Jamaican spices and herbs are the heart and soul of Jamaican cooking and are used to build unforgettable flavors.
Authentic, made-from-scratch Jamaican food is built around fresh herbs and spices. Ingredients like pimento, turmeric, Jamaican curry powder, and aromatics like fresh thyme and scallions come together in traditional Jamaican recipes to create a tantalizing experience for the senses and the taste buds! This is one food culture that doesn’t shy away from flavor.
Discover the most popular Jamaican herbs and spices, and how to use them in the island’s most popular recipes,
Scotch Bonnet Pepper
The Scotch bonnet pepper may have a mild, if not cute name, but these peppers are hot, hot, hot! The Scotch bonnet pepper is part of the habanero family, and is used in cooking throughout the Caribbean. Depending on when the pepper is picked, it can be bright orange, yellow, or even green, red, or brown.
It’s difficult to fully describe how a Scotch bonnet pepper tastes; this is one pepper you have to try to appreciate. Most cooks will tell you that Scotch bonnet peppers are slightly fruity, even a little sweet, and, depending on how you prepare them, tons and tons of spicy flavor.
Spice mixes and sauces are a must in Jamaican cuisine, and Scotch bonnet peppers are one of the most popular ingredients in recipes like Jamaican Escovitch Fish and Jamaican Stew Peas. Scotch bonnet peppers are also used to make Jamaican curry and jerk seasonings!
No Jamaican kitchen is complete without fresh thyme. Did you know there are close to 100 varieties of this aromatic herb in Jamaica?
Thyme is often used in soups, stews, and as a seasoning for meat and fish. Braised oxtails with thyme, Saltfish Fritters, and Caribbean Green Seasoning build their base flavor around versatile, herbaceous thyme.
Escallion (Jamaican Scallion)
Scallions are a staple in Jamaican cooking, and many dishes just wouldn’t be the same without them. Mild and delicious Jamaican scallions look similar to other alliums, with the exception of their skin which is a purplish red at the bulb. Jamaican rice and peas wouldn’t be complete without the zip of scallion flavor (and thyme and ginger!).
Scallions are used to enhance the flavors in Jamaica’s national dish Ackee and Saltfish.
If you can’t find scallions, a green onion can be used.
Jamaican curry powder recipes can have some variations, but most start with a base of turmeric, Scotch bonnet peppers, ginger, coriander, and cumin. When used in stews, soups, or meat dishes, the result is a warm, comforting meal that’s hearty and hard to resist.
Popular Jamaican recipes like Jamaican Curry Goat, use curry powder to balance out the gaminess of the goat meat and give the dish a vibrant flavor. Jamaican curry powders tend to have more turmeric, and less spice, than their Indian counterparts,
Jerk is a style of Jamaican cooking native to the island that uses a hot, spicy marinade to rub on chicken or pork before being grilled. If you’ve never tried authentic Jamaican jerk seasoning you’re missing out. It’s as eye-wateringly good, as it is mouth-wateringly good!
Jerk seasoning, or paste, recipes usually involve a mix of Scotch bonnet peppers, pimento, ginger, lime, garlic, sugar, onions, thyme, and soy sauce. It’s basically a who’s who of spices and flavors, and incredibly addicting. Jerk chicken and jerk pork are popular Jamaican dishes.
Jamaican turmeric is an essential Jamaican food ingredient. The turmeric found on the island is known for its intense flavor, bright orange-yellow color, and high concentration of curcumin, which in addition to adding a pronounced ginger-like flavor to food, is also good for reducing inflammation and arthritic pain.
The pastry dough that surrounds a sizzling hot and savory Jamaican beef patty (yum!) is made with turmeric, along with curry powder, flour, butter, and sugar. Turmeric is also one of the spices used to create Jamaican curry powder.
Pimento is a dried, unripe berry from the Pimenta dioica tree. You may also know pimento as allspice or Jamaican pepper. This fragrant spice has notes of cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg, which makes it perfect for both savory and sweet dishes. Pimento is so invitingly aromatic, and presents itself as a wonderfully warm spice, that it works with everything from pimento-smoked jerk chicken, to pimento-spiced rice and ackee pimento flan!
The berries can be added whole to a dish for added flavor, but remove before serving. Or simply crush them in a mortar and pestle and add them to your dish. I love crushed pimento in my cornmeal porridge.
I hope you liked learning a bit more about popular herbs and spices in Jamaica. This guide and these Jamaican recipes will have you feeling like you’re on the island.