By Denise Salmon
Ask me and I'll tell you that Jamaican spices are the real secret to the great taste we all enjoy when we eat Jamaican food. Without them the food simply does not taste as great - ask the Jamaicans living oversea :-)
That is why (I heard) that Jamaicans who live abroad miss their food more than anything else in Jamaica :-)
So when they come home for a visit they try to take back as much food -likewise the spice, as much as they can. Below is a listing of some of the most used (or popular) spices Jamaicans use in cooking.
Our Scotch Bonnet pepper is said to be the hottest pepper in the world! It is shaped like an old time Scottish Bonnet, so that is where we think it got it's name from.
It is not found in many other places around the world, only in the Caribbean Islands but Jamaica and Belize have been producing the most of these peppers.
This pepper is used in our Jerk Chicken and Pork, rice and peas, curried goat, fried fish and pickle.
Scotch bonnet gives our soup an extra special flavor.
In this case a green pepper is placed on top of the soup when it is almost ready, and it is removed as soon as the soup is cooked so we get all the flavor and not the heat.
Scotch Bonnet is a variety of Chilli peppers, they are similar to the habanero. In Barbados they are called Bonnie Peppers and they are used in a hot pepper sauce. Excess use of the Scotch Bonnet pepper however can lead to heartburn and, if is eaten raw, may cause numbness of hands and feet.
Jamaican sweet peppers are packed with vitamin c and has a great flavor. They can be found in three colors, green , yellow and red.
They are sometimes used as garnish as well, just to make meals look more attractive and delectable. They are available all year but are more predominant in the summer months.
Scallion or eskellion is another of our favorite seasonings in Jamaica. It is a part of the onion family and has a similar flavor.
It has a bulb at the base and tall green leaves. It is used in soups, jerk and almost every other Jamaican dish.
Compared to others on the market, Jamaican Onion (local onions) provides a stronger flavor. I find, from experience, that although Jamaican onions tend to be a bit more expensive, the move much faster in the produce market.
Pimento is also called all spice, is the dried unripe berry of the pimento. Without any doubt is is the most adored of Jamaican spices. It is the spice that gives Jamaican Jerk it's special flavor.
In Portland Jamaica, the place where we go for the best jerk , the leaves of the pimento are used in the fire beneath the meat that is being jerked to boost the flavor. As you know jerk is a very old tradition here on the island , as the maroons used this method to preserve their meat long before there were refrigerators and electricity were available.
Pimento trees grow to a height of 9 meters and has aromatic ,green leaves and white flowers. And these trees are only found in the Caribbean islands. The first tree was discovered here in Jamaica by early Spanish explorers in 1509, and later a pimento tree was found in Cuba and Mexico.
The ripe berries can also be used to make liquor with rum. It has an excellent flavor and it can be served alongside many meals. It can also be served by itself like wine. As a child I remember spending hours helping my Dad as we removed the green pimento berries from the stems before we put them out on a sheet of zinc to dry in the sun.
But this allspice is used in Jamaica in many different recipes.
It is used in fish, soups ,stewed peas, rice and peas, stewed beef, curried goat, chicken etc.
This spice is truly special, without it our meals would not be as nice. So when you want to add some flavor to your meats ask for some Jamaican Pimento.
Although Grenada is known as the place for this spice. Jamaicans have been in love with spices for a long time. Our grandparents were never short of their cinnamon and nutmeg. That is why the food tasted so much better than what is being prepared by us now.
The nutmeg tree is still being grown here and there has been some recent research carried out on it's chemistry that shows great potential.
It is the seed of the Myristica fragrans and the red or golden aril covering the seed is called mace, known for it’s many health benefits around the world the nutmeg has been quite popular.
The nutmeg has been used as a type of brain tonic, because it can effectively stimulate the brain so that fatigue, anxiety , depression and stress is eliminated. Nutmeg can also improve your concentration so you can be able to focus on your work, so it is good for students.
It has been used for pain relief as nutmeg oil can be applied to the aching area. As nutmeg is also a sedative and it also a wonderful treatment for insomnia, indigestion and all those abdominal related problems like constipation, bloating , diarrhea and more, it can be used to remove excess gas from the intestines.
Nutmeg can also be used in the treatment of bad breath or halitosis as it will help to reduce the bacteria in the mouth as it has antibacterial properties as well. It can also be used in the treatment of toothache and gum problems.
Detoxification is needed more these days because toxins enter our bodies through the air we breath, the food we eat, medication and smoking. When these toxins build up in our livers and kidneys, these organs are not able to perform as they should. Nutmeg can help to remove toxins from these organs, so they can perform better.
Nutmeg is also good for the skin. A glass of warm milk with a little nutmeg or cinnamon sprinkled on top can do wonders at bedtime.
Cinnamon is another of the excellent Jamaican spices. It is made from the inner bark of several trees from the genus cinnamon. It is used in our spice buns, porridge, puddings and cakes.
Extracts from the bark of trees has been used as medicine by many people in the old days. Even the leaves of the tree has the flavor and before you start the ingredients for your porridge you could put some cinnamon leaves in the water before it start boiling.
A tea made from cinnamon and ginger is very nice and cinnamon has been used in the treatment of high blood pressure and diabetes.
If you are taking medication that was prescribed by a doctor though, it is best for you to speak to your doctor prior to consuming cinnamon.
Bartenders in Jamaica sometimes give a cinnamon stick to patrons to stir their drink. These sticks comes from the bark of the cinnamon tree that is harvested twice per year in the rainy season it is stripped and put to dry.
Those are just a few of the many spices of Jamaica or rather - Jamaican spices :-)
For those looking to purchase Jamaican spices, you would be happy to know that we now have scores of recognizable brands that bottle and distribute Jamaican spices.
There is, for example, Grace Kennedy, Walkerswood, Spice Appeal, Island Spice, Blue Mountain Country, Spice Girl, Spur Tree and Eatons.
In addition, many of these brands are now available online. You may also visit My-Island-Jamaica.com's amazon store to purchase your favourite Jamaican spices.