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What is a Pimento?

Deanna Baranyi
Updated Dec 06, 2021
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There are two distinct definitions for pimento. One is a variety of red pepper, much like a red bell pepper. The other is a spice that originated in Jamaica, also known as allspice. Although many people may think they are unfamiliar with one or both kinds of pimentos, the reality is that they may have consumed them through a variety of recipes without realizing it.

What Does a Pimento Look Like

When most people think of a pimento, they think of the red chunk of pepper that is in the center of a green olive; however, pimentos go far beyond that in their use. When left whole, they are large, heart-shaped peppers with a bright red color. They can range anywhere from 3 to 4 inches (7.6 to 10.2 cm) in length and 2 to 3 inches (5.1 to 7.6 cm) in width. Depending on its variety, the pepper can be sweet, but it is nearly always flavorful.

What Do Pimentos Taste Like?

Pimentos are a sweet red pepper and are sometimes used interchangeably in recipes with roasted red peppers. While pimentos make a suitable swap for roasted red peppers, pimentos often have a sweeter flavor than most red peppers. While pimentos can be spicy when seasoned with certain spices or when added to certain dishes, pimentos are typically milder than other peppers in flavor. Because of their mild flavor, dried ground pimentos are often combined with other dried varieties of peppers to make paprika seasoning. The mild pimentos balance out the flavor of spicy peppers when combined to create paprika seasoning.

How to Eat Pimentos

Because of their strong flavor, green olives are commonly stuffed with the sweet variety of pimentos. Originally, these peppers were cut into bite size pieces and squeezed into the olive by hand. Now, in most cases, they are pureed and then stuffed in with the aid of a machine, reducing the cost and making the olives more affordable.

Uses for Pimentos

There are many other uses for pimentos. They can be chopped and put into salads, or used as a flavorful addition to pasta dishes. One of the most beloved uses is in pimento cheese, a favorite in the Philippines and in the southern portion of the United States. Many people love the cheese spread on white bread, celery, crackers, baked potatoes, hot dogs, hamburgers, or grits.

How to Make Pimento Cheese

Pimento cheese is an incredibly easy recipe to prepare, and you only need ten minutes to make a pimento cheese spread. For a simple pimento cheese spread, you’ll need two cups of sharp cheddar, eight ounces of softened cream cheese, half a cup of mayonnaise, one four-ounce jar of pimentos, garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, salt, pepper, and jalapeno if you enjoy a little spice. First, you’ll need to drain the jar of pimentos, then combine all of the ingredients, excluding the salt and pepper, until the ingredients are well combined. Then you can season to your tastes with salt and pepper.

Is Pimento Cheese Healthy?

Pimento cheese may be a southern favorite, but it may not be a healthy addition to your menu. Cheese, cream cheese, and mayonnaise are typically high-fat and high-calorie foods. While this is true for most recipes and varieties of pimento cheese, there are light or low-fat swaps that cooks can make to lower the fat content of their pimento cheese spread. Cooks can opt to use low-fat cheese and plain Greek yogurt instead of mayonnaise.

Cooks can also swap out half of the mayonnaise for a combination of low-fat mayonnaise and plain Greek yogurt to maintain a texture and taste that more closely resembles original pimento cheese recipes. While pimento cheese isn’t necessarily a healthy dish, there are swaps that cooks can make to improve the nutritional value of the dish. There are also varieties of pimento cheese that are considered Keto and gluten free.

How Long Does Pimento Cheese Last?

Because pimento cheese makes a delicious snack when paired with crackers, celery, or bread, you will want to enjoy this cheesy concoction for as long as possible. If you store any leftover pimento cheese in an airtight container in the refrigerator, your pimento cheese spread will last for one to two weeks. If you feel that one to two weeks isn’t enough time for you to enjoy your pimento cheese, you might wonder if you can freeze what you haven’t eaten.

Can You Freeze Pimento Cheese?

Unfortunately, homemade pimento cheese usually shouldn’t be frozen. Because homemade pimento cheese is made with mayonnaise and other high-fat foods, these foods have oil separation when frozen and thawed. This affects the texture of the cheese spread, and thawing this cheese spread doesn’t have an appetizing result. Some varieties of store-bought pimento cheese freeze well, but the integrity of the spread depends on the ingredients, the container, and the storage process. If you purchase a freezable variety of pimento cheese, it will usually keep well in your freezer for about three months.

While pimento cheese is one of the more popular ways to enjoy pimento peppers, it certainly isn’t the only way. If you’d rather keep your pimento dairy-free, there are other ways to enjoy the pepper. One other favorite use of the pepper is in pickle and pimento loaf. It is a processed meat, similar to bologna, that contains pickles, and of course, pimentos. It is usually sliced and served like any deli meat. There are a few companies who make the loaf out of chicken instead of beef and pork. While pimentos are often enjoyed in dishes with other ingredients, pimentos on their own can make for a healthy addition to any meal.

Are Pimentos Healthy?

Because pimentos, or pimientos, are red peppers, they contain a myriad of nutrients. Like other peppers, pimentos are high in vitamin A, vitamin C, folate, and vitamin K. An adequate intake of vitamin A can prevent eye problems from occurring. Vitamin C is an antioxidant that offers many benefits to a person’s immune system. Pimentos also contain a small amount of folate. Folate is best absorbed when eaten alongside foods rich in B-nutrients. Folate supports the function of the nervous system. Pimentos also contain a small amount of vitamin K. Vitamin K contributes to bone health.

The Jamaican Pimento

Another entirely unrelated item is the Jamaican pimento, also known as allspice. It consists of two parts: the tree and the berries. The dried, unripe berries are commonly ground into a spice that tastes similar to cloves, pepper, cinnamon, and nutmeg, all as a single spice. The tree is an evergreen that grows to be 19.6 to 49.2 feet (6 to 15 m) and is popular for the smoking and carving properties of its wood. Allspice is one of the major exports of Jamaica.

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Deanna Baranyi
By Deanna Baranyi
Deanna Baranyi, a freelance writer and editor with a passion for the written word, brings a diverse skill set to her work. With degrees in relevant fields and a keen ability to understand and connect with target audiences, she crafts compelling copy, articles, and content that inform and engage readers.
Discussion Comments
By loisowsley — On Aug 22, 2013

Eeek! I picked some pimentos before they turned red. Will they turn red before going bad?

By ahain — On Aug 19, 2011

@Tomislav - Ooh...fried eggplant slices on a burger sound heavenly! It sounds like the only big problem with eating pimento cheese for you was the large amount of mayonnaise. Have you tried using low-fat or diet Mayonnaise? it would have a similar flavor (in fact, the pimento might help improve on that "diet" flavor) and would have a lot less calories and fat than your regular mayonnaise pimento cheese.

Other than the mayonnaise base, what if you tried mixing the pimento into something else that was creamy but not as fattening? How about cream cheese, or some kind of creamy salad dressing? I'll bet pimento-ranch dressing sauce would be awesome, especially with that eggplant slice!

By gimbell — On Aug 18, 2011

@VivAnne - Nice post -- I knew about the Spanish part, but certainly not the Portuguese! I guess it makes sense that Portugal would end up with Spanish stuffed olive recipes and pimentos as foods there, considering how much interaction Spain has had with Portugal over the centuries throughout history. I'll bet they have pimento-stuffed Spanish green olives in Brazil, too, since it has quite the history with Portugal.

Anyway, I wanted to comment here for you and for anybody else reading to note that the pimento-stuffed Spanish green olives you can buy from stores here in the United States probably aren't what the Spanish were eating back then.

The stuffing is still made of pimentos, but in order to make the olive-stuffing process work with a machine instead of doing it by hand, nowadays the pimentos are pureed and formed back into strips rather than just being cut up and stuffed into the olives.

I'd imagine it tastes pretty close to the same, but this accounts for why many people find the texture of the pimentos stuffed into green olives to be a bit weird.

By VivAnne — On Aug 17, 2011

@hanley79 - Those are all good guesses, but pimentos are actually native to Mexico and Spain. This is why the traditional pimento-stuffed green olives are often referred to as "Spanish olives". Likely countries like Italy, Greece and Turkey got the pimento-stuffing recipes for their olives from the Spanish.

The Spanish word for pimento is spelled a little differently -- it's "pimiento". "Pimento" or "pimentão" are also interchangeable words in Portuguese for "bell pepper". Pimentos are directly related to bell peppers of all colors.

By hanley79 — On Aug 17, 2011

Wow -- I don't know about anybody else here, but I for one had no idea that the real name for allspice was also pimento! That's kind of cool. When you think about it for a second, the word "pimento" does sound kind of Jamaican.

Does anybody know where the "green olive pepper" variety of pimento comes from? Since they are traditionally served in olives, my best guess is the Mediterranean -- Turkey, Greece, possibly Italy. What do you guys think?

By andee — On Aug 16, 2011

The nice thing about making your own pimento dips and spreads is that you can add or leave out whatever you like.

I don't like the taste of olives so never add this to my dip. My sister never makes her dip without olives because that is her favorite part.

I remember spreading a pimento cheese spread on celery when we were kids. It wasn't until I took a cooking class that I tasted a homemade pinto dip.

I don't like hot things, but when the pimento is mixed in with other ingredients, I really enjoy the taste.

By honeybees — On Aug 15, 2011

I make a pimento spread that I love on bagels. The main ingredient is cream cheese, but when you had some cheddar cheese and chopped pimento it makes a perfect bagel spread.

Once I put this spread on my bagel and warm it up in the microwave for a few seconds, it is the perfect breakfast or snack for me. I will also use this dip on top of baked potatoes. Sometimes I add a little bit of sour cream, but it tastes just as good plain.

The pimentos really add the right amount of extra flavor and zing. When I mix up this pimento spread, I keep the leftovers in the refrigerator and find all kinds of creative ways to use it up. My husband likes it best on any kind of cracker.

By LisaLou — On Aug 15, 2011

I grew up in the south, and pimento cheese is almost a staple in my family. You can't go to a family gathering without at least two different kinds of pimento cheese dips.

If you have never tasted homemade pimento cheese dip, there is no comparison to the homemade dip versus the prepackaged dips in the store.

It doesn't require very many ingredients or time to make and tastes wonderful on crackers an celery. I use sharp cheddar cheese, mayo, pimento, and whatever seasonings I prefer. Usually I will use a little bit of salt, pepper and some garlic salt. You can be as creative as you want to be with the seasonings.

One of my kids favorite snacks is pimento cheese dip spread on celery sticks. I think it tastes a lot better than peanut butter!

By runner101 — On Aug 14, 2011

@saraq90 - I have seen this done in a restaurant and since tried it myself since it was pimento put into one of my favorite foods - I thought how could I go wrong!

The food was cheese dip and what I did was I took the Velveeta cheese dip recipe that is on the box made it the way it was suggested and then added pimento at the end. It did not change the too much but added just enough flavor to make it even more enjoyable.

Easy and delicious - two musts in my kitchen!

By Tomislav — On Aug 12, 2011

I loved pimento cheese! I did not realize it was also popular in the Philippines. For a truly southern burger a diner I used to work at in Mississippi used to add pimento cheese and a slice of fried eggplant on their burger! It was incredible. Plain burgers have not looked the same at me since.

I do not make pimento cheese now too much secondary to the amount of mayonnaise that is typically called for (and if you lessen the amount of mayo in it - it just does not feel like pimento cheese). Are there any other uses that are simple to do?

Deanna Baranyi
Deanna Baranyi
Deanna Baranyi, a freelance writer and editor with a passion for the written word, brings a diverse skill set to her...
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