Allspice, also known popularly as Jamaican pepper or pimento, is one of the widely used spices in the Mexican and other Central American cuisines. This spice corn is a dried "unripe" fruit obtained from an evergreen tropical shrub belonging to the Myrtle (Myrtaceae) family, of the genus: pimento.
Scientific name: Pimenta dioica.
Photo courtesy: Steven Jackson
The pimento tree is native to the tropical evergreen rainforest of the Central American region and Caribbean islands. It begins to yield after about five years of implantation.
Unripe green berries picked up from the tree when they reach full size. They are then thoroughly subjected to dry under sunlight. Thus shriveled berries appear similar to that of brown peppercorns, and measure about 6 mm in diameter. Unlike in peppercorns which have only one centrally placed seed, allspice contains two seeds.
Certain active principles in allspice have been found to have anti-inflammatory, rubefacient (warmth and soothing), carminative, and anti-flatulent properties.
Pimento 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, methyl eugenol, glycosides, tannins, quercetin, resin, and sesquiterpenes. At the processing units, these volatile essential oils are obtained through a distillation process using this spice corn. The outer coat of the allspice berries is believed to have the greatest concentration of some of these medicinally important compounds.
As in black peppercorns, the active principles in the allspice may increase the motility of the gastrointestinal tract. They also aid in digestion by facilitating enzyme secretions inside the stomach and intestines.
Eugenol has local anesthetic and antiseptic properties. It was found useful in gum and dental treatment procedures. Recent research studies have revealed that a kind of traditional preparation made from a mixture of allspice oil, garlic extraction, and oregano can combat E.coli, Salmonella, and L.monocytogenes infections.
The spice composes a good amount of minerals like potassium, manganese, iron, copper, selenium, and magnesium. Iron is an essential co-factor for cytochrome oxidase enzyme during cellular metabolism.
Iron is also required for red blood cell production in the bone marrow. Potassium, being an important component of cells and body fluids, helps regulate heart rate and blood pressure. Manganese is utilized in the human body as a co-factor for the antioxidant enzyme, superoxide dismutase.
Further, this spice also carries a great 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 human body develop resistance against infectious agents and scavenge harmful, pro-inflammatory free radicals.
|Percent of RDA
Allspice corns can be available year-round. In the stores, buy whole allspice corn instead of milled (powder), since oftentimes it may contain adulterated spicy powders. Look for pimentos that are wholesome, heavy, round, and compact.
The pimento corn can be stored at room temperature for many months and milled as and when required. Once milled or ground, pimento should be kept in the refrigerator in airtight containers and should be used as early as possible before it loses its flavor largely because of the evaporation of essential oils.
To keep fragrance and flavor, allspice should be ground just before preparing dishes and added to the cooking recipes in the final stages.
Here are some serving methods:
|Jamaican jerk spice-rub chicken with sauce.
Courtesy: Naotake murayama
Pimentocorns are widely used in Caribbean cuisine. In Jamaica, along with the scotch bonnet peppers, they are one of the two main ingredients in popular Jamaican jerk spice. Alongside other complementing spices, its mixture (paste) is being used to rub and marinate chicken, fish, and meat.
Some Indian vegetarian and chicken curries found extensive use of this spice. In the Middle East, it is employed in meat and rice dishes.
The spice is also used in the preparation of soups, barbecue sauces, pickling, and as a main ingredient in a variety of curry powders.
It is also employed to prepare liquors in many Caribbean countries. A kind of local drink known as Jamaican dram made from using 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.
A kind of decoction obtained from this spice is sometimes used in treating flatulence and indigestion in traditional medicine. However, there is little or no scientific data to support such claims.
The essential volatile oils in the pimento spice work as a rubefacient, (meaning that it irritates the 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 severe 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, and seizures (in toxic doses).
Furthermore, individuals suffering from stomach ulcers, ulcerative colitis, and diverticulitis conditions should avoid recipes made using this spice. (Medical disclaimer).
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USDA National Nutrient Database. (opens new window).