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Diving into Caribbean Plant Meals

Study in regards to the plentiful provide of distinctive Caribbean plant meals, together with greens, fruits, legumes, nuts, and spices, that are a key a part of the wealthy traditions in Caribbean foodways and delicacies.

The Caribbean might convey up visions of sugar sand seashores, sensible turquoise waters, nice commerce winds, and sunny days. And whereas these photos are actually true, these parts additionally nourish the various array of plant meals cultivated within the Caribbean islands. These beloved meals, together with starchy meals, vegatables and fruits, legumes, nuts, and spices, that are grown each wild and cultivated within the pure atmosphere of volcanic-rich soils, rainfall, and sunshine, are important components of the normal diets of the Caribbean. 

A small residence farm in St Lucia

For those who’ve been lucky sufficient to spend time within the Caribbean, as I’ve, you’ll observe quite a lot of these plant meals at roadside stands, meals outlets, and native eating places. You will discover fruit and nut bushes rising in forests, jungles, seashores, and houses; small patchwork vegetable farms dotting the islands, and cheerful yard residence gardens stuffed with vegetable beds and fruit bushes. A few of these meals it’s possible you’ll acknowledge, similar to squash, mango, papayas and bananas, nonetheless different produce could seem curious, from hairy-brown tubers to unique tree fruit. Every island might have its personal distinctive identify for produce, similar to taro, which is also called dasheen, kalo, marope, magogoya, patra, and godere, relying on which island you’re in. As we attempt to find out about extra meals cultures and have a good time them with our shoppers, diving into the attractive plant meals and culinary traditions of the Caribbean is a worthy endeavor.

I interviewed three dietitians who had been raised within the Caribbean to supply perception into its stunning produce and foodways. Celine Heskey, DrPH, MS, RD, diet professor at Loma Linda College, Faculty of Public Well being, grew up in a number of Caribbean islands, together with the island nation of Antigua and Barbuda. Sylvia Melendez Klinger, DBA, MS, RDN, founding father of Hispanic Meals Communications based mostly in Chicago, was born in Puerto Rico. Lesley Ann Foster-Nicholas, DrPH, RDN, Assistant Professor, Faculty of Allied Well being Professions, Loma Linda College, labored as a dietitian in Trinidad and Tobago for 13 years.

Cacao rising in a Caribbean forest

Digging into Caribbean Meals Historical past

To be able to perceive the normal type of consuming within the Caribbean, one should first recognize the distinctive historical past on this area of the world. Whereas these islands dotting the Caribbean might possess similarities, they every advanced to be distinctive based mostly on their historical past. Certainly, there are 16 international locations within the Caribbean, together with Antigua and Barbuda, The Bahamas, Belize, Aruba, Bonaire, Sint Eustatius, Saba, Curacao, Sint Maarten, Saint Martin, Guadeloupe, Martinique, Saint Barthelemy, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Navassa Island, Puerto Rico, US Virgin Islands, British Virgin Islands, Anguilla, Cayman Islands, Montserrat, Turks and Caicos Islands, Cuba, Dominica, Jamaica, Grenada, San Andres and Providencia, Federal Dependencies of Venezuela, Nueva Esparta, Trinidad and Tobago, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.

An orchard in St Lucia

“The islands of the Caribbean had been as soon as colonized by Spain, France and England, and these European international locations introduced slaves from Africa and indentured laborers from East India to the islands to work on their plantations. This resulted in islands with completely different cultural and language influences, and there are variations within the names given to the identical vegatables and fruits. Every group introduced their very own delicacies and dietary habits, which advanced over time and has taken on a Caribbean taste of its personal,” says Foster-Nicholas.

“Traditionally, the meals tradition within the Caribbean is formed by a mix of things together with traditions of native islanders, European colonization, the slave commerce, indentured servitude, and durations of migration; every of those occasions has contributed to what has now turn out to be the numerous conventional diets throughout the area,” provides Heskey. She provides the English-speaking Caribbean for instance, the place there are a number of influences from the UK, however many of the influences are from these of African and/or Asian Indian descent. Different influences come from the Center East, and China. “We’ve a ‘melting pot’ of dishes all through the area. Those that had been introduced or got here to this ‘new world’ introduced their meals traditions with them, and these had been blended with the native traditions,” says Heskey. Foster-Nicholas notes that Trinidad and Tobago, as an example, has a multicultural inhabitants with an array of conventional dishes influenced by African and East Indian diets.

Historic stays of a sugar plantation in St. Lucia

These evolving shifts in meals tradition will be seen in conventional dishes. “The meals tradition in lots of Caribbean international locations contains an entrée merchandise that’s historically steamed in banana leaves. In Antigua, we might make it with candy potato, dry coconut, sugar and flour, however I do know of variations of the identical dish that embody corn meal rather than the potato in different islands. If you do some deeper investigation, there are related dishes spanning a number of international locations in Western Africa, and with small variations between international locations, communities and tribes. So, you begin to perceive that many of those meals traditions are from Africa, and survived the devastating affect of slavery,” says Heskey.

The meals tradition of the Spanish-speaking islands, similar to Puerto Rico, Cuba, and the Dominican Republic, have its personal distinctive culinary expression. Klinger notes that the Caribbean islands had been closely influenced by the completely different explorers, retailers, natives, and non secular teams, including, “Each left a culinary mark within the Caribbean.” With regards to faith, “Some people could also be adherent to a dietary sample that’s low in or absent of meat, together with those that are adherent to Rastafarianism, and a few members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church,” says Heskey.

One other issue that contributes to the variations in conventional diets is the kind of vegetation, whether or not fruit, greens or spices, which had been introduced from both African or Indian international locations. For instance, Saint Vincent has an abundance of breadfruit bushes on the island making breadfruit one in all its nationwide dishes. The meals traditions are additionally formed by the atmosphere and the necessity to make a dwelling, whereas having access to meals; many of the international locations throughout the Caribbean are islands with many coastal villages, explains Heskey, who provides, “My paternal grandfather was a fisherman and a farmer, and like many, had for many years caught seafood, and harvested produce that had been bought in a big market within the capital metropolis of Antigua and Barbuda.” Moreover, it isn’t unusual for people to have their very own small backyard at residence, together with fruit bushes, root greens, inexperienced leafy greens, and peppers being a few of the hottest gadgets to plant for one’s personal use and to share with neighbors and mates. “Gardening is a degree of pleasure in some communities, and a observe that some have maintained once they have emigrated to america,” says Heskey.

Meals Information of Jamaica, 2015, FAO
Dominica Meals Primarily based Dietary Pointers, FAO

Attending to Know Conventional Caribbean Food regimen Patterns

Conventional Caribbean diets are based mostly on the Caribbean six meals teams: staples, greens, fruits, meals from animals, legumes and nuts, and fat and oils, says Foster-Nicholas. She provides, “Staples kind the principle portion of the meal and include rice dishes or root greens, additionally known as floor provision in most Caribbean islands.” These rice dishes are sometimes accompanied by peas and legumes, similar to pink beans, pigeon peas or black-eyed peas; or greens similar to spinach (bhagi) or ochroes (okra), eggplant, or pumpkin. Klinger experiences that whereas the Caribbean is well-known for its produce, the muse of this delicacies relies on white rice, seasoned beans, and an abundance of root greens and tropical fruits. You can too discover conventional soups which can be crucial to the food regimen—these are usually very hearty and embody many native starchy root greens.

Coconut, each milk and contemporary coconut, is likely one of the most predominantly used fat utilized in cooking Caribbean dishes, each savory and candy. Candy buns, butter breads, and varied baked items like present rolls and coconut tarts are additionally in style.

One other vital function of Caribbean diets is using spices to create daring flavorful dishes which can be very spicy. Klinger reminds us the spices are maybe one of many greatest variations within the varied Caribbean consuming patterns. “Puerto Ricans use cilantro, bell peppers, onions and garlic to make sofrito, a seasoning used so as to add taste to every thing from rice, beans, meats, fish and stews known as guisos, whereas the Cubans add extra tomatoes and blood oranges to their sauces. Adobo, a mixture of cumin, salt, pepper, paprika, oregano and onion powder, is a seasoning used extensively by Caribbeans,” says Klinger.

An area produce stand within the Caribbean

Caribbean Plant Meals Up Shut

There are too many treasured plant meals to say on this article, however our specialists weighed in on most of the most vital and fewer well-known plant meals in conventional Caribbean food regimen patterns.

Starches/Staples (also called Floor Provisions)

Dasheen (prime) and breadfruit (backside) at a Caribbean farm stand


This massive, inexperienced, lumpy tree fruit (Artocarpus altilis) is a flexible staple; excessive in carbohydrates, fiber, B nutritional vitamins, magnesium, potassium, and carotenoids. It may be baked or boiled like a potato, and it’s usually used to make chips, roasted breadfruit, rolls, salad, and oil in Trinidad and Saint Vincent, in addition to pies, pancakes, desserts, cookies, and wine in different components of the Caribbean.

Cassava (Yuca) on the market in a road stand in Puerto Rico


This starchy tuberous root (Manihot esculenta), which has white flesh and a brown peel requires cautious preparation to take away traces of cyanide. It’s a good supply of thiamine and carbohydrates and could also be boiled, fried, and utilized in soups or salads. The nationwide dish of Grenada is cassava bread. Cassava can also be utilized in biscuits and pone (pudding). Yuca masa is used to make Puerto Rican pasteles for the vacations.


This starchy root vegetable (Colocasia esculenta) categorized as a corm (underground meals storage consisting of a swollen rounded stem base) is believed to be one of many earliest cultivated vegetation. With light-colored flesh speckled with purple and a brown pores and skin, dasheen is an efficient supply of carbohydrates, fiber; nutritional vitamins B6, E, and C; potassium, copper, manganese, and magnesium. It’s utilized in soups, salads, and the dish callaloo, which incorporates dasheen leaves cooked with onion, garlic, tomatoes, and pepper.


Resembling a striped potato, this starchy, excessive carbohydrate staple (Colocasia antiquorum) is a corn just like dasheen, and could also be cooked in soups.

Plantains on the market at a road facet stand

Plantains/Inexperienced Banana

Within the genus Musa, plantains (inexperienced bananas) are the starchy equal of candy bananas, and are a superb supply of carbohydrates, fiber, potassium, magnesium, folate, and nutritional vitamins A, B6, and C. Loved cooked or fried, plantain is a part of the favourite Puerto Rican dish mofongo (mashed fried plantains seasoned with garlic and olive oil), maduritos (fried ripe plantain) and pastelon (lasagna-like dish). Ripe plantains are boiled or fried, and inexperienced plantains are utilized in soups or to make plantain chips. Roasted plantain is a well-liked road meals in Dominica, and is commonly served with the Trinidad dish, saltfish buljol. Boiled inexperienced bananas served with stewed saltfish is the nationwide dish of St Lucia. Inexperienced bananas are additionally used to make porridge or souse (meat soup).

Squash on the market at a roadside stand in Puerto Rico


These starchy greens (calabaza) present a superb supply of fiber; nutritional vitamins A, B, C, E; potassium, and copper. Pumpkin is commonly added to beans, rice, stews, and soups, in addition to pumpkin bread, ice cream, or pumpkin choka (in style Trinidad dish served with sada or paratha roti bread).

Yams/Candy Potatoes/Boniata

These purple-skinned lumpy tubers with white flesh (Ipomoea Batatas)—completely different than these within the U.S.—are good sources of carbohydrates and fiber. Ducuna is good potato dish in style in lots of islands boiled in a banana or grape leaf with raisins and spices. It is usually in style mashed with butter and in batidos (milkshakes) with condensed milk.


Avocados on show in Puerto Rico


Completely different than the Haas selection we all know, the Caribbean avocado (Persea americana), generally known as a pear, is far bigger. Wealthy in wholesome fat, potassium; nutritional vitamins B6, C, and E; fiber, and carotenoids, avocado is consumed historically with savory meals or in sandwiches.

Cashews rising on a tree in St. Lucia; the cashew apple is on the prime of the nut

Cashew Apple/Cashew Maw

The tree (Anacardium occidentale) that produces the cashew nut additionally bears the cashew apple, an adjunct, pseudo-fruit for the nut. A fleshy, pear-shaped fruit with wavy yellow or pink pores and skin and an astringent yellow flesh, it incorporates fiber, carbohydrates, nutritional vitamins A and C, and B nutritional vitamins. They’re eaten contemporary or preserved in syrup.

Inexperienced Leafy Greens

Inexperienced leafy greens are utilized in some ways, similar to in rice, and steamed with onions, garlic, and pepper. Dasheen leaves and spinach leaves (bhagi) present a superb supply of folate, potassium, iron, zinc, and nutritional vitamins A, C, E and B6. Dasheen leaves are used to make callaloo, the nationwide dish of Trinidad and Tobago, and bhagi (spinach with coconut cream) and saheena (spinach fritters), in style Indian road meals present in Trinidad and Tobago. Inexperienced leafy greens are additionally utilized in Antiguan pepper pot, a stew that features eggplant, edo leaf, and okra.


A extensively used, versatile vegetable within the Caribbean, ochro (Abelmoschus esculentus) is wealthy in fiber, folate, magnesium, and vitamin C. It’s usually included in lots of conventional dishes, similar to callaloo, ochro rice, soups, and cou cou (made with corn meal and okra), the nationwide dish of Antigua and Barbuda and Barbados (known as fungi within the Virgin Islands).

Sea moss is utilized in drinks

Sea Moss

One of these seaweed (Chondrus crispus) is present in tidepools and inlets, offering good sources of B nutritional vitamins, vitamin C, zinc, phosphorus, and calcium. It’s used to make drinks, similar to a punch blended with nutmeg and condensed milk.

Rose apples (also called mountain apple or Otaheite apple) rising on a tree



In the identical household as lychee, this pear-shaped tree fruit (Blighia sapida) is the nationwide fruit of Jamaica. It has three lobes in brilliant pink to yellow-orange flesh that break up open when ripe, revealing three massive black seeds, which have a nut-like taste. Wealthy in carbohydrates, vitamin C and fiber, the fruit is cooked with salted water or milk, fried in butter, cooked with codfish and greens, or added to curries and soups.

Cherimoya/Custard Apple

This creamy tree fruit (Annona cherimola)lined with a lumpy inexperienced pores and skin incorporates good sources of carbohydrates, fiber, nutritional vitamins C and B6, magnesium, and potassium. They are often eaten of their unique kind, however are sometimes used to make punches and ice cream.


This candy tree fruit (Psidium guajava) offers good sources of carbohydrates, nutritional vitamins A and C, fiber, potassium, and B nutritional vitamins. Guava is used to make juices, jelly, sorbet, empanadillas (fruit turnover), and cheese (a thick jelly).

Golden Apple/Ambarella

A tree fruit (Spondias dulcis), it has a crunchy, barely bitter, golden flesh, containing nutritional vitamins A and C, carbohydrates, fiber, and iron. Golden apple could also be eaten with salt, made right into a drink, or cooked in a curry with spices.


An oval inexperienced tree fruit within the genus Ziziphus, this fruit resembles a date when it has matured, with wrinkled brownish pores and skin. It incorporates carbohydrates, fiber, vitamin C, and potassium, and will be eaten contemporary or dried, or utilized in jams.

Mangos on the market in Puerto Rico


This prolific brilliant orange tree fruit (Mangeferi indica) offers good sources of carbohydrates, nutritional vitamins A, C, E; fiber, folate, and a few B nutritional vitamins. Whereas it’s usually consumed contemporary, mango can also be utilized in drinks, shakes, mango chow (snack), mango amchar (seasoning), chutney, ice cream, and different desserts.


A yellowish-green fruit (Morinda citrifolia) within the espresso household, noni has a robust, vomit-like odor and bitter style, and was thought-about a “hunger fruit” utilized by indigenous peoples throughout famine. Containing carbohydrates, vitamin C, and B nutritional vitamins, it may be eaten uncooked with salt, made right into a beverage, or cooked in a curry.

Papaya on the market at a farmstand in Puerto Rico


An orange tree fruit (Carica papaya), which offers a candy custard-like taste and texture, offers good sources of carbohydrates, nutritional vitamins A and C; fiber and B nutritional vitamins. It’s eaten uncooked and utilized in chutneys, or inexperienced in salads and curry dishes.




Produced from a sluggish, tall evergreen tree, this smooth, candy, juicy orange-brownish fruit (Manilkara zapota) with a pear-like style is an efficient supply of carbohydrates, fiber, vitamin C, iron, and potassium. They are often loved contemporary out of hand, and are sometimes used to make drinks and frozen desserts.

Sapote/Mamey Sapote or Apple

This smooth tree fruit (Pouteria sapota) with white, yellow-orange, black, and pink varieties. lined with a inexperienced or brownish peel, incorporates a superb supply of carbohydrates, fiber; nutritional vitamins A, B6, and C; magnesium, and potassium. They are often eaten uncooked, however are sometimes used to make drinks, sauces, shakes, fruit bars, and frozen desserts.


A species of hibiscus (Hibiscus sabdariffa), this plant incorporates carbohydrates, vitamin C, calcium, and potassium. It’s used to make a very fashionable chilled beverage in most of the Caribbean Islands.

Soursop at a Puerto Rico stand


With a candy creamy white flesh, and inexperienced spiky peel, this tree fruit with its pineapple aroma and strawberry-banana style provides a superb supply of carbohydrates, fiber, nutritional vitamins B6 and C, iron, magnesium, and potassium. They are often eaten contemporary and are sometimes used to make drinks, ice cream or sorbet.

Starfruit for breakfast


This tree fruit (Averrhoa carambola) has ridges operating down its sides, revealing a star form when it’s lower horizontally. Each the yellow-orange peel and yellow fruit could also be consumed, providing a crisp, barely candy style. Containing carbohydrates, fiber, and vitamin C, the fruit is used to make drinks, relishes, and preserves.


The bean-like pod stuffed with seeds that grows on bushes (Tamarindus indica)

turns into paste-like because it matures, offering a sweet-sour style that makes it a helpful addition to savory dishes, confections, and drinks. It is usually wealthy in vitamins, offering carbohydrates, fiber, vitamin C, and potassium.

West India Gooseberry

These small edible yellow berries from a tree (Phyllanthus acidus) have a bitter, tart taste and supply a supply of fiber, carbohydrates; nutritional vitamins A and C, B; and iron. They’re used to make drinks and jams.

At an area farmstand in Puerto Rico

Legumes & Nuts

Cashew Nuts

The seed of the evergreen, tropical cashew tree (Anacardium occidentale), these nuts are eaten uncooked, roasted or fried as a snack meals. They supply a big supply of protein, coronary heart wholesome fat, fiber, copper, and magnesium. They’re additionally loved as a deal with in the course of the holidays.

Pigeon Peas/Gandules

This legume (Cajanus cajan), which grows extensively in tropical areas, is a crucial supply of protein, fiber, potassium, carbohydrate, iron, magnesium, calcium, and B nutritional vitamins. Pigeon peas are usually cooked with rice.



A member of the palm tree household, coconut (Cocos nucifera) is a crucial a part of the food regimen, offering each flesh from the mature seed and coconut milk. When contemporary, coconut water is used as a beverage; when dry it may be added as an ingredient to savory and candy dishes. With its excessive fats content material, coconut is grouped with fat and oils within the Caribbean six meals teams. It additionally incorporates fiber, manganese, copper, selenium, magnesium, iron, and potassium. Coconut milk is used to arrange rice dishes, stews, oil down (stew of fish, pork, breadfruit, and taro from Grenada), callaloo and cou cou. Coconut milk can also be used to make ice cream and desserts, and the coconut husk is employed in desserts, similar to coconut tarts, candy bread, sugar desserts, cookies (besitos de coco), coconut custard (tembleque), manpostial (sweet in Puerto Rico), coconut flan, and toolum (a chewy deal with from Trinidad).

Spices, Herbs, Seasonings


A tropical flowering plant (Zingiber officinale), the foundation or rhizome is used as a flavorful spice. Containing greater than 400 compounds, gingerol particularly is the topic of curiosity for well being advantages. Many in style Caribbean meals are made with ginger, embody ginger beer, tea, and ice cream, in addition to many savory dishes.


From a plant within the ginger household, the brilliant orange turmeric root (Curcuma longa) incorporates many energetic elements together with curcumin, which is linked with well being advantages. With its heat, bitter style, it’s sometimes called saffron in Trinidad and Tobago, and is utilized in most Indian dishes within the Caribbean, similar to curries and rice, in addition to in oil down and as a paste for soups.

Ginger and Scotch bonnet peppers on the market at a farmstand in Puerto Rico


Whereas candy bell peppers are used within the basic sofrito sauce, spicy scotch bonnet (Capsicum chinense), also called bonney peppers or Caribbean pink peppers, is quite a lot of chili peppers identified for his or her resemblance of a tam o’ shanter hat. It’s a extremely popular pepper utilized in seasoning, although some sweeter varieties are grown within the Caribbean. Excessive in nutritional vitamins A and C, this pepper offers jerk and lots of Caribbean dishes their attribute spicy taste in recipes similar to rice and beans, sauces, and pepper jelly.

Assets on Caribbean Meals and Diets

Sharon having fun with the fantastic thing about the Caribbean

For my favourite Caribbean-inspired recipe, try my Mofongo recipe.

To be taught extra in regards to the wealthy various foodways across the globe, try AudiobooksNow for a choice of books. Seize my low cost code right here to be taught extra.

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