Allspice, also known popularly as Jamaican pepper or pimento, is one of the widely used spice in the Mexican and other Central American cuisines. This spice corn actually is a dried "unripe" fruit obtained from an evergreen tropical shrub belonging to the Myrtaceae family, in the genus: pimento. Scientific name: Pimenta dioica.
The pimento tree is native to tropical evergreen rain forest of Central American region and Caribbean islands. Generally, the plant starts bearing fruits after about five years of implantation.
Unripe green berries, generally, picked up from the tree when they reach full size. The corns are then subjected to dry under sunlight thoroughly. Thus shriveled berries which appear similar to that of brown peppercorns, measure about 6 mm in diameter but contain two seeds unlike peppercorns, which have only one centrally placed seed.
Certain active principles in allspice have been found to have anti-inflammatory, rubefacient (warming and soothing), carminative, and anti-flatulent properties.
Allspice corns contains health benefiting essential oils such as eugenol, a phenylpropanoids class of chemical compound, which gives pleasant, sweet aromatic fragrances to this spice. It also contains caryophyllene, methyleugenol, glycosides, tannins, quercetin, resin, and sesquiterpenes. At the processing units, these volatile essential oils are obtained through distillation process using this spice corn. The outer coat of the allspice-berries is believed to have the greatest concentration of some of the compounds of medicinal activities.
As in black peppercorns, the active principles in the allspice may increase the motility of the gastro-intestinal tract in addition to aid in digestion through facilitating enzyme secretions inside the stomach and intestines.
Eugenol, has local anesthetic and antiseptic properties. It found useful in gum and dental treatment procedures. Recent research studies have shown that the preparation made from allspice oil mixed with extractions from garlic, and oregano can work against E.coli, Salmonella and L.monocytogenes infections.
The spice is enriched with good amount of minerals like potassium, manganese, iron, copper, selenium, and magnesium. Iron is an important co-factor for cytochrome-oxidase enzymes during cellular metabolism. It is also required for red blood cell production inside the bone marrow. Being an important component of cell and body fluids, potassium helps control heart rate and blood pressure. Manganese is utilized inside the human body as a co-factor for the antioxidant enzyme, superoxide dismutase.
Further, this spice also carries a very good amount of vitamin A, vitamin B-6 (pyridoxine), riboflavin, niacin and vitamin-C. Vitamin C is a powerful natural antioxidant; regular consumption of foods rich in vitamin C helps the body develop resistance against infectious agents and scavenge harmful, pro-inflammatory free radicals.
Allspice corns can be available year around. In the store, buy whole allspice corns instead of ground (powder), since, oftentimes it may contain adulterated spicy powders. Look for the corns that feature wholesome, heavy, round and compact.
Generally, these spicy corns can be stored at room temperature for many months and can be milled as and when required. Once ground or powdered, pimento corns should be stored inside the refrigerator in airtight containers and should be used as early as possible before it loses its flavor largely because of evaporation of essential oils.
In order to keep fragrance and flavor intact, allspice generally ground just before preparing dishes and added to the cooking recipes at its final stages. This is because prolonged cooking would results in loss of essential oils.
Here are some serving methods:
|Jamaican jerk spice-rub chicken with sauce.
Photo courtesy: cherrylet
Pimento corns are widely used in Caribbean cuisines. In Jamaica, the corn, along with the scotch bonnet peppers, is one of the two main ingredients in famous Jamaican jerk spice. Along with other spices, its mixture (paste) is being used to rub, and to marinate chicken, fish, and meat.
Some Indian vegetarian and chicken curries contain this spice. In the Middle East, it is used in meat and rice dishes.
The spice has also been used in the preparation of soups, barbecue sauces, pickling and as a main ingredient in variety of curry powders.
It also employed in liquors in many Caribbean countries. A local drink known as Jamaican dram, is made from allspice.
The essential oil, eugenol derived from the allspice berry has been in therapeutic use in dentistry as a local-anesthetic and antiseptic for teeth and gum.
The decoction obtained from this spice sometimes used in treating flatulence and indigestion in traditional medicine, but there is little or no data to support these claims.
The essential volatile oils in the pimento spice work as rubefacient, (meaning that it irritates local skin area and expands blood vessels resulting in increasing blood flow to make skin feel warmer). Its oil is a popular home remedy for arthritis and sore muscles, used either as a poultice or in hot baths. (Medical disclaimer).
Allspice may cause serious allergic reactions in hypersensitive individuals and, therefore, should be avoided whenever warranted. Consumption of dishes prepared with excess spice can cause gastrointestinal irritation, central nervous system depression, seizures (in toxic doses).
Furthermore, recipes prepared with using this spice should be avoided in individuals suffering from stomach ulcers, ulcerative colitis, and diverticulitis conditions. (Medical disclaimer).
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