A handful of
islands grow ackee as an ornamental tree, but only Jamaica looks at
it as a tree that bears edible fruit. The ackee fruit is bright red.
When ripe it bursts open to reveal three large black seeds and
bright yellow flesh that is popular as a breakfast food throughout
Jamaica. Ackee's scientific name, blighia sapida, comes from Captain
Bligh, who introduced the plant to Jamaica from West Africa. Ackee
is poisonous if eaten before it is fully mature and because of its
toxicity, it is subject to import restrictions and may be hard to
obtain in some countries. Never open an ackee pod; it will open
itself when it ceases to be deadly. Ackee is sold canned in West
Dark-brown berry, similar in
size to juniper, that combines the flavors of cinnamon, clove and
This slightly musky-flavored reddish
yellow spice, ground from the seeds of a flowering tree, is native
to the West Indies and the Latin tropics. Islanders store their
annatto seeds in oil--giving the oil a beautiful color. Saffron or
turmeric can be substituted.
Fried "spiders" made of julienne strips of green plantains.
Neutral tasting starch extracted from
the root of tropical tubers, used as a last-minute thickening agent
The bay rum tree is related to the
evergreen that produces allspice. Used to flavor soups, stews and,
particularly, blaff, the small dark bay rum berry is called
"maleguetta pepper" in the French West Indies.
Interchangeable terms for red
kidney beans, black beans, black-eyed peas, pigeon peas (gandules),
and yellow and green lentils. Often combined with rice, used in
soups and stews or pulped and made into fritters.
Bistec a la Criolla
rump, round or sirloin of beef.
A broth infused with whole Scotch bonnet
peppers and bay rum leaves in which whole or filleted fish is
Jamaicans have little need for
imported smoked salmon, as they enjoy their own classy variation
from the nearby waters of the Gulf Stream. There's even a
world-famous marlin tournament held in Port Antonio each year. The
marlin that isn't immediately devoured as streaks is carried off to
the smoker, where it takes on a milder salmon like flavor and
texture that holds up well when thinly sliced.
Boudin, Black Pudding
Sausage that may include
pigs' blood, thyme and Scotch bonnet peppers. Frequently served with
souse, a pork dish that can include any part of the pig.
Breadfruit was also introduced to
Jamaica from its native Tahiti in 1793 by the infamous Captain
Bligh. The breadfruit is a large green fruit, usually about 10
inches in diameter, with a pebbly green skin and potato-like flesh.
Breadfruit are not edible until they are cooked and they can be used
in place of any starchy vegetable, rice or pasta. Breadfruit is
picked and eaten before it ripens and is typically served like
squash--baked, grilled, fried, boiled or roasted after being stuffed
with meat. It's even been known to turn up in preserves or in a
Similar to crullers, they are made
with flour, cassava meal or mashed sweet potato and have fruit
fillings like guava and banana.
Spelled half a dozen different ways,
this colorful word turns up in Jamaican records as early as 1696.
This leafy, spinach-like vegetable is typical prepared as one would
prepare turnip or collard greens. This variety of callaloo
Amaranthus viridis), better known as Chinese spinach or Indian kale,
should not be confused with the callaloo found in the eastern
Caribbean, which refers to the leaves of the dasheen plant.
Carambola, Star Fruit
Tart or acidy-sweet
star-shaped fruit used in desserts, as a garnish for drinks, tossed
into salads or cooked together with seafood.
Calabaza, West Indian Pumpkin
Terms for a
number of large squashes or pumpkins used in island stews and
vegetable dishes. Hubbard and butternut squash are similar in flavor
and make the best substitutes.
Made from the juice of grated cassava
root and flavored with cinnamon, cloves and sugar--this is the
essential ingredient in pepperpot, the ubiquitous Caribbean island
This tuber is also known as manioc and
yuca. A rather large root vegetable with a 6- to 12-inch length and
2- to 3-inch diameter, cassava has a tough brown skin with a very
firm white flesh. Both kinds of cassava can appear as meal, tapioca
and farina and can be bought ready made as cassava or manioc meal,
which is used to make bammie. Sweet cassava is boiled and eaten as a
starch vegetable. Bitter cassava contains a poisonous acid that can
be deadly and must be processed before it can be eaten. This is done
by boiling the root in water for at least 45 minutes discard the
water). Alternatively, grate the cassava and place it in a muslin
cloth, then squeeze out as much of the acid as possible before
cooking. Bitter cassava is used commercially but is not sold
unprocessed in some countries.
Pale-green fruit with white sweet
flesh that has the texture of flan. Used for mousse and fruit
sauces, the fruit is best when fully ripe, well chilled and eaten
with a spoon.
Members of the Capsicum genus
ranging from medium to fiery hot. Scotch bonnet pepper, the most
widely used, can be replaced with serrano, jalapeno or other hot
Spanish sausage that combines pork, hot
peppers and garlic, and is similar to longaniza.
Christophine, Chayote, Cho-cho, Mirliton:
small pear-shaped vegetable, light green or cream colored, and often
covered with a prickly skin. Bland, similar in texture to squash and
used primarily as a side dish or in gratins and souffles. Like
pawpaw (papaya, it is also a meat tenderizer.)
A pudding similar to flan. Also a
base for ice creams and a replacement for creme anglaise.
Coo-coo (or cou-cou):
The Caribbean equivalent
of polenta or grits. Once based on cassava or manioc meal. It is now
made almost exclusively with cornmeal. Versatile coo-coo can be
baked, fried or rolled into little balls and poached in soups or
This member of the palm family, which
is native to Malaysia, yields fruit all year long. Coconut is edible
in both its green and mature forms. Both the water and the "jelly"
of the green coconut find their way into island drinks, and meat
from the mature coconut gives desserts a Caribbean identity.
These gastropods are a beloved part of
the cuisine as far north as the Bahamas and Florida. When preparing
conch soup, conch salad or, best of all, spicy conch fritters, you
must beat the tough conch flesh into tender submission with a
mallet, the flat of a cleaver or a wooden pestle before cooking. The
job can sometimes (depending on the recipe) be made easier by using
a food processor.
Coriander, Cilantro, Chines Parsley:
pungent herb that looks like parsley. The seeds are used in
Creole refers to the cooking
of the French-speaking West Indies, as well as to southern Louisiana
and the Gulf states. Criolla refers to the cuisine of
Spanish-speaking islands. Both terms encompass a melding of
ingredients and cooking methods from France, Spain, Africa, the
Caribbean and America.
Hindu name for legumes; in the Caribbean,
it refers only to split peas or lentils.
The Caribbean name for kingfish.
Also known a coco, taro and tannia,
dasheen is a starchy tuber that is usually served boiled or cut up
and used as a thickener in hearty soups. While considered by some to
have a texture and flavor superior to that of a Jerusalem artichoke
or potato. Potatoes can often be used as a substitute for dasheen in
recipes. Dasheen is often called coco, but coco is actually a
slightly smaller relative of dasheen.
The Spanish word for "pickled." It
usually refers to fresh fish (and sometimes poultry) that is fried,
then picked in vinegar, spices, hot peppers and oil.
Goat meat is eaten with enthusiasm in
only a few places in the world, and Jamaica is assuredly one of
those places. Some credit immigrants from India who search din vain
for lamb to prepare their beloved curry. Finding no lambs, they
latched onto the next best thing--and curried goat became a
Caribbean classic. Most first-timers find goat milder in flavor than
lamb and an excellent substitute for lamb in most recipes. Of
course, if you can't find goat, you can substitute lamb.
Tropical fruit that has over a
hundred species. It is pear-shaped, round and oval; yellow to green
skinned, with creamy yellow, pink or red granular flesh; and has
rows of small hard seeds. The smell and taste are intense and
perfumy. Guava is used green or ripe in punches, syrups, jams,
chutneys, ice creams and an all-island paste know as guava
Hearts of Palm:
Ivory-colored core of some
varieties of palm trees.
Hibiscus, Flor de Jamaica, Sorrel:
flower--not to be confused with the garden-variety hibiscus--grown
for it crimson sepal, which is used to flavor dinks, jams and
sauces. It is available dried and fresh during the Christmas
A fish family of over two hundred
species, these colorful saltwater fish go by a host of varietal
names such as yellowtail, greenback, burnfin, black and amber jack.
These delicately flavored fish tend to be large, weighing a much as
150 pounds, and readily available in waters around the world. Tuna
and swordfish make good substitutes.
Caribbean limes have light yellow skins
when ripe, though they are often picked green because they go bad
rapidly when ripe. When overripe, they turn yellow and are an
excellent source of vitamin C. For this reason, the popularity of
these citrus fruits grew with the realization by the British Navy
that they cured scurvy. Now limes are one of the most important
ingredients in Jamaican sauces and marinades, and are used to perk
up dishes from savory to sweet. Chicken and fish turn glorious with
a mere squeeze of lime. And beverages, cakes and preserves wouldn't
taste the same without it.
In Jamaica, it's the spiny or
Caribbean lobster that is found--the same delicious crustacean as
the langouste in France, and aragosta in Italy, and the langoasta in
Spain. Although the texture of this cooked meat is consider in some
to be inferior to that of the Maine lobster, the flavor of the spiny
lobster meat more that makes up for the inferior texture.
A relative of dasheen or taro,
this tuber is prevalent throughout the Caribbean.
The large tropical fruit, native
to the New Worked, yields edible pulp that's tangerine in color.
With a flavor similar to that of the peach, mammey turns up most
often as jam.
Actually a native of India, this fruit
has come to be know as "the fruit of the tropics." Mangoes are used
in a variety of ways in the Caribbean. Green mangoes are used in hot
sauces and condiments, while ripe mangoes appear in desserts and
candies and in drinks. The best varieties of mango are the Bombay,
East Indian, St. Julian and Hayden.
This giant tuber could be called by any of
a variety of different names. The Spanish translation of the word
ñame is yam. The outer skin is brown and coarsely
textured, while the insided is porous and very moist. The ñame grows
to enormous size and is considered to be the "king" of tubers.
Jamaican cooks are insistent--when
cooking their recipes, skip over the pre-ground nutmeg sold in
supermarkets and buy the spice whole, grating it only as needed.
Nutmeg, the inner kernel of the fruit is more flavorful when freshly
grated. The spicy sweet flavor of this aromatic spice makes it
an excellent addition to cakes, puddings and drinks.
Okra, Okroes, Bhindi, Lady's Fingers, Gumbo:
This finger-shaped vegetable, green-ridged and three to five
inches in length, is fried as a side dish, used as a thickening
agent in callaloo or mixed with cornmeal to make coo-coo.
Yet another fruit introduced
from the Pacific by Captain Bligh, the pear-shaped otaheiti apple
ranges from pink to ruby red in color. This fruit is usually eaten
fresh, though it can be packed in red wine or turned into a
refreshing cold drink.
This native of South America is still
called ""pawpaw"" by some Jamaicans. The papaya has an orange color
when ripe, and it's bland flavor resembles that of a summer squash,
making it a nice complement to the shaper flavors of other fruits.
Green papaya is often used as an ingredient in chutney or relishes
and makes a nice main dish when stuffed. When ripe, it is eaten as a
melon, or served in fruit salad. Papaya juice makes a nice drink
when sweetened with condensed milk or sugar.
Passion Fruit, Maracudja, Granadilla:
Oval-shaped fruit that has a tough shell and a color range from
yellow-purple to eggplant to deep chocolate. The golden-yellow pulp
is sweet and tropically exotic, and must be strained to remove the
seeds. Used primarily in juices, desserts, drinks and sauces.
Jamaicans refer to nearly all beans as
"peas." Kidney beans are probably the most popular. Gungo (pigeon)
peas have also been a hit since their introduction from West Africa
by the Spanish, as have cow peas, black-eyed peas, and butter, lima
and broad (also called fava) beans. They are the island's primary
source of protein--even more than meat. Smaller peas are used in
Rice and Peas while larger-sized peas often appear in savory stews
and side dishes.
Spicy Cuban hash, made of ground
beef and cooked with olives and raisins.
Just to keep things interesting,
Jamaicans call what the world knows as allspice "Pimento"--a word
that elsewhere refers o bell peppers or chiles. The more global name
refers to the allspice berry, which has the taste of nutmeg,
cinnamon, black pepper and clove. All the same, Jamaicans deserve a
big say in this naming, since all but a tiny bit of pimento is grown
in Jamaica, the remainder being grown in southern Cuba. Thanks to
its embrace by English and Spanish colonist, allspice is used in
numerous Jamaican classics, from Escoveitched Fish to Jerk Pork.
Technically a banana-family fruit,
but generally regarded as a vegetable. Inedible raw, cooked
plantains are served as appetizers or starchy side dishes. The
unripe (green), ripe (yellow) and very ripe (dark) plantains are
used in Caribbean cooking. They become slightly sweet as they
Saltfish is any fried, salted fish,
but most often cod. With he increasing availability of fresh fish
all over Jamaica, some cooks are moving away from this preserved
fish dating back to the days before refrigeration. Still, Jamaicans
have a soft place in their hearts for the taste of this salted cod
(sold around the world in Italian, Spanish or Portuguese markets
under some variant on the name bacalao). Ackee and Saltfish is the
preferred breakfast of Jamaicans. When imported saltfish has been
unavailable, Jamaicans have been known to make their own from fresh
Scotch Bonnet Peppers
The fiery Scotch bonnet
pepper, ranging in colors from yellow to orange to red, is
considered the leading hot pepper in Jamaica, though several other
varieties have recently been developed. Some peppers are sold whole,
others are dried and ground, and still others are processed into
sauces, such as Jamaica Hell Fire. If you can't get your hands (wash
them afterward!) on Scotch bonnets, you can substitute habaneros or
Spanish tomato sauce adapted to the
islands, used to enhance roasts and thicken stews or soups.
Brought from India by way of Malaysia,
this unusual plant was introduced to Jamaica by the British soon
after 1655. Also known as roselle and appealingly, flor de Jamaica,
sorrel always blooms in December, when its deep red flower becomes
an unrivaled floral decoration for two to three weeks before it
evolves into Jamaica's traditional holiday beverage. At that time,
the flower are dried and then steeped in water to make a bright red
drink that has a slightly tart taste and is the color of cranberry
Soursop, Corossol, Guanabana:
spike-covered fruit, slightly tart and delicately flavored. It is
used mainly in drinks, punches, sherbets and ice cream.
Stamp and Go, Baclaitos:
popular throughout the Caribbean. Methods, ingredients and names
vary from island to island.
An important part of a traditional
dessert known a as matrimony, the star apple is a succulent round
fruit about the size of an orange. Native to Jamaica and the Greater
Antilles, the skin of this fruit is either a shiny purple color or a
less eye-catching green. No matter what color, the flesh of the star
apple is delicious.
Actually a pod that resembles a
human toe, this bizarre fruit possesses an evil-smelling and rough
exterior. The sugary power inside can be devoured on the spot or
turned into a flavorful custard or beverage.
Sugar Apple, Sweetsop:
An interesting challenge
to eat, the flesh of the sweetsop is actually a collection of black
seeds surrounded by sweet white pulp. The sweetsop is native to the
This decorative tree produces brown
pods containing a sweet and tangy pulp that's used for flavoring
everything from beverages to curries and sauces--including Angostura
bitters and Pickapeppa sauce. It is also an important ingredient in
Jamaican folk medicine.
West Indian Pumpkin:
A member of the gourd,
squash and melon family, this squash is also known as calabaza.
Possessing a sweet flavor similar to that of butternut squash, this
firm-textured vegetable is commonly found in soups, stews, breads
and sweetened puddings. Though hardly the same, the best substitutes
for calabaza are Hubbard, butternut and acorn squash.
Similar in size and color to the potato,
but nuttier in flavor, it is not be confused with the Southern sweet
yam or sweet potato. Caribbean yams are served boiled, mashed or
A member of the taro root family, the
yautía is the size of a potato, but more pear-shaped. It has a brown
fuzzy outer skin. The flesh is white and slimy and is custard-like
when cooked. It is one of the most natural thickeners, used to
thicken soups, stews, and bean dishes. There is also a purple yautía
which is also called mora.
Root vegetable similar in length and
shape to a turnip, with scaly yamlike skin. Universally made into
flour for breads and cakes, and used as a base for