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History of Caribbean Food

Over human history, the migration of people around the world have resulted in interactions between different cultures that have resulted in exchanges of ideas.

This has led to a blending of different and unique cultures and these cultures make strong and lasting contributions to each other. This process continues even today. The result is changes to fashion, music and arts, idiologies and religions.  The most recognizable contribution however, are how new cultural influences affect the way we eat, both the types of food we consume and the ways we prepare foods we’re already familiar with.

Over the last five hundred years or so African slaves brought foods like okra, callaloo and ackee (a fruit that looks like a peach with a pulp that has the texture and color of scrambled eggs) with them where ever they were taken to and the Europeans brought wheat, beef, onions, garlic amongst others to the New World. Asians brought their own unique vegetables and, more importantly, they brought rice and spices. This wasn’t just some wayroad as far as foods moving to new cultures as some of the Western foods also made the transfer in the other direction to the ‘Old World’. Foods never seen in Europe, Asia, or Africa before like beans, corn, squash, potatoes, tomatoes, and, especially, the chili pepper came out of the Americas and spread throughout the Old World where they are now part of everyone’s everyday diet.

This blending of cuisines between the Old and New World has changed the way the people make food forever. Indeed one of the most noteable places that this mixing of cultures more evedent than  in the West Indies–what we today call the Caribbean Islands.

The enforced arrival of West Africans to the Caribbean in the sixteenth century, brought with them the main ingredients of the original African dishes which now form a basic part of those of the Caribbean to the present day.             Foods like cassava, corn meal, sweet potatoes, yams, plantains and bananas are all typically used in West Indian meals.

In fact some of the dishes now made can be traced back to their original African dish. The Foo-foo, where the vegetable was cooked, crushed and moulded like a pudding, has its similarities in the West Indian Cou-cou or Fungi or turn cornmeal which is a savoury cornmeal dish blended with okras.

Conkies,  or  Duckanoo are a slightly sweet dish with corn meal or sweet potato and cooked in plantain or banana leaves. (Can substitute foil)

Another popular Caribbean dish is the Bambula cake, or bammie which originates from the African cassava bread.

The popularity of ackee in Jamaica as well as the mango, were originally imported from West Africa, and in fact, are still grown there. Curiously Ackee hasn’t become as popular in West Africa as it is in Jamaica.

Cormantee slaves from West Africa introduced Jerk pork to the Caribbean as from their homeland, they were hunters, and when on their long journeys over the mountains, they cooked jerk pork, with a highly seasoned whole pig, roasted over hot coals.

Pepper-pot stew was introduced by the Carib-Indians slowly simmering a giant pot over a fire, and added in a variety of different ingredients which changed every time depending on what they could get their hands on.

For a long time Caribbean recipes were not written down,             But just passed from generation to generation by watching other people or relatives cooking it and by adjusting it with herbs an spices to suit their own tastes.

Western Food v Caribbean Food

Jamaican grown fruit and vegetables are a good source of different minerals, vitamins and numerous nutrients. However, other parts of a Jamaican diet isn’t always that healthy.

Nowadays we are trying to be healthier in what we eat and drink. A lot of West Indian food can be high in salt and fat. We are looking to eat less fat and salt, whilst eating more fibrous food and complex carbohydrates, as well as less calories.

So how can we reach these goals? My parents doctor tends to promote local western foods rather than the West Indian ones. They know more about the health benefits of western food, rather than West Indian food. When suggesting what’s good for you, they will probably only mention whole grain cereals, fruits like apples, plums and grapes and vegetables like broccoli, spinach and cauliflower.

Let’s compare some alternatives:

Guava as an alternative to American Applesguava

An apple a day keeps the doctor away! That’s the saying which we all know. Apples are fibre rich which help to clean out the gut and get rid of waste. However, this is nothing compared to a Guava fruit which not only has 4 times the amount of fibre compared to your average apple, but 19 times the amount of vitamin C and slightly more potassium. The West Indian cherry has about 15 times more vitamin C content than an apple. As for your average bunch of grapes, the guava has 25 times more vitamin C and 4 times the fibre.

Coconut juice as an alternative to cranberry juice

With the health benefits for your bladder, cranberry juice has become a popular choice. The down side to this is that the average glass of cranberry juice will have about 150 to 200 calories, and about 60mg of potassium. Compare this to the same amount of coconut water, at about 50 calories and 400mg of potassium.

The sodium content of a glass of coconut water is only about 60mg, compared to 700mg in an average can of tinned vegetables. There is no fat in coconut water; the fat of the coconut is stored in the jelly flesh. As it is a plant there will be no cholesterol in the fat anyway. Butter made from cows milk will have cholesterol in it, but coconut milk is cholesterol free. It is better to cook with coconut milk for flavouring rather than margarine as a teaspoon of coconut milk has 38 calories and 4g fat compared to 111 calories and 11.5g of fat in margarine.

avocadoAckee & avocado pear as an alternative to olive oil

We buy lots of expensive olive oil to ensure that we only get monounsaturated fat. But did you know that you can get the same benefits from Jamaican ackee and the avocado pear. In fact the avocado is known as a super food and it is said that it is possible to get all the nutrients that your body needs from just eating avocadoes.

Callaloo as an alternative to broccoli and cauliflower

With the vitamin C, minerals and flavonoids content, it is hard to beat the benefits of vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflowers and Brussel sprouts. But the calcium, iron and vitamin A content doesn’t compare to that contained in callaloo. In fact, it has 4 times the calcium and more than twice the amount of Vitamin A and iron than these common vegetables.

Wholegrain cereals are a very good source of fibre, but West Indian versions are just as good as those.

Brown rice, whole kernel corn and Irish potatoes give you the least fibre per serving. Wheat bread, green banana and sweet potato have more, providing 105g of fibre per serving, with about 70 calories in it.

Breadfruit as an alternative to rolled oats

Rolled oats can provide about 1.96g of fibre per serving, but this is dwarfed by our local breadfruit, which comes in at 2.45g per two slice serving.

So next time you go out to look for these healthy foods, don’t forget the local West Indian produce are more than good enough, and in some cases even better!

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Coconut Rundown


My parents and most of my family are from Jamaica. Rundown (also known as run down) is a really popular Jamaican dish. It usually has fish in it with coconut milk, onions (lots of onions!), tomatoes and seasoning.
My mum always makes it with mackerel. It isn’t a hard dish to make and it tastes amazing.
2 tins of coconut milk
1kg mackerel
2 large onions, chopped
1-2 cloves of garlic, chopped
3 stalks spring onion, chopped
3 medium sized tomatoes, chopped
1 scotch bonnet chilli, chopped
2 – 3 sprigs of thyme


  1. Wash the mackerel and cut it into chunks. Try to take out as many of the bones as possible.
  2. Boil the coconut milk rapidly in a heavy frying pan until it is reduced to oil and coconut separated.
  3. Add the fish, cover and cook for 10 minutes on a medium heat.
  4. Stir in the onion, garlic, spring onions, tomatoes, hot pepper and thyme.   Lower the heat and simmer for a further 10 minutes.
  5. Serve with boiled green bananas and dumplings.

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Uses for Cassava

cassavaCassava can be found in many Caribbean dishes (as well as Africa and Asia). It is one of the most common vegetables.

Cassava cannot be eaten raw. This is because the root has certain compounds that would not be safe for humans to consume. But peeling it and cooking it makes it safe to eat.

Cassava is often used in soups, stews and other savoury dishes. Lots of Caribbean people like to fry cassava in oil until it is crispy and brown. It is then served with salt and other seasoning as a snack.

You can also use cassava flour to make baked goods such as bread, cake, cookies and ice cream.

Cassava is ground down into a starchy flour and is sold as Tapioca flour.

The uses of the starch produced by cassava, be it unmodified, modified starch and glucose products are numerous and here are a few examples:

  • This is where it is used as a direct food starchy product like custard.
  • Baby foods, soups sauces and gravies will use it as a thickening agent.
  • Can be used in cream as a stabiliser additive.
  • It’s properties mean that it can be added to various products to help them retain moisture during cooking to stop them drying out.

Bakery products

The starchy flour produced is one of the major factors in the art of bread making whether it is by hand  or bread making machine and it is very dependent to the flour’s gluten content (You can look here for a guide for the best bread maker). Starch is also used within commercial biscuit making, to make the biscuits bigger and more crunchy. For example in Malaysia they use Cassava Starch sweetened and unsweetened biscuits and in cream sandwiches.


Starch is used in the creation of glucose syrups which are then used as sweetening for confectioneries. Also to make other candies like jellybeans, hard and soft gums and boiled sweets modified starches are used. Starch is used in gums and other types of sweets as an ingredient, and for the ‘dusting’ effect on the sweets to reduce the chances of the sweets sticking together.

Cassava is therefore a very widely used product and not just a tuber root used in African cooking.


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To plan your authentic African Food you need to base your ingredients on the available ones in the region.

Teff Plant

Yams  and greens are quite common  with palm oil and coconut oil but if you can get that or don’t like them then try some corn oil. Other foods that you will need  are Teff, Millet stock, white stone ground corn grits and you can mix in greens like spinach.

The West African areas and seaside areas tend to like more hot chillies in their foods where as you will find that in Senegal because of the historic French influence that this has seeped through into their cooking and they use garlic, marinades, limes and vegetable in their meals.  Blacked eyed peas and Okra are used in a lot of meals and to make soups thicker and more filling. Obviously because of the climate there are a number of tropical fruit that grow in these areas that are used in cooking as well like bananas and coconuts.

The Ethiopia you will find that they use a lot of whey, curds and milk which is the most traditional style of African food that has been less influenced by the historic colonial powers of the past.

Dishes made from starchy cassava, yams, beans with various green vegetables, peas and beans are common. They also use sweet potatoes here to their dishes to add some variety in their daily diets.

They are not just restricted to the traditional fruit and vegetables that the western cultures are used to but in Africa they have to use what ever is around and one such food source comes from the Baobab tree.meeting_under_a_baobab_tree

This tree has a triangular shape to it’s trunk being larger at it’s base as it’s roots spread out in search of water. The flesh from the fruits that it bears are used by drying them out and grinding them down to powder which is then used as a thickener in their soups and the seeds from the fruit are also ground down and used.

Yam feasts with yam fried in peanut oil are common in Africa along with eggs. Other delicacies are Plantain which look like very large bananas which are peeled sliced and fried and if they are ripe enough have a really sweet flavour.

Some of the foods that are used are:

Baobab tree.
They use the fruit, fruit juice,tree leaves, and fruit seeds.

This is a red pepper spice paste used in some areas of Africa.

This root vegetable is a tuber which is the source for manioc and tapioca

Cola nut
Just as it sounds it is the basic flavouring used for colas. This flat shaped seed from a West Africa native tree is used to reduce thirst.

The is just a general term used to describe the various greens that are used, including cassava, sorrel, mustard, collards, chard, and turnip

This is a flour made from yam.

Here the yam or corn or plantain is mashed up and made into a pudding.

We know these as peanuts which the Portuguese brought over from Brazil in colonial times.

Also known as Okra. In West Africa any stew using Okra is called a Gumbo

Garden eggs
This is actually a small green skinned African eggplant.

In Ghana the starch from the Cassava is used in porridge breads

Joloff rice
This is a dish of spicy chicken and rice

Mealie and Mealie meal
This is Maize of an American Indian corn which is a drier type of field corn. An alternative is Stone ground white cornmeal.

Similar to Teff, this is from larger grain bearing grass.

Niter Kibbeh
Using seasonings like Cinnamon, cardamom seeds, turmeric and cooking oil this is mixed with butter to form a Ethiopian spiced butter oil.

These are native to Africa. The pods have a jelly-like consistency, so are able to thicken soups and stews. You can get these frozen throughout the year, and fresh seasonally.

Palm nut oil and butter
Obtained in Ghana from the palm nuts which contain highly saturated fats.

A large banana-like fruit, cooked like a root vegetable or fried.

A cane like grass with a small cereal grain that is very similar to Millet.

This is a type of root vegetable, and this is the  all purpose term for the various yellow-orange tubers.


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Welcome to the Caribbean Food Emporium.

We hope to show you the wonders of Caribbean cooking and all the delicious fantastic flavours and textures for you to enjoy.barbados-fishcakes

Feel like you are sitting on a crystal white beach or in a hut in the jungle mountains of Jamaica enjoying some authentic cuisine.jerk-chicken

Hope that you like it.