Allspice, also known as Jamaican pepper, myrtle pepper, pimenta, or pimento, is a spice made from the dried berries of the Pimenta dioica tree. It is native to Central America and the Caribbean islands. While allspice lends its name to Mexico’s defining flavors, it is not exclusively Mexican in origin.
What is Allspice?
Allspice is made by drying the unripe berries of Pimenta dioica trees. When dried, the berries resemble large, brown peppercorns. Allspice has a complex flavor that resembles a combination of cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves. This is how it earned its English name “allspice.”
Fresh allspice berries are green in color like unripe peppercorns. As they dry, they turn reddish-brown. The flavor intensifies as the berries dry out. high quality allspice has a strong, sweet and spicy aroma.
Allspice History and Origins
The Pimenta dioica tree originated in the tropical forests of Central America and the Caribbean islands. Indigenous peoples of this region used allspice berries, leaves, and wood in cooking before the arrival of Europeans.
Christopher Columbus was the first European to encounter allspice during his second voyage to the New World in 1494. He described the spice as pepper-tasting and named the islands he found it on “Las Islas de las Especias,” or “The Islands of Spice.” Today, these islands make up part of Jamaica.
Spanish explorers introduced allspice to Europe in the early 16th century. Its complex flavor quickly made it popular and by the 17th century, allspice was traded globally. It was one of the most valuable spices during the age of exploration.
Is Allspice Exclusively Mexican?
While allspice grows in Mexico and plays an important role in Mexican cuisine, it does not originate solely from Mexico. Here are a few key facts about allspice and Mexico:
- Allspice is native to Central America and the Caribbean, not Mexico specifically. The Pimenta dioica tree originated in southern Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, Jamaica and other nearby islands.
- Jamaica and Guatemala are two of the world’s largest producers and exporters of allspice today.
- Allspice arrived in Mexico through trade with Central America and the Caribbean islands.
- Allspice is used extensively in Yucatecan and other Mexican cuisines. It flavors many authentic Mexican molés, stews, meats, and marinades.
- While important in Mexican cooking, allspice features in many global cuisines including Jamaican jerk seasoning, garam masala, and Spanish and Arabic foods.
In summary, while allspice contributes to Mexico’s culinary heritage, it did not originate solely from Mexico. Its use spread to Mexico via trade routes from Central America and the Caribbean.
Allspice in Mexican Cuisine
Though not exclusive to Mexico, allspice is an integral ingredient in many Mexican dishes. Here are some of the ways it is used:
Allspice flavors complex molé sauces like molé poblano and lends depth to the chili pepper and chocolate base. Ground allspice is also common in red enchilada sauce.
Allspice is rubbed on meats before grilling, roasting or braising, such as in tinga de res. The berries infuse a warm, rich flavor.
Mexican marinades like recado rojo contain allspice for its bold, savory taste. Allspice’s sweetness balances the acidity of citrus marinades.
Whole allspice berries are added to pickled fruits and vegetables like escabeche to impart flavor.
Allspice flavors rice in dishes like arroz rojo. It provides seasoning without overpowering the rice.
Allspice is found in salsas like salsa negra from Oaxaca, bringing out the flavors of the chilies.
Soups and stews
It is used in bean soups like black bean soup and meat stews to add complexity.
Other Cuisines that Use Allspice
While important in Mexican food, allspice features globally in both sweet and savory dishes:
- Jamaican jerk seasoning – allspice is essential in this spicy, fragrant blend.
- Indian garam masala – allspice adds warmth and sweetness to this spice mixture.
- Middle Eastern recipes – it is used in dishes like Moroccan tagines and Lebanese kebbe.
- European cuisine – allspice flavors meats and stews in Spanish, German and Scandinavian cooking.
- North American baking – it is used in pumpkin pie, gingerbread, and molasses cookies.
In conclusion, while allspice contributes greatly to Mexican cuisine, it does not solely originate from Mexico. Allspice grows natively in Central America and the Caribbean. From there, its use spread via trade to Mexico, Jamaica, Europe and beyond. Today, allspice remains an essential ingredient in Mexican mole sauces, meats, rice, and salsas though it features globally in many international dishes.