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Allspice leaves are medium to large in size and elongated to oval in shape. The surface of the leaves is smooth and glossy with a dark green to dusty green coloring with brown speckling. Allspice leaves are a blend of flavors including cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, juniper, and peppercorn. Allspice leaves are found on a tropical evergreen tree that can grow to thirteen meters in height. In addition to the leaves, the tree produces small green-brown berries that are dried and used as the popular spice.
Allspice leaves are available year-round.
Allspice, botanically classified as Pimenta dioica, is the term traditionally used to describe the dried berries, but the pungent leaves of the tree are also used as a culinary ingredient. Also known as West Indian bay leaves, Allspice leaves are often used similarly to bay leaves in recipes and are a prominent flavor in Caribbean cuisine, specifically Jamaican jerk seasoning. The name “allspice” was coined by the English around 1621, presumably because of the plant's rich bouquet of aromas and flavors. Allspice trees adapt to its surroundings and can be a small, potted tree or a large canopy tree grown to provide vast amounts of shade for other commercially grown crops.
Allspice leaves contain eugenol, a natural antiseptic and a digestive aid.
Allspice leaves are used in Caribbean cuisine as a flavoring in stews, soups, and sauces, for smoking meats, and in Jamaican jerk seasoning. Allspice oil can also be extracted and used as a flavoring agent in meats, candy, chewing gum, and toothpaste. The leaves are best used fresh as they lose much of their flavor when dried. Allspice leaves will keep for 1-2 days when stored in the refrigerator.
Allspice was used by the Mayans and the Aztecs to spice drinks and as an embalming agent. It has also been used in traditional medicines as a digestive aid and as an ingredient in natural mouthwashes. Allspice leaves are used in Southern India as a substitute for bay leaves in the rice dish, biriyani.
Allspice is native to the Central and South America and is found predominately in the Western hemisphere. Allspice grows most abundantly in Jamaica and was discovered by the Spanish in the 1500s. In the 1800s, the wood of the Allspice tree became popular in Britain and the United States where it was used for umbrellas and walking sticks. Jamaica remains the largest exporter of Allspice today, although it is now grown commercially and found in markets in Mexico, Honduras, Trinidad, and Cuba.