Updated: Jan 14, 2020
Jamaican food as we know it today has been heavily influenced by the many peoples and cultures which have come to the island. The people who immigrated to Jamaica over the past several centuries brought with them their native foods and culinary techniques which blended to create a wholly unique cuisine. Jamaica is home to a wide variety of fruits which are not found in many other parts of the world and to a variety of traditional, unique dishes and recipes. Many locals say that part of any visit to Jamaica should include sampling Jamaican food. If you’re thinking about staying with us at Anticipation, we hope this post will help you learn more about Jamaican dishes so that you know what you may want to try during your stay.
Locally Grown Jamaican Foods
There are many locally grown foods in Jamaica which make their way into traditional dishes. Some of these plants are native to Jamaica, while other were brought to Jamaica from Africa. These tropical fruits and vegetables are wildly different than fruits and vegetables eaten in other parts of the world.
Ackee is the national fruit of Jamaica. It was brought to Jamaica from West Africa and has since become an important ingredient in many Jamaican dishes. The fruit grows in trees and is comprised of a thick, red skin, yellow flesh and three large black seeds. The skin of the ackee fruit is toxic until the fruit it completely ripened. When ripe, the skin opens to reveal the flesh and seeds. It is crucial to harvest the ackee fruit only once it had become ripe to avoid poisoning. Proper harvesting procedures are commonly known in Jamaica, so cases of poisoning are rare. Ackee is commonly eaten with saltfish, fish which has been preserved by drying with salt and is prepared by soaking in water for several hours before boiling.[i]
Sweetsop is a sweet fruit, about the size of a tennis ball. The skin is green and shaped like a pine cone, growing in segments around the central core. This skin is not edible but can be easily pulled apart to expose the edible, white, sweet flesh. Sweetsop tastes like custard, contains many small seeds, and is creamy and somewhat grainy in texture.[ii]
Soursop is related to sweetsop, but tastes subtly sour rather than sweet. Soursop is much larger than sweetsop and is irregularly shaped rather than round. The skin of the fruit is bright green and covered in blunt spikes. The flesh is white and soft and creamy in texture.[iii]
Breadfruit is a large, round green fruit that grows in bunches on trees. The skin is very bumpy and is not usually eaten. The thick stalk extends about halfway into the fruit and must be removed entirely before consumption. The flesh is white, stiff, and spongy, resembling bread. Typically, breadfruit is baked whole, either on a fire or in an oven until the skin turns brown. Once fully baked, the breadfruit it cut into slices, the skin is peeled off, and the slice is cored. The breadfruit can be served as is or fried in oil for an additional fifteen minutes. Breadfruit is usually eaten as a side dish.[iv]
Guinep is a small sweet fruit which grows in large bunches on trees. Bunches of guineps can be purchased at roadside stands. This fruit is comparable to a lychee, but is green rather than pinkish red. Like a lychee, the hard skin of the guinep must be cracked to expose the sweet flesh. The skin is quite weak and can be cracked with one’s teeth. The layer of flesh is quite thin, surround a large seed. Most people eat guinep by sucking on the whole fruit after they have removed the skin, eating the skin and spitting out the seed. This fruit is native to northern countries in South Africa and is called by many different names. This fruit so strongly resembles the lychee that some Jamaicans call lychees “Chinese Guineps.”[v]
Naseberries are sweet fruits about the size of a tangerine with a rough tan skin. The skin of a naseberry is edible, but the small black seeds inside are not. The flesh of a naseberry is similar in color to the skin and is grainy and soft in texture. Naseberries grow on evergreen trees in small bunches and are native to Central America and the Caribbean.[vi]
Stinking toe or “‘tinkin toe” have been named such due to their striking resemblance to toes. The fruit pods are in encased in a hard, brown shell. The pods are usually large, about the size of a human hand. Once the pod is opened by cracking the hard shell, the fruit and its pungent odor is exposed. The fruit smells exactly like smelly feet, is yellow in color and powdery in texture. This fruit is said to be an acquired taste.[vii]
Also called passion fruit, star apples are native to Central America and the Caribbean. They are usually green and purple in color and grow from trees. They are difficult to harvest because they don’t fall from the tree when ripe and must be cut down. Star apples get their name from the 5 to 6 black seeds which form a star shape when the fruit is cut up. The skin of a star apple and is very tough and inedible. The fruit must be cut in half to be eaten. The flesh of the star apple is white with a jelly-like texture and contains a thick juice that is like sweet milk. Star apples are usually carefully eaten with a spoon, since the flesh and juice can both stain clothing.[viii]
Many claim that to truly experience Jamaica, one must try these unique, tropical fruits. If you stay with us at Anticipation, our gourmet chef would be happy to purchase and prepare these fruits for you to try.
Cultural Influences and Culinary Techniques
Jamaican food and culinary techniques have been heavily influenced by the peoples who come to live on the island.
One popular method of food preparation is the “jerk” technique, which involves poking substantial holes into a cut of meat and filling these holes with seasoning. Traditionally, this method of preparation was used to preserve foods. Maroons, escaped Jamaican slaves, reportedly adopted this technique from the Cormantee tribes in Western Africa. Today, jerked meats are a popular staple in the Jamaican diet which can be found in both in roadside vendors, jerk huts, and in restaurants.[ix]
Another method of preparing and flavoring meat is borrowed from indentured Indian immigrants, who arrived on the island during the late 19th Century. Curried meats are flavored with a blend of spices and cooked. In Jamaica, curried goat is a favorite, but chicken and seafood is often curried as well.[x]
Rastafarians who live on Jamaica have developed their own unique cuisine to meet their strict dietary restrictions. This type of food is called Rastafarian I-Tal. The word “I-Tal” is derived from the word “vital”. The diet is based upon a deep respect for the earth and all life and the belief that everything one eats should be unmodified, taken directly from the earth. Usually, the diet is plant-based, excludes all processed foods, and doesn’t contain salt. Visitors to Jamaica who are vegan should have an easy time finding vegan friendly meals if they can find one of the many Rastafarian I-Tal food trucks or restaurants.[xi]
If you stay with us at Anticipation, our gourmet chef would be happy to prepare your meals using any of these Jamaican culinary techniques so that you can experience them for yourself.
Traditional Jamaican Dishes and Recipes
In addition to the unique foods grown in Jamaica and the culinary techniques adopted and adapted from other cultures, there are several dishes which are traditionally eaten by Jamaican people.
Rice and peas are staple in the Jamaican diet. Many families eat rice and peas everyday with different types of meat or drenched in gravy.
Callaloo is another traditional Jamaican dish. Usually paired with saltfish, this dish is made with the leaves of various plants, including taro, elephant ear plants, or water spinach. The leaves are washed, drained and steamed. Many Jamaicans refer to whichever leafy plant is used to make callaloo as callaloo, which can be confusing for non-natives
There are a large variety of fruit juices made from the fruits grown locally on the island. Many of the rums produced in Jamaica are also flavored with these fruits.[xii]
Blue Mountain Coffee, one of the most sought after coffees in the world, is grown and harvested locally in Jamaica. This coffee is strictly regulated in its production is made from Arabica beans grown on the Blue Mountains at an altitude between two thousand and five thousand feet. Coffee-lovers should certainly try a cup of Blue Mountain while visiting the place where it is grown.[xiii]
There are many desserts in Jamaican cuisine. Bulla is a popular cake dish made from flour, molasses, and baking powder which is said to melt in your mouth. It is often eaten with a slice of cheese. Coconut drops are hardened sweets which are made by boiling coconut and sugar. Dukunnu is a type of pudding made from yams or green bananas mixed with cornmeal and sweet spices and wrapped in banana leaves.[xiv]
At your request, our gourmet chef at Anticipation would be more than happy to prepare any of these traditional dishes for your enjoyment.
We hope that this blog has helped you determine what foods you would like to eat when you visit Jamaica. Although Jamaican food may be different than the food you are accustomed to, there is something for everyone in Jamaica.
[i] “Ackee.” Jamaicatravelandculture.com. http://www.jamaicatravelandculture.com/food_and_drink/ackee.htm
[ii] “Sweetsop.” Jamaicatravelandculture.com. http://www.jamaicatravelandculture.com/food_and_drink/sweetsop.htm
[iii] “Soursop.” Jamaicatravelandculture.com. http://www.jamaicatravelandculture.com/food_and_drink/soursop.htm
[iv] “Roast Breadfruit Recipe.” Jamaicatravelandculture.com http://www.jamaicatravelandculture.com/food_and_drink/roast-breadfruit.htm
[v] “Guinep.” Jamaicatravelandculture.com http://www.jamaicatravelandculture.com/food_and_drink/guinep.htm
[vi] “Nasberry.” Jamaicatravelandculture.com http://www.jamaicatravelandculture.com/food_and_drink/nasberry.htm
[vii] “Tinkin’ Toe.” Jamaicatravelandculture.com http://www.jamaicatravelandculture.com/food_and_drink/tinkin-toe.htm
[viii] “Star Apple.” Jamaicatravelandculture.com http://www.jamaicatravelandculture.com/food_and_drink/star-apple.htm
[ix] “Culinary Styles.” Caribya.com. http://caribya.com/jamaica/food/culinary.styles/
[x] “Culinary Styles.” Caribya.com. http://caribya.com/jamaica/food/culinary.styles/
[xi] Varley, Ciaran. “Ital - the vegan Rasta movement you've probably never heard of until now...”http://www.bbc.co.uk/bbcthree/item/a81ed43e-0f31-43c0-9cf8-e2134ec5ad2a
[xii] Culinary Styles.” Caribya.com. http://caribya.com/jamaica/food/culinary.styles
[xiii] Culinary Styles.” Caribya.com. http://caribya.com/jamaica/food/culinary.styles
[xiv] Culinary Styles.” Caribya.com. http://caribya.com/jamaica/food/culinary.styles
Stinking Toe: https://www.google.com/url?sa=i&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=images&cd=&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0ahUKEwiu6K61kKzUAhWGjz4KHcW2CVUQjRwIBw&url=http%3A%2F%2Featrio.net%2F2013%2F12%2Fjatoba-stinky-toe.html&psig=AFQjCNFs3bs0IDNWk04kkGaLAnDUwmCTFA&ust=1496938360480365
Star Apples: https://www.google.com/url?sa=i&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=images&cd=&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0ahUKEwiptozakKzUAhVDrD4KHezLADwQjRwIBw&url=http%3A%2F%2Fjptransition.org%2Fmeet-your-neighbors-and-their-fruits%2F&psig=AFQjCNHu4p0mYoXgNQQnlQ6Fd8BET47PoQ&ust=1496938523263553
Curried Goat: https://www.google.com/url?sa=i&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=images&cd=&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0ahUKEwjX85KZkazUAhUBaz4KHUnXB0wQjRwIBw&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.foodnetwork.com%2Frecipes%2Fjamaican-curried-goat-3203837&psig=AFQjCNHJWq53C4BpMafl4rDo70vCWaihLg&ust=1496938652799536
I-Tal Meal: http://ichef.bbci.co.uk/live-experience/cps/704/cpsprodpb/vivo/live/images/2016/6/13/a559e4dd-c2ac-455e-8969-f8a8a245583c.jpg
Rice and Peas: https://www.google.com/url?sa=i&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=images&cd=&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0ahUKEwjp0O34kazUAhXGdD4KHcLjBlcQjRwIBw&url=https%3A%2F%2Ftastetheislandstv.com%2Ftraditional-jamaican-rice-and-peas%2F&psig=AFQjCNHcctQ1HQ0z930xAKY2rve--bhoJA&ust=1496938853594242
Blue Mountain Coffee: https://www.google.com/url?sa=i&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=images&cd=&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0ahUKEwigxvO4kqzUAhXBez4KHeJ4CSsQjRwIBw&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.amazon.com%2FJablum-Jamaica-Mountain-Coffee-Beans%2Fdp%2FB004XWES5O&psig=AFQjCNHPUeqQYdGXdhtbXq-23Se1GjMkPw&ust=1496938981287594
Coconut Drops: https://www.google.com/url?sa=i&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=images&cd=&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0ahUKEwj_j-zwkqzUAhWGGT4KHQ4RAVcQjRwIBw&url=http%3A%2F%2Fjulesfood.blogspot.com%2F2012%2F05%2Fjamaican-coconut-drops.html&psig=AFQjCNENbUEC_q5--AcWMrQX3aq7KlDxxg&ust=1496939104602178