Allspice (the dried berry of Pimenta dioica) is sometimes known as pimento, or pimenton, or pimienta dulce (in Spanish). It’s one of the constellation of “sweet spices” — like cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and cloves — that people in North America typically associate with dessert. But it’s more often used with meat, and other savory food elsewhere. Allspice is native to Central America and the Caribbean, and so it’s common in foods like Jamaican jerk (which is meant to be grilled over a fire of allspice wood).
The dried fruit is ground and used as a common spice. You can also use the leaves the same way as bay leaves, in stews, savory dishes, and salsas like our vinagreta de cebolla. The leaves have a distinct, sweet and clove-cinnamon smell — like the berries, but more delicate. If you don’t happen to have access to the leaves, you can just omit them from a recipe.
Allspice is in the same family as a number of other fragrant plants. Myrtaceae includes cloves, rose apples, eucalyptus, guava, and myrtle — all of which have spicy leaves, fruit, or flowers. Columbus encountered it in Jamaica, and it became familiar in the West in the 16th century.
Allspice typically likes warm, almost tropical climates. We’ve seen large specimens in southern Mexico. In LA, it’s pretty marginal. We have a couple of small bushes of allspice in our garden, and there is another in the herb garden at Huntington Library. They aren’t happy enough to flower or fruit here.