Caribbean Foods Glossary
A handful of islands grow ackee as an ornamental
tree, but only Jamaica looks at it as a tree
that bears edible fruit. The ackee fruit
is bright red. When ripe it bursts open to
reveal three large black seeds and bright
yellow flesh that is popular as a breakfast
food throughout Jamaica. Ackee's scientific
name, blighia sapida, comes from Captain
Bligh, who introduced the plant to Jamaica
from West Africa. Ackee is poisonous if eaten
before it is fully mature and because of
its toxicity, it is subject to import restrictions
and may be hard to obtain in some countries.
Never open an ackee pod; it will open itself
when it ceases to be deadly. Ackee is sold
canned in West Indian markets.
Dark-brown berry, similar in size to
that combines the flavors of cinnamon,
This slightly musky-flavored reddish
spice, ground from the seeds of a flowering
tree, is native to the West Indies
Latin tropics. Islanders store their
seeds in oil--giving the oil a beautiful
color. Saffron or turmeric can be substituted.
Fried "spiders" made of julienne
strips of green plantains.
Neutral tasting starch extracted from
root of tropical tubers, used as a
thickening agent for sauces.
The bay rum tree is related to the
that produces allspice. Used to flavor
stews and, particularly, blaff, the
dark bay rum berry is called "maleguetta
pepper" in the French West Indies.
Interchangeable terms for red kidney
black beans, black-eyed peas, pigeon
(gandules), and yellow and green lentils.
Often combined with rice, used in soups
stews or pulped and made into fritters.
Bistec a la Criolla
Marinated steak--typically rump, round
sirloin of beef.
A broth infused with whole Scotch bonnet
peppers and bay rum leaves in which
or filleted fish is poached.
Jamaicans have little need for imported
salmon, as they enjoy their own classy
from the nearby waters of the Gulf
There's even a world-famous marlin
held in Port Antonio each year. The
that isn't immediately devoured as
is carried off to the smoker, where
on a milder salmon like flavor and
that holds up well when thinly sliced.
Boudin, Black Pudding
Sausage that may include pigs' blood,
and Scotch bonnet peppers. Frequently
with souse, a pork dish that can include
any part of the pig.
Breadfruit was also introduced to Jamaica
from its native Tahiti in 1793 by the
Captain Bligh. The breadfruit is a
green fruit, usually about 10 inches
with a pebbly green skin and potato-like
flesh. Breadfruit are not edible until
are cooked and they can be used in
of any starchy vegetable, rice or pasta.
Breadfruit is picked and eaten before
ripens and is typically served like
grilled, fried, boiled or roasted after
stuffed with meat. It's even been known
turn up in preserves or in a beverage.
Similar to crullers, they are made
cassava meal or mashed sweet potato
fruit fillings like guava and banana.
Spelled half a dozen different ways,
colorful word turns up in Jamaican
as early as 1696. This leafy, spinach-like
vegetable is typical prepared as one
prepare turnip or collard greens. This
of callaloo Amaranthus viridis), better
as Chinese spinach or Indian kale,
not be confused with the callaloo found
the eastern Caribbean, which refers
leaves of the dasheen plant.
Carambola, Star Fruit
Tart or acidy-sweet star-shaped fruit
in desserts, as a garnish for drinks,
into salads or cooked together with
Calabaza, West Indian Pumpkin
Terms for a number of large squashes
used in island stews and vegetable
Hubbard and butternut squash are similar
in flavor and make the best substitutes.
Made from the juice of grated cassava
and flavored with cinnamon, cloves
is the essential ingredient in pepperpot,
the ubiquitous Caribbean island stew.
This tuber is also known as manioc
A rather large root vegetable with
a 6- to
12-inch length and 2- to 3-inch diameter,
cassava has a tough brown skin with
firm white flesh. Both kinds of cassava
appear as meal, tapioca and farina
be bought ready made as cassava or
meal, which is used to make bammie.
cassava is boiled and eaten as a starch
Bitter cassava contains a poisonous
that can be deadly and must be processed
before it can be eaten. This is done
the root in water for at least 45 minutes
discard the water). Alternatively,
the cassava and place it in a muslin
then squeeze out as much of the acid
before cooking. Bitter cassava is used
but is not sold unprocessed in some
Pale-green fruit with white sweet flesh
has the texture of flan. Used for mousse
and fruit sauces, the fruit is best
fully ripe, well chilled and eaten
Members of the Capsicum genus ranging
medium to fiery hot. Scotch bonnet
the most widely used, can be replaced
serrano, jalapeno or other hot peppers.
Spanish sausage that combines pork,
and garlic, and is similar to longaniza.
Christophine, Chayote, Cho-cho, Mirliton:
A small pear-shaped vegetable, light
or cream colored, and often covered
a prickly skin. Bland, similar in texture
to squash and used primarily as a side
or in gratins and souffles. Like pawpaw
it is also a meat tenderizer.)
A pudding similar to flan. Also a base
ice creams and a replacement for creme
Coo-coo (or cou-cou):
The Caribbean equivalent of polenta
Once based on cassava or manioc meal.
is now made almost exclusively with
Versatile coo-coo can be baked, fried
rolled into little balls and poached
This member of the palm family, which
native to Malaysia, yields fruit all
long. Coconut is edible in both its
and mature forms. Both the water and
"jelly" of the green coconut
their way into island drinks, and meat
the mature coconut gives desserts a
These gastropods are a beloved part
cuisine as far north as the Bahamas
When preparing conch soup, conch salad
best of all, spicy conch fritters,
beat the tough conch flesh into tender
with a mallet, the flat of a cleaver
wooden pestle before cooking. The job
sometimes (depending on the recipe)
easier by using a food processor.
Coriander, Cilantro, Chines Parsley:
Intense, pungent herb that looks like
The seeds are used in curries.
Creole refers to the cooking of the
West Indies, as well as to southern
and the Gulf states. Criolla refers
cuisine of Spanish-speaking islands.
terms encompass a melding of ingredients
and cooking methods from France, Spain,
the Caribbean and America.
Hindu name for legumes; in the Caribbean,
it refers only to split peas or lentils.
The Caribbean name for kingfish.
Also known a coco, taro and tannia,
is a starchy tuber that is usually
boiled or cut up and used as a thickener
in hearty soups. While considered by
to have a texture and flavor superior
that of a Jerusalem artichoke or potato.
Potatoes can often be used as a substitute
for dasheen in recipes. Dasheen is
called coco, but coco is actually a
smaller relative of dasheen.
The Spanish word for "pickled."
It usually refers to fresh fish (and
poultry) that is fried, then picked
spices, hot peppers and oil.
Goat meat is eaten with enthusiasm
a few places in the world, and Jamaica
assuredly one of those places. Some
immigrants from India who search din
for lamb to prepare their beloved curry.
Finding no lambs, they latched onto
best thing--and curried goat became
classic. Most first-timers find goat
in flavor than lamb and an excellent
for lamb in most recipes. Of course,
can't find goat, you can substitute
Tropical fruit that has over a hundred
It is pear-shaped, round and oval;
to green skinned, with creamy yellow,
or red granular flesh; and has rows
hard seeds. The smell and taste are
and perfumy. Guava is used green or
in punches, syrups, jams, chutneys,
and an all-island paste know as guava
Hearts of Palm:
Ivory-colored core of some varieties
Hibiscus, Flor de Jamaica, Sorrel:
A tropical flower--not to be confused
the garden-variety hibiscus--grown
crimson sepal, which is used to flavor
jams and sauces. It is available dried
fresh during the Christmas season.
A fish family of over two hundred species,
these colorful saltwater fish go by
of varietal names such as yellowtail,
burnfin, black and amber jack. These
flavored fish tend to be large, weighing
a much as 150 pounds, and readily available
in waters around the world. Tuna and
make good substitutes.
Caribbean limes have light yellow skins
ripe, though they are often picked
because they go bad rapidly when ripe.
overripe, they turn yellow and are
source of vitamin C. For this reason,
popularity of these citrus fruits grew
the realization by the British Navy
they cured scurvy. Now limes are one
most important ingredients in Jamaican
and marinades, and are used to perk
from savory to sweet. Chicken and fish
glorious with a mere squeeze of lime.
beverages, cakes and preserves wouldn't
the same without it.
In Jamaica, it's the spiny or Caribbean
that is found--the same delicious crustacean
as the langouste in France, and aragosta
in Italy, and the langoasta in Spain.
the texture of this cooked meat is
in some to be inferior to that of the
lobster, the flavor of the spiny lobster
meat more that makes up for the inferior
A relative of dasheen or taro, this
is prevalent throughout the Caribbean.
The large tropical fruit, native to
Worked, yields edible pulp that's tangerine
in color. With a flavor similar to
the peach, mammey turns up most often
Actually a native of India, this fruit
come to be know as "the fruit
tropics." Mangoes are used in
of ways in the Caribbean. Green mangoes
used in hot sauces and condiments,
ripe mangoes appear in desserts and
and in drinks. The best varieties of
are the Bombay, East Indian, St. Julian
This giant tuber could be called by
a variety of different names. The Spanish
translation of the word ñame is yam. The outer skin is brown and coarsely textured,
while the insided is porous and very moist.
The ñame grows to enormous size and
is considered to be the "king"
Jamaican cooks are insistent--when
their recipes, skip over the pre-ground
sold in supermarkets and buy the spice
grating it only as needed. Nutmeg,
kernel of the fruit is more flavorful
freshly grated. The spicy sweet
of this aromatic spice makes it an
addition to cakes, puddings and drinks.
Okra, Okroes, Bhindi, Lady's Fingers, Gumbo:
This finger-shaped vegetable, green-ridged
and three to five inches in length,
as a side dish, used as a thickening
in callaloo or mixed with cornmeal
Yet another fruit introduced from the
by Captain Bligh, the pear-shaped otaheiti
apple ranges from pink to ruby red
This fruit is usually eaten fresh,
it can be packed in red wine or turned
a refreshing cold drink.
This native of South America is still
""pawpaw"" by some
The papaya has an orange color when
and it's bland flavor resembles that
summer squash, making it a nice complement
to the shaper flavors of other fruits.
papaya is often used as an ingredient
chutney or relishes and makes a nice
dish when stuffed. When ripe, it is
as a melon, or served in fruit salad.
juice makes a nice drink when sweetened
condensed milk or sugar.
Passion Fruit, Maracudja, Granadilla:
Oval-shaped fruit that has a tough
and a color range from yellow-purple
to deep chocolate. The golden-yellow
is sweet and tropically exotic, and
be strained to remove the seeds. Used
in juices, desserts, drinks and sauces.
Jamaicans refer to nearly all beans
Kidney beans are probably the most
Gungo (pigeon) peas have also been
since their introduction from West
by the Spanish, as have cow peas, black-eyed
peas, and butter, lima and broad (also
fava) beans. They are the island's
source of protein--even more than meat.
peas are used in Rice and Peas while
peas often appear in savory stews and
Spicy Cuban hash, made of ground beef
cooked with olives and raisins.
Just to keep things interesting, Jamaicans
call what the world knows as allspice
word that elsewhere refers o bell peppers
or chiles. The more global name refers
the allspice berry, which has the taste
nutmeg, cinnamon, black pepper and
All the same, Jamaicans deserve a big
in this naming, since all but a tiny
of pimento is grown in Jamaica, the
being grown in southern Cuba. Thanks
embrace by English and Spanish colonist,
allspice is used in numerous Jamaican
from Escoveitched Fish to Jerk Pork.
Technically a banana-family fruit,
regarded as a vegetable. Inedible raw,
plantains are served as appetizers
side dishes. The unripe (green), ripe
and very ripe (dark) plantains are
Caribbean cooking. They become slightly
as they ripen.
Saltfish is any fried, salted fish,
often cod. With he increasing availability
of fresh fish all over Jamaica, some
are moving away from this preserved
dating back to the days before refrigeration.
Still, Jamaicans have a soft place
hearts for the taste of this salted
around the world in Italian, Spanish
markets under some variant on the name
Ackee and Saltfish is the preferred
of Jamaicans. When imported saltfish
been unavailable, Jamaicans have been
to make their own from fresh fish.
Scotch Bonnet Peppers
The fiery Scotch bonnet pepper, ranging
colors from yellow to orange to red,
the leading hot pepper in Jamaica,
several other varieties have recently
developed. Some peppers are sold whole,
are dried and ground, and still others
processed into sauces, such as Jamaica
Fire. If you can't get your hands (wash
afterward!) on Scotch bonnets, you
habaneros or jalapenos.
Spanish tomato sauce adapted to the
used to enhance roasts and thicken
Brought from India by way of Malaysia,
unusual plant was introduced to Jamaica
the British soon after 1655. Also known
roselle and appealingly, flor de Jamaica,
sorrel always blooms in December, when
deep red flower becomes an unrivaled
decoration for two to three weeks before
it evolves into Jamaica's traditional
beverage. At that time, the flower
and then steeped in water to make a
red drink that has a slightly tart
and is the color of cranberry juice.
Soursop, Corossol, Guanabana:
Elongated, spike-covered fruit, slightly
tart and delicately flavored. It is
mainly in drinks, punches, sherbets
Stamp and Go, Baclaitos:
Spicy-hot fritters popular throughout
Caribbean. Methods, ingredients and
vary from island to island.
An important part of a traditional
known a as matrimony, the star apple
succulent round fruit about the size
orange. Native to Jamaica and the Greater
Antilles, the skin of this fruit is
a shiny purple color or a less eye-catching
green. No matter what color, the flesh
the star apple is delicious.
Actually a pod that resembles a human
this bizarre fruit possesses an evil-smelling
and rough exterior. The sugary power
can be devoured on the spot or turned
a flavorful custard or beverage.
Sugar Apple, Sweetsop:
An interesting challenge to eat, the
of the sweetsop is actually a collection
of black seeds surrounded by sweet
pulp. The sweetsop is native to the
This decorative tree produces brown
containing a sweet and tangy pulp that's
used for flavoring everything from
to curries and sauces--including Angostura
bitters and Pickapeppa sauce. It is
an important ingredient in Jamaican
West Indian Pumpkin:
A member of the gourd, squash and melon
this squash is also known as calabaza.
a sweet flavor similar to that of butternut
squash, this firm-textured vegetable
found in soups, stews, breads and sweetened
puddings. Though hardly the same, the
substitutes for calabaza are Hubbard,
and acorn squash.
Similar in size and color to the potato,
but nuttier in flavor, it is not be
with the Southern sweet yam or sweet
Caribbean yams are served boiled, mashed
A member of the taro root family, the
is the size of a potato, but more pear-shaped.
It has a brown fuzzy outer skin. The
is white and slimy and is custard-like
cooked. It is one of the most natural
used to thicken soups, stews, and bean
There is also a purple yautía
is also called mora.
Root vegetable similar in length and
to a turnip, with scaly yamlike skin.
made into flour for breads and cakes,
used as a base for tapioca.