What is a Pimento?

Dee Saale
Dee Saale

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.

The Jamaican pimento is a small, pungent, round spice that is used to add flavor to a wide variety of dishes.
The Jamaican pimento is a small, pungent, round spice that is used to add flavor to a wide variety of dishes.

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 or it can be spicy, but it is nearly always flavorful.

Small and sweet, the red cherry pepper pimento is used as a spice in a variety of meals and drinks, including pimento cheese and martinis.
Small and sweet, the red cherry pepper pimento is used as a spice in a variety of meals and drinks, including pimento cheese and martinis.

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.

Green olives are often stuffed with pimento.
Green olives are often stuffed with pimento.

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.

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.

Another entirely unrelated item is the Jamaican pimento, also known as allspice. It is comprised 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.

Pimento peppers are large and heart-shaped with a bright red color.
Pimento peppers are large and heart-shaped with a bright red color.
Dee Saale
Dee Saale

Dee is a freelance writer based in Colorado. She has a B.A. in English Literature, as well as a law degree. Dee is especially interested in topics relating to medicine, legal issues, and home improvement, which are her specialty when contributing to wiseGEEK.

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Discussion Comments


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


@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!


@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.


@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.


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?


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.


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.


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!


@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!


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?

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