Botanical name: Pimenta dioica âª Family name: Myrtaceae
Allspice is the dried berry of an evergreen tree which grows to a height of 9-12 m, but in the wild can be up to twice this height. The round allspice berries have a rough surface because of tiny oil glands. Inside there are two hard, kidney-shaped seeds, but most of the flavour comes from the husk or shell.
Native range: West Indies, Central America, South America
Major producers: Jamaica, India
Harvesting: The fully developed but still green allspice berries are harvested between July and September, about 3–4 months after flowering. The berries change to purple then brown as they are dried in the sun.
Taste and aroma: The name "allspice" is derived from the fact that it tastes and smells like a blend of cloves, nutmeg, and cinnamon.
Culinary uses: Widely used in European cooking as an ingredient in sweet recipes including cakes, biscuits, and Christmas puddings. The ground or whole spice is also used in preserves and chutneys, and to contribute flavour in liquors such as Benedictine and Chartreuse. Whole allspice berries are a popular ingredient for mulled wine.
Other uses: Oil from the berries and leaves of allspice are used in antiseptics, medicines, and perfumes.
Historical uses: Mayan Indians used allspice to embalm their dead, and the preservative properties of allspice were valued by early seafarers for keeping both fish and meat edible on long voyages.
Storage: Allspice berries retain their freshness best if stored whole in an airtight container, and crushed or pounded when needed.