Allspice is commonly thought to be a combination of several different spices, but it isn’t. Allspice is the dried fruit of Pimenta dioica, a tree native to the West Indies and Central America.
The aromatic dried fruit, which look something like mummified blueberries, are used whole or ground up. Allspice was used by native peoples, not always in cooking. There is one claim that the Maya used allspice in burial rites for deceased leaders. There are claims that allspice relieves pain, enhances mood, eliminates fungal infections and reduces blood pressure. Those claims are not substantiated, but it is used in folk medicines.
Europeans learned about the spice from the native people. The English called it “allspice” because it seemed to them to taste like a combination of spices. That description of allspice tasting like a combination of other spices is still being used, although the spices listed vary. Most descriptions of what allspice tastes like mention cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg.
Allspice is often featured in West Indian cuisine, most famously as a key ingredient in Jamaican Jerk Chicken. Allspice has spread worldwide, and is now frequently used in cuisines as far apart as Latin America and parts of the Middle East.
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