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

What is allspice?

Allspice refers to the berry from an evergreen shrub in the myrtle family, with close ties to cloves. Don’t be misled by its name — it’s not a spice blend. Picked when they are green and unripe, the berries are 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 contains compounds like eugenol, quercetin, and gallic acid, all of which have been shown to possess antibacterial, antitumor, antiviral, and anti-inflammatory effects. Allspice is immensely popular in several folk medicine traditions for treating colds, menstrual cramps, upset stomach, toothaches, and fatigue.

What does allspice taste like?

Allspice’s complex flavor is defined by warm, woody notes and a sweet heady aroma of winter spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and pepper — the reason for its confusing name. Its tropical aroma will remind you of your favorite hot beverage on a cold winter afternoon.

How do I use allspice? 

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 sauces. 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.

Jamaican jerk seasoning is incomplete without allspice’s complex foundation. 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.

What does allspice pair well with?

It’s most often used in conjunction with other warm spices in sweet or savory applications from pies to curries and everything in between.

Where does allspice grow?

Allspice is 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 to buy allspice:

Be sure to buy allspice whole and grind the berries as needed, since they lose flavor quickly. 

Fun allspice fact:

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