Allspice – Origin, Production and Chemical Composition
Allspice or Jamaica Pepper was discovered in the Caribbean islands of Jamaica by Christopher Columbus in the year 1494. Even today Jamaican Pimentos are considered to be of much higher quality and have a higher price in international market. They have better flavor, appearance and bigger size. Allspice used for culinary purposes are the unripe, dried and mature berries. Allspice is also used as ground spice. Other Allspice products of commercial importance are berry oleoresin, berry oil and leaf oil. These products are used in the food, medicine and perfume industries. Leaf oil is mainly exported to the USA and the UK.
Mexico, Jamaica, Guatemala and Honduras are some of the largest producers and exporters of Allspice. While United States, Germany, United Kingdom, Finland, Sweden and Canada are the major importers of Allspice. International standard Allspice berries should be medium to dark brown in color. They should have a weight of approximately 13 fruits per gram. The surface of these berries should be uneven and the diameter should be in between 6.5 to 9.5 mm. International berries should have a pleasant odour which is characteristic of this spice.
In 2010, United States imported Allspice worth 3.94 million dollars. Out of a total 1267 million tones of Allspice imported by United States in this period, 408 million tones was imported from Mexico, 318 million tones from Jamaica, 217 million tones from Guatemala, 163 million tones from Honduras and the remaining 162 million tones from other countries.
Origin and Distribution of Allspice
Though the trees of Allspice are indigenous to Jamaica, but they are naturally found in the other areas such as Central America (Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala, Costa Rica and Cuba) and the neighboring Caribbean islands as well. Allspice is also produced in West Indian Islands of Grenada, Barbados, Trinidad and Puerto Rico. Attempts to introduce the spice it other countries such as India, Sri Lanka, Fiji, Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia have not succeeded fully.
In 1509 Spanish explorers and later settlers of Jamaica started using the leaves and berries of the trees. It is believed that since then Allspice has been produced in Jamaica till date. In 1601 the Allspice berries reached London. Later in the year 1732, England started cultivating Allspice. There was high usage of Allspice before World War II. However during World War II production of Allspice was greatly reduced due to a widespread destruction of Allspice trees. Though post World War II the production has picked up, however it is believed that production has never fully recovered since then.
Chemical composition of Allspice
The dried berries contain aromatic steam volatile oil, fixed (fatty) oil, resin, protein, starch, pigments, minerals, vitamins, etc. Major compounds present in Allspice are the phenolic compounds eugenol and isoeugenol and the sesquiterpene hydrocarbon, β-caryophyllene. Prolonged storage of allspice is detrimental to both oil content and flavor of the spice.
Allspice Berry oil
Oil of Allspice berries can be extracted using different methods such as hydro distillation, steam distillation and Supercritical CO2 extraction of dried immature berries. Supercritical CO2 extraction techniques produce oil of superior quality and flavor. The yield ranges from 3.0 to 4.5%. It is yellow to brownish yellow and has a warm spicy sweet odour. Berry oil extracted using supercritical CO2 extraction procedure is light red brown in color and has full sweetness and a fresh natural odour.
Allspice Oleoresin is obtained by extracting crushed Allspice with organic solvents followed by evaporation of the solvent. It is brownish to dark green in color. Two grades normally available have volatile oil content of 40 to 50 and 60 to 66 ml per 100 g. In US a minimum of 60 ml per 100 g is the standard. Even a small quantity of the oleoresin is enough to get the required flavor and aroma in food.
Allspice Leaf oil
Leaf oil of Allspice is obtained by distilling fresh or dry leaves. The yield from dried leaves is 0.5 to 3.0% while from fresh leaves is 0.3 to 1.25%. It is brownish yellow in color and has dry woody, warm spicy aromatic odour. The main composition of Allspice leaf oil is Eugenol which is approximately 65 to 96%. The chemical composition is influenced by the geographical origin of the spice.