The Spice is Right

The history behind allspice

Allspice

Ingalls Photography

In foods throughout this issue—the Swedish potato dumplings, the Bar Code Tonic, and even the India relish in Hemingway's favorite burger—sweet, peppery allspice stands out, integrating and elevating other flavors. We have the Arawak to thank for it. In Jamaica, as first noted by the physician Diego Alvarez Chanca during Christopher Columbus' second voyage, the Arawak crushed the unripe, dried berries of the indigenous evergreen Pimenta dioica to season smoked meats. In the 1600s, the spice moved along trade routes to Europe and the East. The British, who thought it tasted like a combination of cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg, called it "allspice." Today its popularity can be measured in the breadth of its use, from Jamaican jerk to Bavarian weisswurst, Indian curries, the Middle Eastern spice blend baharat, and desserts as American as apple pie.