Spice History & Use For Caribbean Cooking


This is a repost of the “Know Your Spices” article from popular Simply Trini Cooking website-Spices are an important trading commodity for many countries, such as India, Philippines, China, Grenada, Mexico, Uganda etc. Spices can be traced to the ancient world. In the bible spices were given as gifts. When the Queen of Sheba visited Solomon and tested his wisdom she rewarded him with a royal gift of spices of Arabia. The wise men from the East traveled with a gift of spices for the baby Jesus. And, Joseph was sold by his brother to a spice merchant. curry_powder

Also, the want of spices encouraged the opening of the sea route by Vasco da Gama around Africa. The spices also brought conflict and wars between countries even up to the nineteenth century. Islands were ruined because of the fight to monopolize the trade of spices.



Spices are derived from dried roots, seeds or barks and are used in the preparation of food, and even herbal medicines, scented oils, perfumes, and cosmetics. They are used either crushed or whole or in the form of a powder. Because of their strong aromatic scent or taste they are used sparingly in the preparation of food. Many spices have an antioxidant effect in preserving the food, such as clove and vanilla.

Here is a list of spices used in Caribbean cooking and their common uses:

1. Allspice. (Pimenta dioica) Savory sauces, marinades, and meat dishes.
2. Black pepper. (Piper nigrum). Used to flavor meat and savory dishes.
3. Bay Leaf. (Laurus nobilis). Used in many ways to flavor soups, stews, sauces, condiments, and baked goods. However, the leaf is removed after cooking.
4. Chinese five spice. A mixture of star anise, anise pepper, fennel, cloves, and cinnamon. Used in Chinese cooking.
5. Cinnamon. (Cinnamomum zeylanicum, C. aromaticum, C. Burmanii ) Comes from the bark of a tree and used in wines, cakes, pies, breads, and biscuits.
6. Clove. (Syzygium aromaticum) These are flower buds from the myrtle tree. Used for sauces, stewing meat and baking meat like hams etc.
7. Coriander. (Coriandrum sativum) These are seeds and leaves. Used for curries, and spicy dishes.
8. Curry powder. A mixture of several hot spices. Used in meats, vegetables, soups and savory dishes.
9. Ginger. (Zingiber officinale) The root is used in the form of a powder, crystallized, or grated. Used in savory dishes and dishes of Chinese heritage.
10. Mustard. (Sinapsis alba or Brassica nigra) Served with meat and cheese, and as a salad dressing.
11. Nutmeg. ( Myristica fragrans) Available in a powdered form as well. Generally it is purchased whole and grated. Used in cakes, breads, sauces, custard, and puddings.
12. Paprika (Bell Pepper). (Capsicum annuum) Ground sweet red pepper, usually not hot. Used as a garnish and meat dishes.
13. Tumeric. ( Curcuma longa) Made from the root of a plant. Used in curries and colouring for rice.
14. Vanilla. (Vanilla planifolia) Use as an essence or dried whole seed pod. Used in cakes, pudding, etc.
15. Mauby Bark (Colubrina reclinata) A bitter bark used with other spices in making the beverage Mauby.
16. Cumin (Cuminum cyminum ) Locally called geera, is used in meats and cooking of East Indian heritage. A favourite dish of ours is Geera Pork
17. Star Anise ( Illicium verum) An important ingredient in chinese five spice, it is also important when making Mauby.

Spices are truly important in Caribbean cuisines. Spices not only add flavor to food and beverages, but they also help preserve food as well. Some of these spices can be grown in your backyard garden. Most are dependent on sunshine and good drainage. They also serve a dual purpose for the garden enthusiast. Plants, such as the bay leaf, can be decorative plants and they can be placed in pots in patios.

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