Allspice is the only spice that is grown exclusively in the Western Hemisphere. The evergreen tree that produces the allspice berries is indigenous to the rainforests of South and Central America where it grows wild. Unfortunately the wild trees were cut down to harvest the berries and few remain today. There are plantations in Mexico and parts of Central America but the finest allspice comes from Jamaica where the climate and soil are best suited to producing the aromatic berries.
Allspice was used by the Mayans as an embalming agent and by other South American Indians to flavour chocolate. The name ‘Jamaica’ comes from Xamayca, meaning ‘land of wood and water’ in the language of the Arawaks. These natives used allspice to help cure and preserve meats, sometimes animals, sometimes their enemies. The allspice cured meat was known in Arawak as boucan and so later Europeans who cured meat this way came to be known as boucaniers, which ultimately became ‘buccaneers’.
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