Delicious island food starts with the most used and authentic Caribbean spices, herbs, and flavors. Whether you are exploring Caribbean cooking or from the West Indies like myself, there are so many cultural representations on every island. From European to Asian influences mixed with native indigenous cooking, have made the most flavorful dishes. Check out how to make these staple Caribbean recipes browning sauce , simple green seasoning and mixed spice.
What are the most popular spices used in the Caribbean?
Popular pantry spices in most Caribbean kitchens are allspice, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves. Used ground and whole in sweet and savory dishes.
Allspice - A dried berry from a Pimenta tree with flavor notes of nutmeg, cinnamon, black pepper, and cloves. Also called pimento seeds or berries. Use this spice in Jamaican jerk seasoning, rice and peas, oxtail, and Christmas black cake.
Nutmeg - The dried seed from a nutmeg tree, also around the seed is the spice mace. Use this freshly grated with sweet recipes including sweet coconut drops or bread, ducuna, ponche de creme, and pone.
Cinnamon - Bark from a cinnamon tree. Used alongside nutmeg in baking, breakfast, and drinks including sorrel, coconut pot bake, sponge cake, and porridge.
Cloves - A dried flower from an evergreen clove tree. A strong flavor used in drinks, seasoning blends, and baking, most notably in Christmas Ham.
Most Used Fresh Herbs and Flavors of the Caribbean
In the islands fresh is best, growing your own fruits, vegetables, and seasoning or going to the market on Saturday.
Fine Thyme - known as French thyme is a variety of English thyme. It has an aromatic floral lemon flavor.
Broad Leaf Thyme - known by many names including Indian Borage, Cuban Oregano, Spanish and Mexican Thyme. Has a stronger aromatic clove-like flavor than fine thyme.
Chadon Beni - also known as culantro similar to the herb cilantro. The flavor of chadon beni is stronger so if you are substituting use a bit more cilantro.
Chive - also called green onion or scallions.
Onion - most times it’s a yellow or white variety.
Garlic - fresh garlic is used in all most all savory cooking as a flavor base.
Ginger Root - mostly used in tea, drinks, and seasoning in savory dishes.
Scotch Bonnet or Wiri Wiri - is a spicy chili pepper similar to habanero peppers. If you want a less spicy pepper try Wiri Wiri also known also hot cherry peppers.
Pimento Peppers - also referred to as seasoning peppers. Great pepper flavor without the heat, a substitute would be mini sweet peppers.
Lime or Rough Lemon - many different varieties throughout the Caribbean, sour tart flavor with thin skin and others have a rough thick skin.
Dry Coconut - the hardened inner flesh is grated, mixed with water, and makes flavorful and creamy milk. Used in both sweet and savory island dishes.
Browning - is a sauce made of caramelized cane sugar that gives a dark color and deep flavor to savory and sweet recipes. Check out how to make homemade browning.
Ketchup - caribbean ketchup is sweet compared to American brands. Used for sauces, seasoning, and savory dishes.
Roucou - Annatto fruit of the Achiote tree, the seeds sheds a bright orange-red pigment that adds amazing color and flavor to dishes. It’s also a nonsugar coloring alternative comparatively speaking to browning sauce.
Cane Sugar - Unrefined is best because it will still have some that molasses flavor.
West Indian Spices
You’ll find many East Indian spices in Caribbean grocery stores. Some are single spices and others are blends or mixes.
Curry - the most popular Indian spice blend, that can vary from mild to spicy. Spices include coriander, turmeric, cumin, fennel, methi or fenugreek, chili, aniseed, and nigella seeds.
Amchar Masala - spices in this blend include black peppercorns, black cumin, fennel seed, brown mustard seeds, and fenugreek.
Saffron - also called Tumeric used mostly for its yellow color.
Gerra - ground roasted or whole seeds.
Elaichi - also known as Cardamon. Can be found ground or whole.
Essential Caribbean Chinese Pantry
When preparing Chinese food in the Caribbean, mostly fresh ingredients are used plus a few pantry staples spices and sauces.
Five Spice Powder - a blend of dry spices including star anise, fennel seeds, schezchuan peppercorns, cloves, and cinnamon
Soy Sauce - Traditional rich and salty umami flavor.
Sesame Oil - Toasted nutty flavor used towards the end of cooking.
Oyster Sauce - Thick and brown with a tangy savory flavor.
Hoisin Sauce - Thick, dark brown, sweet, and salty flavor
Caribbean Seasonings and Sauces
Flavorful sauces and seasoning are the backbone of Caribbean cooking. Use them to build or accompany the many delicious island cuisines.
Green Seasoning - a blended mixture of fresh Chandon Beni, thyme, pimento, onion, chive, onion, and ginger. You can find a simple green seasoning recipe with only 4 ingredients. Used to season meats and flavor dishes.
Jamaican Jerk Seasoning or Marinade - a blended mixture of fresh garlic, ginger, onion, chive, scotch bonnet, peppercorns, allspice, clove, cinnamon, nutmeg, cane sugar, and soy sauce.
Peppa Sauce - Spicy sauce with scotch bonnet peppers, vinegar, lime, garlic, chadon beni, thyme, ginger, mustard, carrot and salt.
Chutney - Indian is a blend of fresh fruit or vegetables, salt, sugar, seasoning, and spices. Popular chutney included roasted pepper, coconut, mango, and tamarind.
Barbecue Sauce - cooked mixture of sweet ketchup, garlic, ginger, sugar, soy sauce, green seasoning, spices, and salt.
Chinese Chicken Sauce - Flavorful cooked mixture of soy sauce, oyster sauce, ginger, garlic, onion, cane sugar, and five-spice powder
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