Any page on Jamaican spices MUST start with our famous jerk pork seasoning.

Jerk Pork

The jerk pork explosion began in the 1930's in the Boston Beach area of Jamaica (the North Eastern end of the island). It was there that the first jerk stands appeared, although they are now quite common in many areas, especially around the tourist resorts.
The practice possibly evolved from the Maroons, although the first report of cooking in this style is by a French priest named Pere Labat who, in his memoirs of 1698, described a picnic he organised on the island of Martinique, after the style of the 'boucaniers'.

A jerk pit was built from four forked sticks, about four feet long and as thick as your arm and these were driven into the ground to form an oblong structure about four feet long by three feet wide. Crosspieces of wood were placed in the forks of these posts and then a grill arranged on this. A pig was placed on this bed on its back, the belly wide open and kept in position with sticks to prevent it from closing when the fire is lighted...
The belly of the pig must be filled with lime-juice and plenty of salt and crushed pimento.. A large calabash or gourd full of gravy and another full of lime-juice, pepper, salt and pimento stands in the centre of the table and from these, each guest mixes his gravy according to his taste..

Later still in "Lady Nugent's Journal, March 1802", she describes jerked hog dressed in the style of the Maroons, who spiced their meats heavily in order to preserve them better. The term "jerk" is thought to refer to the process of turning the meat while it is cooking over the pimento wood fires.
The ingredients of a good jerk paste are usually escallions, ginger, thyme, garlic, cinnamon, peppercorns, nutmeg, pimento and of course, Scotch Bonnet peppers.

Jamaican Spices

The important tropical spices, that are indigenous to the Western Hemisphere, are pimento (allspice), capsicum peppers and vanilla.

Attempts to introduce pimento to other parts of the world gave trees that failed to produce fruit and so were largely abandoned. Jamaica remains the largest producer of pimento, although it is also grown in Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Brazil and the Leeward Islands.

What follows are links to more information on the active flavour materials in things like:

Be prepared however, since the chemistry of spices is not a simple matter. A recent review of the volatiles found in spices worldwide shows that they may contain hundreds of different compounds.

Compound Ginger Nutmeg Pimento Turmeric Vanilla
monoterpenes 16 15 16 7 7
sesquiterpenes 36 9 33 5 4
other 18 2 15 1 26
terpene 21 18 15 9 7
other 4 1 4 2 15
terpene 5 1 1 0 1
other 12 2 6 0 3
terpene 1 2 0 12 1
other 8 0 1 0 14
terpene 6 7 1 0 0
other 5 2 3 0 46
Phenols etc 2 12 6 0 36
Acids 0 8 0 2 17
Misc 12 1 5 3 13
Total 146 80 106 41 190


For botanical information see "The Families of Flowering Plants: Descriptions and Illustrations" by L. Watson and M.J. Dallwitz .
"Lady Nugent's Journal (of her residence in Jamaica from 1801 to 1805)" Ed P. Wright, Institute of Jamaica, Kingston, Jamaica, 1966.
"Volatile compounds in foods and beverages" , Ed by H. Maarse, Marcel Dekker, Inc, New York, 1991.
Spice Monographs from the American Spice Trade Association, now requires login.
Return to links to the chemistry of other Jamaican items, including spices and fruit and vegetables.

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Created and maintained by Prof. Robert J. Lancashire,
The Department of Chemistry, University of the West Indies,
Mona Campus, Kingston 7, Jamaica.
Created Feb 1995. Links checked and/or last modified 25th November 2013.