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Jerk Seasoning Uncovered

Understanding Spices

What is Jerk Seasoning?

No matter where you are in the world, Jamaican cooking can transport you to the tropics  thanks to the distinctive flavours of the ubiquitous jerk seasoning. Before we dive into what jerk seasoning is, it should be noted that jerk is a style of cooking native to Jamaica, where meat (mostly chicken, but can also be beef, pork, goat, seafood or vegetables) is dry-rubbed or marinated with jerk spice before being slow-cooked over a fire. Traditionally, the wood used in the fire would be green pimento wood which gives the meat a delicious smoky flavour.

Depending on the variety and who’s cooking, the spice blend usually consists of:

  • Allspice
  • Scotch bonnet peppers
  • Cumin
  • Nutmeg
  • Cloves
  • Cinnamon
  • Thyme
  • Garlic
  • Brown sugar
  • Onion
  • Ginger
  • Salt

A brief history of jerk seasoning

Many historians agree that Jamaica was settled by the Arawak and Taino people who came from South America between 10,000 and 4,000 BC. It’s believed that the Arawaks brought the method of drying meat over low fires which is so common in Peru. The word ‘jerk’ comes from the Quechua language, spoken by the indigenous inhabitants of Peru. The meat was referred to as ‘charqui’ which somehow transmuted to the word ‘jerk’ in English.

When the British invaded Jamaica in 1655, the Spanish colonists fled. Many African slaves were left behind and rather than being captured and re-enslaved by the British, they managed to escape into the mountainous regions of the island. Here, the slaves intermingled with the Tainos who taught them the practice of jerk cooking. Wild hog was readily available in the mountainous regions, which was perfect for jerk cooking. They used herbs and spices that grew on the island and over time, the jerk marinade and seasoning was developed.

Interested in reading more about Jamaican and Carribean cuisine? Check out our blog post on a beginner’s guide to Caribbean spices here.

How do you use jerk seasoning?

Although jerk seasoning is traditionally used on chicken and pork, modern recipes can include ingredients like tofu, fish, shrimp, shellfish, sausages and vegetables. The secret to jerk is the lengthy (but worth it) brining, marinating and cooking process. For an authentic flavour and aroma, it’s important to slow-cook over good quality charcoal. Jerk stands are commonly found in Jamaica and throughout the Caribbean diaspora. Jerked meat can be bought alongside side dishes like rice, beans, plantains, sweet potatoes and cornbread fritters called festival.

Jerk seasoning can be used on pretty much any kind of protein as a dry rub or marinade. If you’re vegan or vegetarian, jerk seasoning goes brilliantly with tempe and tofu.

Recipe suggestions

Keen to try it out? You can find Caribbean Jerk Spice Rub on our website here. Here are some great recipes which use the spice blend:

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