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.
Here's just a sampling of some of the wonderful produce you may encounter in Jamaica. 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!
Yellow and pulpy, this tropical favorite is great for relish and chutneys, says Walter Staib, culinary ambassador for Sandals and Beaches resorts.
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.
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.
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.
Chayote (cho cho)
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.
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.
Soursop and Sweetsop (or sugar-apple)
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.
Caribbean Red Peppers (Scotch Bonnets)
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 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 a hint of 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 fits great into a cocktail glass. Sweet, rummy, and all natural? What more is there to say?