Caribbean cooking

Fusion food

Caribbean cooking is fusion food of the highest order. It has influences, among others, from Africa, South America, Asia, Europe, and the Middle East. In addition to Chillies, which are massively popular, other common ingredients are rice, plantains, beans, cassava, cilantro, bell peppers, chickpeas, tomatoes, sweet potatoes and coconuts.  These are expertly combined with garlic, onion, herbs , spices and various meats like beef, poultry, pork or seafood like fish or prawns

One spice, besides Chillies, that stands out is pimento or allspice. It got the name allspice in the 17th century (when it was first imported to Europe), by virtue of the fact that it tastes like a combination of clove, cinnamon, and nutmeg.

Allspice is used together with nutmeg, black pepper, thyme, cayenne pepper, paprika, sugar, salt, garlic, and ginger in dishes like Jerk Chicken and pork. . The wood from the Pimento tree is also used to smoke jerk meats.

One of the most important Chillies in Caribbean cooking is the Scotch bonnet.  It is so important that the Ministry of Agriculture in Jamaica has even created a classification system for them. The MOA Scotch Bonnets, as they are called, have three grades.  The best grade should have a cup and saucer shape with three to four well shaped lobes, be not less than 4,5 cm in diameter, and have a uniform colour typical of the variety. The second and third grades are far less stringent in their requirements, with the lowest grade not even requiring the lobes to be distinct. It doesn’t necessarily even have to have the distinctive cup and saucer shape of the classical Scotch bonnet.

Which countries make up the Caribbean?

Thirteen countries

When most people think of the Caribbean, Jamaica, Antigua, Barbados, Cuba, or Bermuda, might spring to mind. However, there are many more countries (thirteen in total and fifteen dependencies) including Antigua and Barbuda, the Bahamas, Guadeloupe, Dominican Republic, Grenada and Martinique

Many of these countries, including Jamaica, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rica, Barbados, Saint Lucia, Trinidad, and Tobago, were inhabited by the Taino people of South America. When they settled in these countries, they brought a love for Chillies with them. They were so fond of them that they ate them with just about every meal. This was the start of a trend that has continued in the Caribbean to this day. 

There are, however, some notable exceptions. Cuba, for example, is a country that doesn’t particularly enjoy spicy food. While you might have some Taino influences in Cuban food, a love of Chillies certainly is not one of them.  Similarly, Puerto Rico is not a country where lots of spicy food is eaten.

One thing, however, these countries share with many other Caribbean countries is the use of sofrito. Sofrito is a thick, herbed, and peppery vegetable sauce (which sometimes contains meat). It is used as the base for various recipes, from soups to chicken and rice.

There are subtle differences in the way Sofrito is made in each country. For example, in Cuba, it will contain tomatoes, bell peppers and ham, while in the Dominican republic (where it is called Sazón), it contains the mentioned ingredients, but also vinegar (for sourness) and annatto for colour.  In Puerto Rico, where Sofrito is also called Recaito, tomatoes are not used as part of the recipe. Another difference is they use sweet mild Chillies called aji dulces together with bell peppers (or cubanelles) to make it

Spicy Caribbean food

Jamaica and Trini

Not liking spicy food is certainly not the case in some of the other countries in the region.  Jamaica in particular is known for spicy foods including the much-loved jerk chicken and pork, pepper pot soup, Gungo peas soup, Solomon Gundy (a spicy fish pate), Manish water (Jamaican soup made from goat combined with yam, coconut, green bananas, dumplings, and Chillies), peppered shrimps, curry goat ,  oxtail with broad beans and Jamaican patties

Trinidad and Togago is another Caribbean country that likes its spicy cuisine. With food like Doubles (fried flat bread with curried chickpeas), Aloo pie (fried dough filled with spicy mashed potatoes), Pholourie (spicy fried dough balls),

With Callaloo (spicy soup like stew made with large green leaves of the taro or dasheen plants), Dhal (curried chickpeas), Pineapple Chow ( chunks of fresh fruit with lime juice, Chillies, salt, garlic and cilantro), Bujol (spicy saltfish salad with tomatoes and Chillies) on offer, Chillies are never far away

Other examples of spicy foods from the Caribbean include Oil Down from Grenada, Carne de chivo guisado picante (spicy Goat Meat Stew) from the Dominican Republic, fungee and pepper-pot (the national dish of Antigua and Barbuda), souse (a broth of pickled pig trotters flavoured with onion, garlic, lime, hot peppers and other spices) and the Bahamian national dish, conch salad, which is made with raw conch, onion, bell peppers, tomatoes, Chillies and lime and orange juice

In many of these dishes, the influence African Carribeans had on Caribbean cooking can clearly be seen.  Jerked chicken and pork, and some slow cooked dishes like oxtail, broad beans, Manish water and cow heel soup are examples of African influence.  There are many more Caribbean recipes that have their origin from this background, including breadfruit rundown , Callaloo (vegetarian stew made with Amaranth) and Ackee and salt fish  

Final note

While Scotch bonnets play a very important role in Caribbean cooking, other Chillies are also used. Besides the superhot Trinidad Moruga Scorpion (one of the world’s hottest Chillies), other Chillies like Habaneros, Caribbean reds,  Jamaican Red Hots, goat peppers, Bonney Chillies (the most popular Chilli in Barbados), Cubanelles, St Martins seasoning pepper, Trinidad greens, Bonda Ma Jacques, Grenada seasoning Maiwiries and Jamaican golds can be found in kitchens around the Caribbean

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