Allspice comes from an evergreen shrub native to Jamaica, Southern Mexico and parts of Central America. The smaller plants are sensitive to frost, but become hardier with age, growing to the size of large canopy trees. The spice itself is actually the unripe fruit of the plant. After harvest, the fruits are dried in order to create the little brown berries we know as the spice. It is named after its complex flavor which is said to resemble the combined taste of cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg.
The Spanish discovered allspice growing in the Caribbean during Columbus's early voyages to the Americas. They introduced the spice to Europe during the 1600's. Despite its popularity, cultivation outside its native region has been uncommon and often unsuccessful. Allspice thrives in warm climates and grows almost entirely in the western hemisphere. Due to its limited range, it is not well known in many parts of the world.
Allspice fruits contain 2 to 5% essential oil (depending on how they are harvested). The main components of the essential oil are eugenol, eugenol methyl ether, myrcene, 1,8-cineol, and alpha-phellandrene. The eugenol content of essential oil of Jamaican allspice is 65 to 90%, but the eugenol content of Mexican allspice is much less.
Ripe and unripe fruits, essential oil extracted from leaves.
Ground ripe or unripe fruits. Frequently used with cardamom, cinnamon, and/or green tea.
In the Carribean, fresh leaves known as "West India bay leaf" are used for cooking "jerked" meats. (Mediterranean bay leaf is not a good substitute.) The essential oil from the leaves, traded as "West India bay oil," is used in industrial production of sausages and hot dogs.
Allspice is a celebrated component of Caribbean cuisine, famous for its sweet, spicy fragrance and piquant flavor. It is a classic ingredient for marinades and jerk rubs, and is often included in hot mulled cider during the frosty winter months. Oil derived from allspice is used in the cosmetic industry, lending its scent to perfumes. Allspice is shown to have significant antioxidant properties. It is traditionally used as a digestive tonic.
The Contemporary Encyclopedia of Herbs and Spices by Tony Hill (pg. 25-27)