Any list of the most popular Caribbean spices will differ somewhat from island to island but many spices are popular on most or all of the islands. This is because the Caribbean islands share a colonial history, which includes imported spices from the Far East and elsewhere in the Americas. If you are planning to cook the most popular Caribbean dishes, you will need the following spices:
Allspice is otherwise known as pimento and comes from the allspice/pimento tree. There is a common misconception that it is a blend of spices, but it is a single spice. That said, it does have a complex flavor that includes the warm and peppery flavor notes that you would find in cloves and cinnamon and some other spices. Allspice delivers one of the main flavors in jerk chicken and pork.
While it is not as widely used in Caribbean food as it is in parts of Asia, ginger is still an essential ingredient for a large number of Caribbean dishes. This rhizome gives a sweet and peppery note to curries, jerk seasoning, and some pork dishes. It is used in both sweet and savory preparations as well as in several beverages. Ginger is used fresh or dried in curries and in some versions of hibiscus drinks. It is also the main flavor in Caribbean ginger beer.
Cinnamon is one of the most popular spices in the world and the Caribbean is no different. Note that both cassia and Ceylon cinnamon may be referred to as cinnamon. Caribbean cooks use this spice in sweet and savory dishes, but mostly in sweet ones. Its pungent warmth complements sweet dishes ranging from hot chocolate to the famous Puerto Rican coquito.
Scotch bonnet pepper
Not all dishes from the Caribbean are hot but when they are, the source of heat is often the scotch bonnet pepper. Scotch bonnets are known for their fruity flavor as well as for a pungent, stinging bite that can be extremely intense if you are not expecting it. These chili peppers are the traditional spicy element in classic Caribbean dishes like jerk pork.
While thyme is more often associated with Mediterranean and French cooking, it is also one of the most widely used herbs in the Caribbean. It brings a savory, minty quality to many meat dishes including pork and beef stews as well as to some recipes for jerk pork and chicken.
As members of the onion family, scallions have an onion-like flavor that is considerably more intense than a standard yellow onion. Along with their attractive green color, they provide a strong savory background note for meat and vegetable dishes.
Some of the world’s best nutmeg comes from the Caribbean. Nutmeg is a favorite spice that shows up in many Caribbean drinks and desserts. It is highly aromatic with a sweet and nutty fragrance that has elements of woodiness and a slight hint of cinnamon’s heat. Nutmeg is almost always used in drinks and sweet dishes but may occasionally be used in a savory dish.
Garlic is a universally loved spice and it’s popular in the Caribbean as well. Almost every famous Caribbean meat dish contains garlic. It brings a strong umami element to a savory flavor profile along with its trademark pungent, sulfurous earthiness. It is also used in seafood dishes and curries whether they include meat or not.