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What is Jamaica Pepper?

By Koren Allen
Updated May 16, 2024
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Jamaica pepper is a spice made from the dried fruit of the Pimenta dioica tree. It is more commonly known as allspice, a name given by European explorers because the taste and aroma resembles a combination of cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves. The Pimenta dioica is a small tree native to warm climates such as Central America, southern Mexico, and the Greater Antilles. It is heavily cultivated in Jamaica, hence the name Jamaica pepper. The tree is a member of the myrtle family, and the spice is also known as myrtle pepper.

The berries of the Jamaica pepper are harvested from the tree before they become ripe. They are then dried, either in the sun or in ovens, after which they resemble brown peppercorns. These peppercorns are either sold whole, or ground and processed first. In the regions where Jamaica pepper is harvested, the wood and leaves are sometimes used to smoke meats as well.

The most common use for Jamaica pepper is seasoning and flavoring for a wide variety of foods. It is a versatile spice that can be used in savory dishes as well as adding a spicy tang to many sweet foods. Allspice is important in Middle Eastern and Caribbean cuisine, where it is used to season sausage and other meats, stews, and curry powders. The distinctive flavor is also a favorite in pickling and jerk seasoning. In some regions, this sweet and spicy pepper has been used to flavor liqueurs and toothpaste.

In the United States and Great Britain, Jamaica pepper is most often used to flavor sweet foods such as cakes, gingerbread, and spiced puddings. The combination of sweet and spicy gives Cincinnati-style chili its unique flavor, and it is also commonly used in mincemeat pies. The flavor resembles both cinnamon and cloves, so it can serve as a substitute for one or both of these ingredients. Autumn favorites such as pumpkin pie and spice bread commonly use allspice as one of the primary flavorings.

Allspice has also been used for its healing and medicinal properties. It contains an essential oil called eugenol, which is believed to aid in the treatment of digestive problems such as gas, colic, and indigestion. The oil has a mild anesthetic effect, and is sometimes applied topically for dental pain as well as sore muscles. Possible side effects in people who are sensitive to allspice treatments include nausea and vomiting, skin rash when applied topically, and more serious allergic reactions. As with any medical treatment, you should consult with your physician or medical practitioner before using allspice as a treatment.

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Discussion Comments

By Vincenzo — On Dec 05, 2014

@Logicfest -- Even in the United States, that use seems to be regional. I've never heard the term Jamaica pepper, but I do know what allspice is and I know that shows up in all sorts of food.

Don't get me wrong. We eat a lot of stuff with allspice in it during the Christmas season, but it is one of those spices in heavy rotation throughout the rest of the year, too. It is one of the more popular spices on the planet, in fact.

By Logicfest — On Dec 05, 2014

Here in the United States at least, Jamaica pepper is heavily associated with Christmas. Mulled wine, hot cider, pumpkin pie and a whole lot of things are flavored with allspice and cinnamon. The spice does pop up during other times of the year, but it is in heavy use during Christmas.

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