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AllSpice

Pimenta dioica [L.] Merr. (Syn.Pimenta officinalis,Eugenia pimenta)

Family : Myrtaceae

Other names: English spice; Jamaican pepper; Pimenta

Description

Allspice is the dried berry of an evergreen tree, native to West Indies and tropical Central America. The name 'allspice' is derived from the fact that it tastes like a blend of cloves, nutmeg and cinnamon. Allspice is a semi-wild crop in Jamaica and the nearby islands. The Mayan Indians used it to embalm their dead and departed, long before the Spaniards arrived in the West Indies. Early Spanish explorers discovered allspice and because of its similarity to black pepper corns called it pimentia (pepper in Spanish). The first record of its import to Europe is in 1601. Allspice was much more popular in the early 20th century than it is today. It was introduced into India quite recently. It is cultivated in certain isolated pockets of Kerala, Karnataka, West Bengal, Bihar and Orissa.Commercial cultivation is not popular in India.

Botany

Allspice plant, of the myrtle family, grows about 9-12 m tall with erect trunk, bark gray; much branched, round topped and foliage dense. Leaves opposite, oval-oblong to elliptical, entire, leathery, glandular-pinnetate on lower surface; 12-20 cm in length, deep green and lustrous. Flowers are borne on racemose cymes, small, white to greenish-white, each flower having four tiny petals, a single style with one ovary, two ovules and a cluster of anthers. As the flower opens, the style straightens, and although the stigma is raised above the anthers, the flower appears to be hermaphrodite. Berries are globular 4-7mm in diameter, hard with rough surface and a reddish brown colour. Pericarp woody, brittle and around 1mm in thickness. The berry has two locules separated by a thin partition. Each locule contains a single, reniform, hard and dark brown seed.

Cultivation

Allspice is propagated through seeds, which are collected from fruits of high yielding trees. Fruits are soaked overnight in water, rubbed and seeds are extracted. The seeds are sown in nursery beds, pots or basins. To enhance germination, the beds are mulched with dried leaves, straw, paper or gunny bags. Seeds germinate by 9-15 days. Allspice can be propagated vegetatively by grafting, budding, approach grafting and top working. Tissue culture methods are also employed for their propagation. Six to ten -months old seedlings are ideal for field planting. They are planted at a spacing of 6m x 6m or even closer. Three seedlings are planted inn a single hole of 60cm3 size. The female and male plant ratio in a garden should be 8:1 to ensure good pollination. Shade and regular irrigation should be provided at young stage of the plants. Manuring, weeding and mulching should be undertaken at regular intervals. Necessary plant protection measures should be adopted if incidence of tea mosquito (Heliopeltis antonii), leaf spot caused by Cylindrocladium quinqueseptatum or leaf rot by Pestalotiopsis are noticed.

The fruits are picked 3-4 months of flowering, before they are fully ripe. The berries are spread out in the sun and dried for 3-12 days. During drying, the berries turn from green to a dull reddish brown. Dried berries give crisp rattling sound when shake. The berries are stored after cleaning them by winnowing. ASTA suggested a maximum of 12% moisture, 5% ash and 1% acid insoluble ash in whole berries of allspice.

Allspice contains essential oils (2.5-4.5%) in both leaf and berry. The primary constituents of the berry volatiles are eugenol (60-75%), eugenol methyl ether, cineole, phellandrene and caryophyllene. However, the leaf oil has a different flavour profile eventhough the principal component is eugenol. The level of volatile oils can vary depending on their origin, weather, and harvest and processing conditions.

Aroma and Flavour

Allspice is used in a variety of foods as a condiment, as a flavouring ingredient in bakery items, in processed meat industry and also in pickling. It is widely used in European cooking as an ingredient in sweet recipes and festive baking. The ground or whole spice is used in preserves and chutneys. It is a flavour contributor to liquors and a perfume ingredient in soaps. In Jamaica, a local drink, known as Jamaica dram, is made from allspice and rum. The whole berries are a popular ingredient for mulled wine. Allspice is extensively used in the fishing industry in Scandinavia on account of its preservative properties.

Medicinal and other use

Allspice is an aromatic stimulant and a carminative. Pimento water, pimento oil or powdered allspice are useful against indigestion or gas. Taken with laxatives, the oil reduces the chances to cramp. It also makes a good addition for less appetizing medicines. The oil from berries and the leaves are used in antiseptics and medicines for flatulence. Allspice makes an invigorating plaster for rheumatism and neuralgia. The bark and leaves contain tannin and can be used for tanning purposes. The wood which is very firm and hard with close texture, smooth surface and dark to light salmon colour is used for making walking sticks and umbrellas. The eugenol in allspice berry and leaf oils has got bacteriocidal, fungicidal and nematicidal properties. Moreover, it is a good antioxidant too. The oil is also used in perfumes.

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