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Jamaica pepper

A chapter in the book Herbs & Spices


by Sylvia Page

Chapter 2: Uses of Ceylon Cinnamon
Chapter 3: Cinnamon Processing
Chapter 4: Cloves
Chapter 5: Nutmeg & Mace
Chapter 6: Cardamom
Chapter 7: Black Pepper
Chapter 8: The World's Hottest Chill


Scientific classification
Species:P. dioica
Binomial name
Pimenta dioica
(L.) Merr.

Allspice is also known as myrtle pepper, Jamaica pepper, pepper, pimento, pimenta, English pepper  or newspice.


Pimenta dioica popularly called Allspice is native to Southern Mexico, the West Indies, Central America and Greater Antilles.

The 16th century Spanish explorers “discovered" it in Mexico and called it "pimienta", confusing it with black pepper.

Allspice is now grown commercially in Jamaica, which basically monopolises in the trade.  Mexico, Trinidad, Honduras and Cuba are the other countries where it is grown.

This makes it the only spice where commercial production is wholly limited to the New World.

It is now grown in several warm areas around the tropical world.
The British found it very similar to the combined flavours of cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg and the name "allspice" was coined around 1621.
It is sometimes also referred to the herb costmary (Tanacetum balsamita). There are several other fragrant shrubs that are unrelated such as "Japanese Allspice" (Chimonanthus praecox), or "wild allspice" (Lindera benzoin) "Carolina allspice" (Calycanthus floridus),

Pimenta dioica, is a mid-canopy tree that grows to 40 ft. (12.2 m) tall, or even taller, with large 4-8 in (cm) long leathery leaves.   

The texture of the fresh leaves is similar to bay leaves. These are evergreen, opposite, oblong and aromatic and quite attractive.

The grey whitish bark has the characteristics to peel in thin sheets.

The flowers are white, about a 0.25 in (0.6 cm) across originating from the leaf axils and borne in numerous floral pyramidal cymes. The fruit is brown and berrylike and measures  about a 0.25 in (0.6 cm) long. The leaves and fruit give an aroma of a mixture of cloves, nutmeg, black pepper, and cinnamon, from whence it derived its common name.

The fruits are picked at the green unripe stage and customarily sun dried. These turn brown, resembling large brown peppercorns when dry. As with all spices, the whole fruit have a longer shelf life than the powdered product.  It produces a more aromatic spice when it is freshly ground prior to use.

The fresh leaves are used in cooking for their flavour. The leaves when dried do not retain their flavour for too long. Therefore the dried leaves are not used in commerce.
Meats are often smoked with the wood and leaves of the allspice tree where it is grown as a local crop.

It is also available as an essential oil. The essential oil is obtained from the leaves (sometimes called West Indian Bay Oil) and is an important ingredient in the production of sausages on an industrial level.     

Sensory quality

The dried allspice fruits are strongly aromatic, smells like cloves with a hint of nutmeg and cinnamon. The taste is also comparable, but with a bit of peppery heat. The clove flavour in the leaves is slightly reduced, and nutmeg or cinnamon becomes the dominant fragrance.

Main constituents

Depending on the time of harvest, the fruits can contain 2 to 5% essential oil. The main components being reported are eugenol methyl ether, eugenol, and terpenes (myrcene, 1,8-cineol and α-phellandrene).

The main constituent in the fruits from Jamaica contain eugenol (65% to 90%); methyl eugenol is found in minor (10%) and myrcene in trace amounts (1%).

The Mexican Allspice is dominated by methyl eugenol (50 to 60%) with lesser quantities of myrcene (15%) and eugenol (10%).  

Leaves hold lesser amounts of essential oil, but are high enough to create profitable distillation. It is similar in composition, to the essential oil obtained from the fruits.


Jamaica is the main exporter, while numerous other Central American states (e.g, México, Hon­duras) that produce this spice, don’t maintain a good quality and is con­sidered inferior.

The fruits of a closely related species, P. racemosa, are at ­times used to adulterate allspice.

The plant was protected against export from Jamaica to guard the pimenta trade.

Numerous failed efforts at cultivating the pimenta from seeds were reported. The plant at one time, was believed to grow nowhere but in Jamaica, where the propagation of the plant was freely caused by birds.


Light: Full sun.
Moisture: Drought tolerant when established.
Hardiness: USDA Zones 10 -11 . May survive with protection in 9B. Established trees can tolerate temperatures down to 28ºF (-2.2ºC), but will be damaged at temperatures around 25ºF (-3.9ºC).
Propagation: By seed.


The Allspice is a significant ingredient of Caribbean cuisine. The Caribbean uses it for jerk seasoning, making mole sauces and for pickling. In Jamaica, the wood and leaves are used to smoke jerk.

It also goes to make curry powders and commercial preparation of sausages.

It is also an indispensable ingredient in Middle Eastern and Palestinian cuisine in flavouring stews and meat dishes.

Allspice is also used in many American, British and European dishes.

Eugenol which is a weak antimicrobial agent is found in the plant as a volatile oil. It is also known to be used as a deodorant.


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