A native of the Caribbean and central American countries, the Spanish who “discovered” them during their period of colonisation believed the berries were a type of peppercorn and called them pimienta . They were also known as pimienta de Chiapas because the Spanish also “found” them in Mexico and Guatemala. Because they have an aroma similar to black pepper, cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg, the English called them allspice. They are also known as Pimienta de Jamaica (Jamaican pimento), sweet peppers and Tabasco peppers.
Belize, Brazil, Guatemala, Honduras, Jamaica and Mexico are major growers of allspice, which are harvested from cultivated and wild trees. They are a source of oil, with the larger Jamaican berries releasing a higher content than the berries of mainland central America. In Jamaica the berries are picked green and sun-dried.
Allspice was used to preserve meat at sea, a tradition that continues with the dry jerk marinade for meat in Jamaica. The wood and the leaves of the tree are used to smoke meat, one of the reasons why jerked meat has a very different taste in Jamaica. Allspice is the essential ingredient in jerk sauce and in barbecue sauces produced domestically and commercially.
Some food cultures used allspice in curry pastes and powders. In the countries where it is native, it is a general seasoning in all kinds of food. Northern Europeans, the English, Germans and Scandinavians, generally use allspice in cakes and confections, savoury foods – sauces, sausages, soups and stews – and as an ingredient in pickled vegetables, gherkins in particular.