SPICE ADVICE: JERK SEASONING
What are the origins of Jerk Seasoning? "Jerk" originally referred to the way meat was seasoned and then cooked. It's name perhaps came from the motion of turning the meat over a fire, or the technique of poking holes in the meat to allow the spices to permeate, or the way in which some would "jerk" a strip of meat from the roast (think: jerky). No one is quite sure where the name originated, but we are happy to have this blend in the culinary world today!
Jerk-- both the style and the seasoning, is believed to have been developed in the 1600s by escaped enslaved Africans in Jamaica. These Africans fled to the Blue Mountains of Jamaica around 1655, when the British captured the island from Spain. The African fugitives later came to be known as Maroons- meaning "mountaineers". In the mountains, they met and mingled with local tribes called Taínos and Arawak.
Together, using a variety of spices available (notably allspice, hot peppers, and thyme) and pimento wood (native to Jamaica), the Maroons, Taínos, and Arawaks cooked hunted game low and slow over smokeless pits in the ground (smoke would give away the whereabouts of the Maroons!). This seasoning and method are said to be the origins of the smoky, spicy, fragrant flavours we know as "Jerk" today.
Because these tribes hunted for their food, wild game- especially hog- was the most popular meat to jerk. By the 18th century however, imported pork products were mainly used. Nowadays, you'll find chicken, fish, and beef all being prepared with Jerk Seasoning. Jerk Chicken however, is perhaps the most popular use of the seasoning today, and is a common Christmastime dish for Jamaicans.
Jerk still holds true as a culture; a way of life for Jamaicans. You'll find Jerk stands, huts, festivals, and "jerk centers" everywhere.
What we love about this spice blend is it’s complexity of flavour. Smokiness from paprika, spiciness from cayenne, herbaceous notes from rosemary & thyme plus fragrant aromatics from cinnamon, nutmeg, and one of Jerk’s traditionally key ingredients: allspice. Try our Jerk Chicken Flatbread recipe, or find your own ways to use this culture-defining blend. Whatever you do, be sure to get a tin of Jerk Seasoning today and get transported to island time (or 1700s mountain time!).