Allspice, also known popularly as Jamaican pepper or pimento, is one of the widely used spice ingredients in the Mexican and other Central American cuisines. The spice corn is a dried “unripe” fruit obtained from the evergreen tropical shrub belonging to the family of Myrtaceae of the genus of 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.
Health benefits of Allspice
- The active principles in the allspice found to have been anti-inflammatory, rubefacient (warming and soothing), carminative and anti-flatulent properties.
- Allspice 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 as well as augment the digestion power by increasing enzyme secretions inside the stomach and intestines.
- Eugenol, has local anesthetic and antiseptic properties, hence; useful in gum and dental treatment procedures. Recent research studies have shown that 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 the 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 in the bone marrow. Being an important component of cell and body fluids, potassium helps control heart rate and blood pressure. Manganese is used by the body as a co-factor for the powerful antioxidant enzyme, superoxide dismutase.
- Further, the spice also contains very good amounts 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.
Selection and storage
Allspice corns are available year around. In the store, buy whole allspice corns instead of grounded (powder) since, oftentimes it may contain adulterated spicy powders. The corns should be wholesome, heavy, round and compact.
Generally, these spicy corns can be stored at room temperature for many years and can be milled using hand mill as and when required. Once grounded or powdered, pimento corns should be stored in the refrigerator in airtight containers and should be used as early as possible since it loses its flavor quickly largely because of evaporation of essential oils.
In order to keep the fragrance and flavor intact, allspice generally ground just before preparing dishes and added to the cooking recipes at final stages. This is because prolonged cooking results in evaporation of essential oils.
Here are some serving methods:
- 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 meats.
- Some Indian vegetarian and chicken curries contain this spice; and 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 used 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 functions as a rubefacient, meaning that it irritates the skin and expands the blood vessels, increasing the flow of blood to make the skin feel warmer. Its oil is a popular home remedy for arthritis and sore muscles, used either as a poultice or in hot baths.
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.