A single spice that imparts the aroma and flavor of a trio of warm seasonings ﾗ cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg ﾗ Allspice is the unripened berry of a small evergreen.
Allspice is a member of the myrtle family, an evergreen reaching 25 to 40 feet. Its botanical name ﾗ Pimenta dioica ﾗ is a bit deceiving, though. It is not a relation of the pimiento (a species of red pepper), indigenous to the Western Hemisphere (along with chili pepper and vanilla). With the discovery of the New World, allspice was one of the exotic spices that commanded high prices and promised fame and fortune to the explorers who might deliver pungent, aromatic spices to European nobility. Spanish explorers discovered allspice soon after Columbus found the islands of the West Indies. They named it "pimienta" (Spanish for pepper), because it resembled the peppercorn in size, shape, and flavor. In the seventeenth century, when it became clear that the two spices were unrelated, the name Allspice came into use. Also known as Pimenta or Jamaican Pepper. Allspice is a long-term investment for spice growers. The tree begins to bear fruit in its seventh or eighth year and produces full crops only after 15 years of growth. It flowers in June, July, and August, and the berry, which is about the size of a black currant, is picked while still green. (If left to fully ripen, it turns purple-black and becomes fleshy and sweet, losing most of its aromatic qualities.) During the drying process, the fruit changes to a reddish-brown. Allspice is famously used as a flavoring in the liqueurs Chartreuse and Benedictine.
When cooking with the whole berries, you'll want to remove them before serving the dish. To intensify the flavor, you might try gently roasting the whole berries.
Whole allspice is used mainly for pickling, but it's also a flavorful addition to pepper mills, gravies, broths, stews, spiced ciders, pickles, and marinades for meat, fish and vegetables. (Scandinavians use allspice to marinate raw herring and to preserve barrels of fish in transport.) The small, round, dark brown seed are also sometimes used for texture and aroma in herbal craft projects, like potpourris. Use it in desserts and preserves as well as gravies and marinades, with fruits as well as meats. You can also use ground Allspice in cakes and pies, breads, chutneys, custards, marmalades, sauces, soups, gravies, ketchup, marinades, and preserves. It's delicious with fruits, especially pineapple. In a pinch, you can substitute ground Allspice for cloves in a recipe. When time permits, consider grinding your own berries for the freshest ground flavor.