A spice is leaves, seeds, or other plant parts used for flavoring food or as a condiment. The name derives from the Late Latin word species, meaning “wares” or “spices.” Spices are sometimes categorized by their cultural connection, for example, Italian spices or Cajun spices. Some herbs are also considered to be spices, but not all spices are herbs.
History. Also called “Jamaica pepper,” allspice is the dried unripe berry of the pimento plant, an evergreen native to Central America, Mexico, South America, and the West Indies. In the times before refrigeration, allspice was used by buccaneers to cure their meat. The popular liqueur Benedictine, created during the Renaissance in the Abbey of Fécamp, contains 27 plants of spices, one of which is said to be allspice. Allspice is also one of the terms used to describe the character of wine.
Description. Pimenta officinalis and Pimenta dioica are the two most often found varieties of the plant from which allspice comes, and both are in the family Myrtaceae. The plant grows up to 40 feet (12 meters) in height. Small white flowers bloom in June through August. The taste of allspice led to its name – it is said to taste like a combination of cloves, juniper, cinnamon, and pepper, or some other array of pungent spices. It is rated as a four out of ten on a scale of spice heat.
Food and other Uses. Allspice may be most often thought of as a baking spice, used in cookies, pies, pudding, and – perhaps most famously – as part of the spicy mix used to flavor pumpkin pie. Allspice is also used in sweet, hot drinks, such as hot apple cider and eggnog. It also finds a place in wassail and in the drink called Tom & Jerry, where it is part of a spice combination that also includes mace, cloves, and nutmeg.
Allspice has a place in savory dishes as well. Allspice is used for pickling, including pickled beets, cucumbers, eggs, and corned beef. Jamaican jerk also features allspice as one of its key ingredients. The spice is used in North African and Arabic stews, as well.