Five Popular Spices Used in Jamaica


Cooked or raw, onions are a staple in Jamaican cuisine. They are savoury in taste, pungent in smell, and provide a slightly sweet flavour to dishes. They are as a base for stocks and soups, stews and stir fry dishes. Onions are typically used in Jamaica as a seasoning for meats and are also used raw to add crunch and flavour to sandwiches and salads. The origin of the onion is uncertain but is generally believed to be Persian (in and around Iran). Onions contain antioxidants and sulphuric compounds that fight inflammation and lower heart disease risk by reducing cholesterol levels. Due to their chemical composition, onions can protect against blood clots via quercetin, the flavonoid antioxidant concentrated in the spice. Onions are a good source of vitamins B-6 and C, potassium and folate. Its antioxidant value helps to inhibit oxidative stress, thereby helping to prevent cancer and heart disease. It is used to boost digestive health and can help to boost the intake of fiber, vitamins and minerals. Onions also have the potential to boost bone density.


The ubiquitous garlic is a plant in the onion family. It is a staple seasoning used in traditional Jamaican cooking, whether for meat dishes or in steamed and sautéed vegetables. Its sweet, pungent aroma is used to enhance the flavour of savoury dishes and is best consumed raw as cooking weakens its antibiotic properties. Garlic’s strong taste and smell is due to its sulphur compounds which are emitted when chopped or crushed. The sulphur compounds in garlic provide robust biological effects, along with its rich mineral content of manganese and selenium (and to a lesser degree, calcium, copper potassium, phosphorous and iron), as well as vitamin B-6 and vitamin C. Garlic is used to treat a variety of medical conditions. Historically, garlic was used to treat leprosy and parasites in the body (worms). It is traditionally used to boost the immune system and is effective in fighting the common cold, the flu, and infectious diseases. Garlic is also used to reduce blood pressure, improve cholesterol levels, and may help to prevent Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Like onions, garlic may also improve bone health and is also used to improve athletic performance.


Ginger is the root of a plant that originated in Southeast Asia. It is closely related to turmeric, a spice popularly associated with curry dishes. Ginger is a favourite in Jamaican cuisine and is also used in curried foods. It is used in many forms in the diet: it is grated raw for use in refreshing cold drinks and hot in stimulating teas; but in cooking, ginger is traditionally used in meat stews (especially pork dishes where it is cooked with pineapple). Ginger is a strong, sweet, zesty spice that adds powerful, aromatic quality to any dish. Ginger has many health benefits supported by scientific research. It contains gingerol, a powerful antioxidant and the main bioactive compound in ginger. Ginger is conventionally used to treat chronic indigestion, reduce nausea, and fight the common cold and flu. Its powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory composition helps to reduce the amount of free radicals in the body, which makes it helpful with treating osteoarthritis. Ginger is also known to dramatically lower blood sugars and help with weight loss. It also improves heart disease risk factors by helping to lower cholesterol levels. Ginger also has anti-cancer benefits through gingerol, and can help enhance brain function and protect against Alzheimer’s disease.

Pepper (Scotch Bonnet)

Found in the Caribbean and Africa, scotch bonnet pepper is a variety of chilli peppers that may be green, yellow or red. They have an exceptionally high heat rating according to the Scoville scale, which measures and ascribes heat rating of peppers. Scotch bonnet has a rating of 100,000 – 350,000 scoville units whereas a typical jalapeno pepper has a heat rating of 2,500 to 8,000 scoville units. Scotch bonnet is used to spice dishes with a fiery kick. It is also a staple seasoning in various jerk preparation, whether chicken, pork or fish. It is also essential in escoveitch fish dishes. Alongside onion and garlic, scotch bonnet forms the trifecta of basic Jamaican seasoning for any and every cooked dish, and it also used to add spicy flavour to creamy salads, such as potato salad, due to its slightly sweet, fruit-like taste. Medicinally, Scotch bonnet has a long history of use in traditional remedies. It is used to treat intense pains such as those associated with osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and diabetic neuropathy. The pepper is a source of phytochemicals, vitamins A, B and C, iron, magnesium and flavonoids. It is also an excellent source of capsaicin which scientific research shows helps in reducing excess body fat build-up. Capsaicin is also shown to reduce cancer risk. It is particularly helpful in reducing the growth of prostate cancer cells.


Also known as allspice, pimento is the dried seed from the pimento tree. Native to Jamaica, pimento is can also be found all over the world. The pimento seed is a richly aromatic spice used in traditional Jamaican cooking, and is a key ingredient in our world famous jerk sauces. It is also used as a preservative for meats. Like ginger, pimento is famously used in beverages, particularly in homemade liqueur. In medicinal use pimento possesses antibacterial, analgesic and anti-neural properties. It is used for treatment of headaches, tension, stress and depression. It contains glycosides and polyphenols and other compounds, eugenol and gallic acid, which have been discovered to have anti-tumour properties, especially in the treatment of prostate and breast cancer. Traditionally pimento is used to manage high blood pressure and obesity, as well as diabetes. It is widely used to treat digestive problems, abdominal pain, gas and diarrhoea. Pimento is also used for respiratory congestion.