Spices Used in Caribbean Cuisine

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While fiery Scotch bonnet peppers are the most instantly recognizable ingredient in Caribbean cuisine, a supporting cast of indigenous spices provides depth and color to dishes that frequently have to elevate tough, unfashionable cuts of meat -- such as pig tail and bull foot; or insipid, fibrous tubers -- such as cassava -- to otherwise unobtainable heights. Bear in mind, though, that regional cuisine varies considerably among the Spanish-, French- and English-speaking islands.

Jerk Seasoning

  • The standard seasoning for Jamaican barbecue, jerk combines cinnamon, black peppercorns, allspice berries, cayenne pepper and nutmeg as the foundation, and in doing so unites a virtual Caribbean spice Hall of Fame. For the most aromatic seasoning, buy each spice individually, then toast and grind at home to release the oils on cue. Scotch bonnet pepper, thyme, garlic and salt provide the complementary notes.

Color and Texture

  • Annato seeds don’t carry a particularly strong flavor, but are responsible for imbuing slow-cook Caribbean stews -- particularly those in Latin Caribbean cuisine -- with a warm, red hue. Much cheaper than saffron, the seeds need to be ground into a powder for cooking. Arrowroot, on the other hand, comes primarily from St. Vincent and thickens sauces and gravy, with only the slightest trace of bitterness. In the southern Caribbean islands with close cultural links to East Asia, stews and roti exude powerful turmeric and cumin aromas, while Grenada’s national spice, nutmeg, makes its presence known in sweet and savory dishes.

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