips and Measures
Allspice Recipes
Allspice Photo © 2009 Peggy Trowbridge Filippone, licensed to About.com, Inc.
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