Allspice, also called Jamaica pepper, pepper, myrtle pepper, pimenta, or newspice, is a spice that is the dried unripe fruit (“berries”) of Pimenta dioica, a mid-canopy tree native to the Greater Antilles, southern Mexico, and Central America, now cultivated in many warm parts of the world. The name allspice was coined as early as 1621 by the English, who thought it combined the flavour of cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves.
The allspice tree, classified as an evergreen shrub, reaches heights between 10 and 18 m(32 and 60 ft). Allspice can be a small, scrubby tree, quite similar to the bay laurel in size and form. It can also be a tall, canopy tree, sometimes grown to provide shade for coffee trees planted underneath it. It can be grown outdoors in the tropics and subtropics with normal garden soil and watering. Smaller plants can be killed by frost, although larger plants are more tolerant. It adapts well to container culture and can be kept as a houseplant or in a greenhouse. The plant isdioecious, meaning plants are either male or female, hence male and female plants must be kept in proximity to allow fruit to develop.
To protect the pimenta trade, the plant was guarded against export from Jamaica. Many attempts at growing the pimenta from seeds were reported, but all failed. At one time, the plant was thought to grow nowhere except in Jamaica, where the plant was readily spread by birds. Experiments were then performed using the constituents of bird droppings; however, these were also totally unsuccessful. Eventually, passage through the avian gut, either the acidity or the elevated temperature, was found to be essential for germinating the seeds. Today, pimenta is spread by birds in Tonga and Hawaii, where it has become naturalized on Kauaʻi and Maui.