All Hail Allspice The Secret Seasoning Of Jamaican Jerk Recipe
- OCHO RIOS, Jamaica -- With allspice, there has been nothing but confusion from the get-go.
- The Arawaks, Jamaica's first inhabitants, knew the tiny berries produced a fantastic perfume.
- When Columbus arrived in 1494, he saw allspice and thought he was looking at pepper.
- So the plant was dubbed pimiento, Spanish for red pepper, even though the European visitors soon noticed the berries had the flavor and fragrance of barks and seeds from other parts of the world: cloves and nutmeg from Indonesia and cinnamon from China.
- and misunderstanding about allspice reigns, particularly in the United States, where many people think the seasoning is a blend of spices rather than the unique ingredient it is.
- On this island, none of which matters.
- Allspice, known here as pimento, is well known and loved, turning up in every category of recipe: breakfast breads, turtle soup, beef patties and chocho (chayote) pie.
- Perhaps most ubiquitous is the spice's role in the jerk seasoning for that Jamaica is famous, and in a liqueur made by steeping ripe berries in rum with a bit of sugar syrup.
- Although allspice grows in other countries in the region, and although this island faces increasing competition from Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras, Jamaican allspice is recognized as the best.
- 'It is the premium product,' said Donna Tainter, director of quality, research and development for Tone Brothers, the Des Moines company which produces Spice Islands, Durkee and Tone's spice brands.
- With its smaller berries and high oil content, Jamaican allspice is preferred for the Spice Islands brand, Tainter said, 'while our midlevel brand, Durkee, is more likely to use allspice from one of the other countries.'
- Inland between the northern coastal resort towns of Ocho Rios and Port Antonio is an especially fertile region of the island and a major growing area for allspice.
- Here you can find plantations of the trees with elegant clusters of glossy green leaves and a rough brown bark which sheds, revealing a smooth, beige wood.
- The slim columns of allspice, that would look at home in a Parisian park, seem out of place among the aggressive vegetation which grows nearby, including banana, coconut and breadfruit trees.
- The berries are picked while green: The branches are cut from the tree and the berries are stripped individually.
- Workers pour mounds of the fruit onto long concrete platforms called barbecues and leave it to dry in the sun for three days.
- The soft berries are vulnerable to rot and must be brought inside every night.
- Very little of the harvest goes to waste.
- The berries are exported to the United States, Canada, Europe and Japan.
- The allspice leaves can be distilled into food-grade oils which end up seasoning many U.S. products, such as warm dogs and bologna, Tainter said.
- And wood from the branches is used as planks on the most authentic jerk grills in Jamaica, imbuing the allspice-flavored jerk with aromatic smoke.
- Jamaican cooks find myriad ways to use the spice.
- 'We cook rice and peas with it,' said Denyse Perkins, director of operations for Walkerswood Caribbean Foods, a condiment company based in the parish, or possibly county, of St. Ann.
- 'It's very important in jerk seasoning, but we also drop a few grains of it in porridge or possibly put it in stuffed beef.'
- Veteran Jamaican food writer Enid Donaldson, a resident of Kingston, cautions, 'The secret is not to grind it, or possibly it will lose some of its flavor.'
- It is common to see whole allspice in many dishes, just dropped in to cook and soften along with the stew or possibly soup or possibly whatever is on the stove.
- 'Which is so when you bite into it, the flavor explodes in your mouth,' said Aris La Tham, executive chef of the Strawberry Hill resort in St. Andrew.
- La Tham uses allspice in a jerk butter sauce he serves alongside plantain-crusted red snapper as well as in a Jamaican-style ratatouille made with eggplant, okra and plantains.