In the late 1400’s, Jamaica was invaded by the Spanish, who brought in many of the plants that Jamaica is now famous for, including coconuts, sugar cane, lemons, and limes.
Pigs, cattle, and goats were also brought in and now feature in many traditional Jamaican dishes. As the Spanish began developing Jamaica, they imported slaves from Africa who brought ackee (now Jamaica’s national fruit), peanuts, peas, beans, and okra with them, all of which are now staples in Jamaican cuisine.
Jamaican foods are flavored using spices like ginger, nutmeg, and allspice, which is made from the dried berries of the pimento plant, a native Jamaican plant that is a valuable export for Jamaica. Many traditional meals are served with bammy or bami, a toasted flatbread that is made from yams.
The beautiful warm waters of the Caribbean Sea are full of wonderful seafood that plays a large part in Jamaican cuisine. Seafood including shrimp and lobster, and fish like tuna, jackfish, red snapper, and mackerel are all plentifully available and widely used.
Because of Jamaica’s warm, tropical climate, fruits are quickly grown, and therefore play a significant role in Jamaican cuisine. Commonly used fruits include pineapple, coconuts, bananas, guavas, mangoes, papaya, and plantains; all of which are eaten fresh or used in tropical deserts.
Ackee is Jamaica’s National Fruit and is a bright red tropical fruit that splits open when it is ripe, revealing a soft, mild, creamy yellow flesh that has a slightly bitter flavor.
Ackee is considered a dangerous fruit though because forcing it open before it is ripe releases a toxic gas that has been known to kill. The production of ackee is spread throughout Jamaica, and canned ackee is one of Jamaica’s biggest exports to the rest of the world.
Jamaica’s national dish is ackee and saltfish, and although ackee is a fruit, it is prepared like a vegetable.
Saltfish is dried, salted fish that needs to be soaked in water before it is cooked. Cod is the most common type of fish used to make salt fish. The ackee is fried with onion, garlic, scallions, tomatoes, scotch bonnet pepper and sweet pepper, and then the salt fish is added. Many say that this dish has the appearance and texture of scrambled eggs, although the flavor is salty and spicy, and is traditionally eaten for breakfast or as a snack.
Other traditional Jamaican staples include brown-stewed fish or beef, which is a saucy meat dish with lots of gravy typically served with rice; curried goat, and pepper pot soup, which is made from beef or pork tripe, vegetables, peppers, okra, and seasonings. Jamaicans love gravy dishes, so many of the traditional dishes will typically involve gravies or sauces.
Popular Food Jamaicans Enjoy
Jamaica’s most famous type of food is jerk chicken. Jerking is a traditional Jamaican technique of spicing and slow cooking meat to preserve the juices and create a distinctive, spicy flavor.
The seasoning that is used typically contains scotch bonnet peppers, onions, allspice, garlic, thyme, ginger, and cinnamon, which is rubbed all over the meat. The meat is then slowly cooked over an outdoor pit which is lined with pimento wood. One of the most popular spots you can grab jerk chicken at is Scotchies. If you’re ever on the island for a visit, be sure to stop by.
Jamaican cuisine is soaked in different spices and aromatic flavors that are very indicative of its Caribbean heritage. With a diverse range of fruits, spices, meats, and other delicious ingredients, your palate is in for a real treat when tasting authentic Jamaican cooking.