What are some spices in Jamaica?
Jamaican Escallion and Thyme
What are some spices in Jamaica? || Answered by Aneisha Dobson, Associate Writer
Jamaicans, they say, have a natural 'touch' when it comes to the culinary arts. While this is absolutely true, credit is also due to the natural ingredients, which include spices, harvested right here in Jamaica from mother earth!
In fact, if you Google and browse through most of our traditional recipes, you’ll see that local spices are a common variable.
So for your education, I'll now share with you some of the most popular ones.
- Bay leaf
This aromatic leaf is excellent way to spruce up your dish. Known for its pronounced aroma, bay leaves are normally used to flavour soup, sauces, stews, casseroles, stocks and bouillons. The bay leaves come from the bay herb tree, which originates from Asia.
It is said that bay leaves have familiar smell to that of oregano and thyme. Only small amount is used in cooking and the leaves are removed before eating because the texture of the leaves are tough.
Coupled with dried orange peels and nutmeg, bay leaf is also used to flavour traditional Jamaican chocolate.
But, bay leaf isn’t only used for food. Combined with Jamaican rum and other spices, bay leaf is used to make bay rum. Bay rum is a fragrance that is often used in aftershave lotions.
Cinnamon is a popularly used spice in Jamaica. This spice is made from the stems of the Cinnamomum tree.
The dried bark forms strip that curl into what we call cinnamon sticks. These cinnamon stick are then grounded into cinnamon powder.
This spice is a common ingredient in pastry dishes, such as Jamaican potato pudding, cornmeal pudding, Toto (coconut cake), cookies, gizzards and many others.
It also commonly used in porridge, a popular breakfast for many. Cinnamon sticks are also used in bars and are served in certain cocktails to stir.
For those who don’t know, cloves are dried aromatic buds from the clove tree.
The cloves are picked by hand and put to dry until they are dark brown in colour. Cloves can be used both whole and grounded.
In my home, cloves are in abundance during the Christmas season, mainly because mother habitually used cloves on Christmas ham.
- Scallion (or Escallion) (Pictured at top with Thyme)
Now, scallion is a fundamental spice in almost any and every Jamaican cuisine.
A trip through rural areas, such as St. Elizabeth, will reveal rows of scallion being planted like flowers in front of homes.
Commonly used spice for marinating meat and fish, scallion adds flavour and piquant to several of our favourite savoury dishes.
The recipes of several famous dishes, including Jamaican rice and peas, manish water and other soups, curry and stews, are simply incomplete without a few stalks of scallion.
For those of us who shop in our local markets, not supermarket now, we know that scallion is usually coupled with our next item, thyme.
This leafy spice helps to add some zest to your dish. Whether fresh or dry, thyme is used in a variety of cooking application, such as rice and peas, soups, stews and even while steaming vegetables.
Usually, a sprig of thyme is added during the cooking process and once the meal is finished it is removed from the pot before serving.
Just like thyme and scallion, garlic is a popularly used spice for marinating meat.
Due to its strong aroma and taste, garlic is usually sautéed to add its flavour to savoury dishes.
Other than for its taste, garlic is great for health. I can personally testify that it’s excellent for the common cold, just mix with honey and experience its healing power!
Ginger is such a versatile spice with countless number of uses.
In fact, I simply adore the taste of ginger in naturally blended juices like sorrel drink, cherry juice and other naturally blended juices.
It also used to add zest to our bakery, including cookies, bullas and buns.
Ginger is also a popular spice for seasoning meat. I often use it when preparing stewed pork. Just like garlic and many other spice, ginger has an enormous number of benefits to your health.
It is renowned as an excellent reliever for stomach ailments. Read more about Jamaican ginger here.
Personally, I use this spice, hand-in-hand with cinnamon and vanilla. I adopted this from my grandparents.
Since nutmeg usually goes hand-in-hand with cinnamon and vanilla, you will find that it is used in several baked goods, puddings, pastries and natural blended juices, such as carrot juice.
Yes, the spice of all spices!
Now Jamaican kitchen is incomplete without a few peppers. Whether it be scotch bonnet pepper, sweet pepper or black pepper, pepper is simply a must have.
Peppers are used to season all types of meats, poultry and fish. In fact, it is a key ingredient is the popular Jamaica staple, Jerk Chicken!
This is one of my favourite spices!
Because it gives an extra oomph when preparing your meat for marinating. Due to its unique flavour, aroma and ability to bring tasteless meals to life, pimento is a highly rated and expensive spice.
Also referred to as All-spice, Pimento is actually the dried berry of the pimento tree (Pimento dioica) though, and is often used in the grounded form.
But, it’s not just the seeds, the leaves are also used in the jerking process to boost the flavour. Just ask the Jerk Pork and Jerk Chicken chefs at Boston Jerk!
For all the curry lovers out there, you should know and appreciate that the colour and taste that you get from curry is due to the inclusion of turmeric.
Yes, turmeric is a spice that has been widely lauded for its eye-catching colour and impeccable flavour.
It can be found in popular dishes like curry chicken and curry goat. But this spice is not only suitable for culinary purposes, it’s also excellent for our health.
Turmeric is known to help lower cholesterol, aid in blood circulation, used as a natural liver detoxifier and serves as a natural antibiotic, antiseptic and antibacterial agent.
A bowl of porridge is simply incomplete without the adding some vanilla. Don’t agree? Due to its sweet aroma, vanilla is a constant on many of Jamaicans favourite sweet treats, such as Toto (coconut cakes), potato puddings and cornmeal pudding.
And remember that old time Jamaican chocolate tea? It's never the same without a 'tups' of vanilla!
I hope I answered you sufficiently. As usual, I welcome your comments here.
Until next time...
P.S. Read more about food from Jamaica here.
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