With a warm and wet tropical Caribbean climate year-round, Jamaica has a long, fertile growing season where both native and imported fruits, vegetables, and spices can flourish. Fruits and veggies alike can be enjoyed right out of the dirt, or, as is favored island tradition, as sweet, dried candies. With nearly 3,000 species of flora on the island, it's a good idea to familiarize yourself with all the new produce you might encounter.
Yellow and pulpy, this tropical favorite is great for relish and chutneys. One single fruit can weigh between ten and 100 pounds and, much like breadfruit, contains hundreds of seeds rich in calcium, protein, potassium, and iron, making it a "miracle fruit," that can provide necessary vitamins and help fight off starvation.
Roselle and Sorrel
Called "sorrel" in Jamaica, the roselle is actually a hibiscus species that Jamaicans use in soups, stews, and drinks. Gather up healthy helping of sorrel, ginger, sugar, and rum in a blender and you've got a classic island drink. Sorrel is also used in punches, cordials, jams, and teas.
This sweet-and-sour fruit of the tamarind makes for an excellent chutney and is often added to Caribbean stews and curries. The hard, green pulp of the fruit can also be used as a pickling agent, although the ripened fruit is less sour and more enjoyable on its own.
This crisp green fruit, sometimes known as a mirliton squash, makes a great substitute for apples, though with firmer flesh. Tougher to eat on their own, these pear-shaped fruits are better served cooked, although they can be hydrated when raw with lime or lemon juice and added to salads or salsas. The chayote root also has the starchiness of a yam, and can be fried and eaten like plantains.
Cacao pods hold cocoa beans, the key ingredient to chocolate. But don't let that fool you: the "meat" of the fruit is actually sharp and tangy. Chocolate is made from the seeds of the pods, but the pod can be used in recipes to make cacao chips or fruit jams.
Soursop and Sweetsop
Frequent travelers to the Caribbean and Central America will be familiar with the soursop, a tart fruit usually eaten raw when ripe. Its cousin, the sweetsop– or sour apple – is a Jamaican native and is sweeter and gooier, similar in taste and texture to a custard.
Caribbean Red Peppers
Caribbean red peppers, or Scotch Bonnets, are the chilis that give Jamaican jerk its distinctive kick. The peppers are close cousins to the habanero, however, so they're not for the faint of heart or weak-tongued. In fact, the Scotch Bonnet can be one of the hottest peppers in the world, with its heat factor being anywhere from 12 to 140 times hotter than a jalapeño.
Still, a distinguishing factor of the Scotch Bonnet (like the habanero) is its spicy-sweet flavor, so it's not pure fire. If you can stand the heat, then you might also be able to appreciate its complex flavor profile made up of hints of tomato, cherry, and apple.
You can't take a trip to a rum island without running into some fresh sugar cane. It's firm, sweet, and juicy – nature's lollipops – and makes a great garnish for your cocktail. The flavor is sweet and rummy and you can trust the sugar is all nautral.