Allspice, or pimenta, is the sort of spice that you find hanging around in any British spice cupboard, including mine. But most people rarely if ever use it, except perhaps for pickling. Nowadays, there are so many great recipes using this spice.
Allspice leaves and immature fruits
Dried allspice fruits
Jamaica (main exporter), also Mexico and Honduras (inferior quality).
Unripe and dried fruits. In countries of origin the fresh leaves, known as "West Indian bay leaf", are also used for cooking or smoking meat. Mediterranean bay leaves are an inappropriate substitute. Essential oil from the leaves ("West Indian bay oil") is important in the production of sausages.
Myrtaceae (myrtle family).
Allspice became known in Europe long after its discovery by Columbus. Similar to peppercorns, the new grains were termed "pepper" in many languages, usually with an attribute indicating Caribbean origin or aroma. Examples of the former include Basque Jamaikako piperbeltz and Russian Yamajskiy perets; examples of the latter are French poivre aromatique and Spanish pimienta dulce (not to be confused with pimiento dulce, or paprika).
In some languages, allspice is termed "English spice" as in German Englisches gewürz and Polish ziele Angielskie. These names originate from British colonisation of Jamaica and consequent control of the European market. English "allspice" and similar terms such as German Allgewürz, French toute-épice and Chinese bi wei hu jiao reflect the complex aroma of the spice leading to the belief that it combines the flavours of cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves.
The genus name pimenta comes from Spanish pimienta "black pepper". The genus name dioica from Greek di- "two", oikos "house" indicates that the male and female flowers grow on different plants (botanists call such plants "dioicious"). Species name officinalis refers to a "drug", "medicine" or "plant".
Allspice, with its pleasing clove-like aroma, is the most important spice in Caribbean cuisine and is used extensively. Meat is often stuffed with allspice leaves and barbecued over a fire of allspice wood, similar to the use of myrtle wood in the Mediterranean region. Jamaican cuisine is known for its fiery jerk pastes, commonly used to marinate pork or chicken before barbecuing. Jerk is made of onions and local chillies together with allspice berries, allspice or cinnamon leaves, garlic, thyme, black pepper and vinegar or lime juice.
Allspice is also grown in Mexico in poorer quality and it is used for the famous mole sauces of Central Mexico and for the recados of Yucatan. The largest European consumer is the UK where it is used for stews and sauces and for flavouring pickled vegetables.
On the European continent, allspice is less appreciated but is contained in commercial spice mixtures for making sausages and is used by Scandinavians for fine meat pastries, e.g. Danish smørrebrød (white bread with sausages, pastries, fish, cheese and vegetables). Allspice berries are sometimes used in the somewhat antiquated French spice mixture quatre épices.
Allspice has not been widely accepted by Asian cooks, although the spice is well-known in South-Eastern Europe and in Turkey. The pungent-aromatic quality of allspice is much in line with the style of Arabic cooking, but allspice is not used in Western Asian mutton dishes due to lack of availability. The only Old World cuisine using allspice is Ethiopian, where the spice mixture berbere contains allspice grown on nearby Réunion Island.
Fruits of the closely related species pimenta racemosa are sometimes used to adulterate supplies of allspice.