Pimenta dioica, Pimenta officinalis
- Jamaica Pepper
- Myrtle Pepper
The herb known as the allspice is an evergreen tree that can reach a height of 12 m (forty feet); it resembles the myrtle in appearance. The allspice possesses large and leathery, glossy green leaves that are about 12.5cm (five inches) in length on average, the leaves of the tree all have very prominent veins on the lower surface.
Small white flowers appear on the tree from the months of June through August, the allspice normally bears fruit after three years. Flowers that appear in the summer are replaced by bunches of green berries which then ripen to a dark brown color and resemble large peppercorns in appearance.
Grounded allspice is a very common culinary spice. The allspice is normally sold already ground in packets – this has lent substance to wrong belief that this grounded powder is made from an admixture of several different spices.
Allspice was given its current name during the late seventeenth century as a definition of the flavour induced by a mixture of common spices – namely the cinnamon, cloves, the nutmeg and pepper, which were just being added to the western culinary repertoire. Much of the world’s supply of allspice comes from Jamaica; this is the reason for the common name “Jamaica pepper” given to the allspice.
The Jamaican island has numerous allspice trees that form an important part in large tracts of extant natural woodland – which are also called Pimento walks by the locals. The Spanish word for pepper was the inspiration for giving the Latin name “Pimento” to the berries of the allspice – the ripe allspice fruits resemble peppercorns in appearance.
In older eras, a medicine called the “Oil of Pimento” made from the pungent volatile oil found in allspice was often used to aid lagging digestion and to ease symptoms of flatulence in different patients. These days, the allspice is mainly used as a culinary spice and a condiment; however, similar to many other common spices, it helps in alleviating excess abdominal gas and colic.
Allspice is utilized in flavoring various pickles, the whole spice for example is used in the preparation of marinated raw herring in Scandinavian cuisine – it is also used as a spice in pickled onions.
Savoury dishes as well as spiced meats of all kinds are flavoured with grounded allspice, however, it is most widely used in flavoring sweet dishes, these range from different cakes as well as biscuits to all kinds of milk based puddings. Even though the allspice is not a traditional Indian spice, it is a common feature in the cuisine of the Near East and the Middle East.
To get the full flavour of the spice, the allspice should be bought whole and then ground in a mill or made into a paste using a mortar and pestle – this ground spice can be used as needed to flavour different foods.
The greatest flavour and all the special qualities of the allspice fruit are contained in the rind covering each berry. The ripened rind tends to loss the flavour due to the loss of much of the volatile oil, which is the main reason that the berries are collected as soon as they all of them have become full size at an unripe and green stage.
The berries of the allspice are normally gathered by breaking off the small twigs that bear bunches of berries. Once the berries are collected, they are spread out on a mat and exposed to the sunlight and air for a few days. Once they have dried out, the stalks on the berries are removed and dried berries are then packed into bags or into sealed casks for export and processing.
Ovens are sometimes used to dry the collected berries, this method of drying is not comparable to the evaporative drying of berries in the sun – sun dried berries are considered to be better and more flavourful than oven dried berries. However, drying berries by sunlight is much more tedious and is considered hazardous and time consuming – often taking about twelve days, in that time, the drying and exposed berries must be carefully guarded against excess moisture, often needing to be moved inside a room during the night as well as on rainy or damp days.
Once the berries are dried, they lose their green color changing into a reddish brown color. Most of the aromatic properties of the fruit is lost if the fruit ripens on the tree, such ripe fruits can turn fleshy sweet and become purple black in color as they ripen. To make pimento that are already ripe are often made more attractive by artificially coloring with a bole or brown ochre color.
This fakery can be readily detected by boiling the berries in some dilute hydrochloric acid for a few seconds, this liquid must then be filtered and testing using the reagent potassium ferro-cyanide – if the product has been processed in this way, the resulting liquid will turn bluish green.
Allspice berries that are sold in the market are almost globular berries, each about 0.3 of an inch in diameter, these resemble black pepper in appearance to some extent – these berries tend to have a rough and brittle rind and are normally crowned by the remnants of the serrated calyx that surrounds the short style of the berry.
Each individual fruit of the allspice has two separate cells within each of the cells contains a single, and kidney shaped seed inside. Remnants of the calyx that crowns the fruit along with the presence of two single seeded cells are the physical features that help in distinguishing the Pimento from the Cubebs – a plant with a one celled fruit, which has only one seed and is grey.
This distinctive feature also distinguishes the pimento from black peppercorns, as these are also single celled and possess only one seed.
Allspice is primarily used in condiments and as a culinary spice in different cuisines. Allspice berries are an ingredient in curry powder and are also used in mulled wine produced in many places. The allspice is said to possess a very potent aromatic taste, it is very popular as a warming cordial and is said to have a very sweet odour as well.
Fractionally, the allspice oil is said to resemble the oil found in cloves, and this oil is sometimes used as an additive in some medicines – it is also utilized in perfuming soaps and other toiletries.
Allspice was officially included in both the Pharmacopoeias of both the British Isles and the United States in former times. In the British Pharmacopoeia of 1898, both the oil of the Pimento and the Pimento Water were still officially listed. However, the Oil of the Pimento was finally deleted from the records of the British Pharmacopeia by 1914, at the same time, Pimento Water is still included in the British Pharmacopeia Codex of today.
The United States Pharmacopoeia does not list the Pimento anymore; however, it was officially admitted to the National Formulary IV of the United States. Pimento is listed in the National Formulary IV of the United States as one of the principal ingredients in the Compound Tincture of Guaic.
The action of the Pimento inside the body resembles the action of cloves; it is a potent aromatic stimulant and possesses a carminative effect on the gastrointestinal tract. The Pimento is mainly utilized as an additive in all kinds of tonics and purgatives – it is also used as an herbal flavoring agent in many culinary preparations.
Pimento is also used in treating digestive disorders, the spirit and distilled water of the Pimento as well as the essential oil is very effective in treating cases of flatulent indigestion in patients, it is also used in treating hysterical paroxysms that affect some patients. Flatulence is easily rectified by giving a person about two or three drops of the essential oil in some sugar.
The griping effect induced by some purgatives is corrected by giving the patient some of the essential pimento oil on sugar as well as mixed with pills. The essential oil of the Pimento was added to the Syrup of Buckthorn in former times to prevent the tendency to griping in some patients.
The water of the Pimento – Aqua Pimentae – is often employed as a vehicle for many stomachic and purgative medications given to patients suffering from gastrointestinal problems. The Pimento water is made by using five parts of bruised Pimentos and adding this to two hundred parts of water – this mixture is then distilling down to hundred. A single dose of this water should ideally be about 1 to 2 fluid ounces per patient.
Habitat and cultivation
The allspice is found in the wild in the West Indies, it can be considered a native species of Jamaica, parts of Central America and some areas of Mexico. The allspice is now grown as a plantation crop in commercial plantations in many tropical and sub-tropical countries around the world, including South East Asian countries such as Indonesia and the Malay Peninsula.
The herb grows best in hilly terrain on soils rich in limestone. The allspice tree can also be grown in greenhouses in colder temperate and northern zones – however, this herb does not flower in cold climates.
The allspice tree is usually propagated in plantations using the seeds. These are collected only from the fruits of trees that have a high yield of berries annually. To get the seeds, the collected fruits are first subjected to soaking in water overnight, they are then rubbed and the seeds are slowly extracted by prying with a knife.
Seeds collected in this manner are sown initially in nursery beds, in pots or in large basins to allow controlled germination of the seeds. The seed beds are normally mulched using dried leaves, straw, even paper or gunny bags to boost the germination rate. The normal time for the seeds to germinate ranges from nine to fifteen days.
It is possible to propagate allspice vegetatively by means of artificial grafts, through budding techniques, by approach grafting techniques and by top working techniques. Allspice plants can also be propagated by using techniques based on tissue culture methods. The ideal time for field plantation of seedlings is when they are about six to ten months old.
These seedlings are normally planted by spacing then at 6m x 6m distances, seedlings are sometimes planted even closer than this to each other. In the seed beds, each single hole will hold three seedlings; an individual hole is about 60cm³ in size. To ensure proper pollination of the growing plants, the female to male plant ratio in any garden should ideally be 8:1.
When these herbs are young, they require shade and regular irrigation to develop properly. It is also necessary to use manure and to mulch the seed beds at regular intervals, weeds may also need to be cleared from time to time. Insect pests of all types may also have to be eliminated and all necessary plant protection measures might need to be adopted if there is any threat of attack from the tea mosquito – Heliopeltis antonii spp.
Allspice plants are also vulnerable to leaf spot disease induced by Cylindrocladium quinqueseptatum or even to leaf rot caused by Pestalotiopsis – if these diseases are noticed, it may be necessary to take precautionary measures to ensure the proper growth of the plants.
Allspice berries are normally picked from the trees three to four months following the floral bloom, at this stage they are not fully ripe and are green. The collected berries are then spread out in the sun for drying for periods lasting three to twelve days before they are ground into spice. The raw berries turn from a fresh green to a dull reddish brown color as they are dried in the sun or in ovens.
When shaken, the dried berries give off a crisp rattling sound. Dried berries are stored after they are cleaned by winnowing and then processed for commercial uses.
Allspice berries contain about 2 to 5 percent essential oil, the volume of oil present is dependent to a great degree on the time of harvest, and ripe fruits have a much lower content of the essential oil. The other principal components found in the berries, include compounds such as eugenol, eugenol methyl ether and different classes of terpenes – myrcene, 1, 8-cineol and α-phellandrene are the most common terpenes.
Jamaican allspice fruits have a eugenol content of 65 percent to 90 percent, and this compound is the primary chemical constituent of the oil. The compound methyl eugenol is found in lesser amounts at 10 percent, while the compound myrcene is found in trace amounts at just 1 percent.
Mexican allspice berries on the other hand have the greatest volume of methyl eugenol at 50 to 60 percent with lesser amounts of the compound myrcene at 15 percent and eugenol at 10 percent.
Smaller amounts of the essential oil are seen in the leaves of the allspice; however, the content of the essential oil in the leaves is high enough to make distillation profitable on a commercial basis. The chemical composition of the essential oil sourced from the leaves is similar to that found in the berries.
An ideal dose of the allspice is one to two capsules, taken twice daily with water before eating.
Side effects and cautions
Nursing mothers and women in a term of pregnancy must not take the allspice in any form.