An Introduction to Jamaican Fruits, Vegetables and Spices

Jack fruit, sorrel, sugar cane, and the infamous Scotch Bonnet

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. However you eat em, you'll love em! 

Here's a few of our favorites and some new friends we met on a recent trip to the Sandals Whitehouse resort; however, there are nearly 3,000 species of flora on the island, so if you want to really see them all, you'll just have to travel there yourself!

  • 01 of 08

    Jack Fruit

    Tanzania, Zanzibar island, jackfruits
    ••• Soreau/Photononstop/Getty Images

    Yellow and pulpy, this tropical favorite is great for relish and chutneys, says Walter Staib, culinary ambassador for Sandals and Beaches resorts. We enjoy eating it raw, too.

    One single fruit can weigh between 10-100 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 to people and help fight off starvation. 

  • 02 of 08

    Roselle/Hibiscus/ Sorrel

    ••• Sorrel with peanuts and cinnamon. © Christopher Curley

    This is a little confusing. 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. (In the photo, the roselle is the red stuff to the left of the peanuts.) Sorrel is also uses in punches, cordials, jams, and teas. 

  • 03 of 08

    Tamarind

    ••• Ripe tamarind paste. © Christopher Curley

    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. 

    Curiously, tamarind is also one of the key ingredients found in Worcestershire sauce, a recognizable staple in Western culture. 

  • 04 of 08

    Chayote (cho cho)

    ••• Chayote fruit. © Christopher Curley

    This crisp green fruit makes a great substitute for apples (think braeburns), 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 similarly to a plantain. 

    Continue to 5 of 8 below.
  • 05 of 08

    Cacao

    ••• Cacao from Jamaica. © Christopher Curley

    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, not at all like the bitter cocoa made from its seeds.

    Read more about chocolate in the Caribbean here 

  • 06 of 08

    Soursop and Sweetsop (or sugar-apple)

    ••• Soursop from Jamaica. © Christopher Curley

    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 (the spherical half at right) -- or "sour apple" -- is a Jamaican native and is sweeter and gooier, similar in taste and texture to a custard. 

  • 07 of 08

    Caribbean Red Peppers (Scotch Bonnets)

    ••• Scotch bonnet peppers from Jamaica, a key ingredient in Jamaican jerk cooking. © Christopher Curley

    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 tongue). 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 jalapeno. 

    Still, a distinguishing factor of the Scotch Bonnet (like the habarnero) 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 a hint of apple. 

  • 08 of 08

    Sugar Cane

    ••• Sugar cane, the plant from while all Caribbean rum originates. © Christopher Curley

    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 fits great into a cocktail glass. Sweet, rummy, and all natural? What more is there to say?