Caribbean Country Pages

Caribbean Culture

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Caribbean Creole Languages

Ackee, Akee, Vegetable Brain

Scientific name: Blighia sapida

Ackee, a red pear-shaped fruit, is the national fruit of Jamaica and the dish, Ackee and Saltfish, is regarded as  Jamaica's national dish.

Ackee turns red and splits open when mature. It is then harvested and the edible portion (the arilli) removed in preparation for cooking. The flesh is poisonous when unripe or overripe. Because of this problem, there was some initial difficulty in getting the United States to allow the importation of ackee.

Ackee is mild in flavor, has a creamy texture, and tastes like scrambled eggs. Ackee and Saltfish is made from ackee, saltfish (salt cod), onions, hot peppers, tomatoes, and spices, often garnished with crisp bacon and fresh tomatoes.

Numerous other dishes are made with ackee: curried ackee, ackee and shrimp, ackee salad, ackee with cheese, ackee and ochro, ackee and crab etc

Ackee contains calcium, iron, potassium, Zinc, Vitamin A, thiamin, riboflavin,  niacin, folacin, vit C and dietary fiber

Scientific name: Maranta arundinacea

Arrowroot is a bland and easily digested starch extracted from the roots of the arrowroot plant. It is used as a thickener in many foods such as puddings and gravies, and is also used in cookies, biscuits, cakes and other baked goods.

Arrowroot has limited nutritional value. It is almost pure carbohydrate and and has no protein.

St. Vincent and the Grenadines has a long history of arrowroot production.

Avocado, Avocado Pear, Alligator Pear, Pear

Scientific Name: Persea Americana

The fruit of the avocado tree is generally roundish, pear-shaped or egg-shaped. It consists of a large seed, surrounded by a thick fleshy pulp and leathery skin. In the Caribbean, three types of avocado are common – Mexican, West Indian and Guatemalan.  The fruits are generally green, except for the Guatemalan type which is brownish.

Avocados have a pleasant nutty flavor. They may be used alone (with lime or lemon juice, or with salad dressing), in salads with other vegetables, or as an ingredient in numerous dishes. The pulp of the fruit matures into a buttery consistency and may be cream to bright yellow in color.

Avocados have high nutritive value and are used all over the world in dishes both savory and sweet. The Mexican dip, guacamole, is a growing favorite. Vegetarians make good use of the fruits, which are high in valuable fats, potassium, B vitamins, Vitamin E, Vitamin K and fiber.

With the use of special techniques the avocado tree can be grown indoors, and be used as a decorative houseplant. However, cats, dogs, and other domestic animals can be seriously harmed if they ingest the fruit, leaves or other parts of the avocado tree.

Banana, fig, green fig

Scientific name: Musa sapientum

The term banana usually refers to sweet, ripe, yellow bananas, which are in the main eaten fresh and uncooked. Bananas come in a variety of sizes and colors when ripe, including yellow, purple, and red. However, unripe green bananas are sometimes cooked. The most marketed banana is the Cavendish banana.

There are hundreds of species of banana. Most of them are green in color when young and unripe, then yellow when ripe, then brown and black as they age further.

Banana fruits develop large hanging clusters or bunches, made up of tiers (called hands). Hands are composed of individual banana fruits that are often called fingers.  

Bananas are very popular in the Caribbean. There are numerous ways of processing and presenting bananas in meals. Although they are mostly eaten raw, they may be baked in their skins or sliced and deep-fried; or made into fritters, jam, pancakes, chips, even flour. The many ways in which bananas may be incorporated into dishes is limited only by the imagination.

Banana leaves, which are smooth, glossy, large, flexible, and waterproof are sometimes used as food containers or as "plates." Steamed with some banana dishes, they lend a subtle flavor. Conkies are cooked in banana leaves.

Initially, people in developed Western countries wrote off bananas as animal food. However, the value of the fruit is established all over the world. Bananas are known to contain significant amounts of vitamin B6, vitamin C, manganese and potassium.

Some people refer to bananas as “dessert bananas” because they are often used as or in desserts, distinguishing them from plantains, which are regarded as a type of banana.

Bananas of the size and general appearance of the Cavendish bananas seen in North American markets are called Cayenne bananas in Guyana and some locations in the Caribbean. The relatively small and plump bananas are called “baby bananas”. The larger baby bananas are called apple bananas, while the tiniest ones are called fig bananas. 

Beet, beetroot, garden beet
Scientific name: Beta vulgaris

Beets are grown as garden crops in the Caribbean.

The round, fleshy tap root, the part commonly used for food, is dark red in color. The root of beetroot is eaten boiled either as a cooked vegetable, or cold as a salad, alone or with other vegetables. It is also used in pickles.

Beet leaves are sometimes used as greens. They are mostly served boiled or steamed, and have a taste and texture close to spinach.

Beetroots are valued for their antioxidants and nutrients generally, which include magnesium, sodium, potassium and vitamin C, and betaine, regarded as important for cardiovascular health.

Bilimbi, Sourie, Kamaranga, Bimbling Plum, Cucumber (tree), Tree Sorrel
Scientific name: Averrhoa bilimbi

The bilimbi plant is a common backyard plant in the Caribbean. The mature fruits of the bilimbi (“bimbling plum” in Jamaica) resemble small cucumbers and usually range from 2 to 3 inches in length. They have a smooth, thin, green rind and a juicy very acid pulp, in which are embedded several small seeds, and turn yellowish they ripen.

The bilimbi is often cooked in curries and is used in place of sour fruits such as green mangoes, tamarind or even tomato. It is often pickled, used to make chutney or even jam.  

Fruits of the bilimbi are candied or cooked with sugar as a preserve. The pulp is also used to make a cooling drink. Children often eat it either raw, alone or with salt.

Bilimbis contain Vitamin C, calcium, phosphorus, and iron.

Black Eye Pea, Black-eyed pea
Scientific Name: Vigna sinensis, Vigna unguiculata

Beige in color, this bean has a black round “eye” at its inner curve. The dried seeds are used mostly as dried beans, and are a favorite in Guyanese cook-up and West Indian “peas and rice.” The pods of the black eye pea may also be cooked while green and tender.

More frequently, however, the pods are harvested when mature,  but before the seeds or the pods begin to become dry.

Black eye peas are very nutritious. In the United States, where they are called cowpeas, black eye peas were grown as fodder before they were accepted as food for humans.

Bora, Borah, Yard Beans, Bodi beans
Scienfic name: Vigna sesquipedalis

Bora is generally used as a fresh vegetable in the pod while still immature. Although bora is called yard bean, the pods are actually only about half a yard long. The crisp, crunchy, tender pods are eaten both fresh and cooked. They are at their best when young and slender. Bora is mostly cut into short sections for cooking uses. It makes a great stew, steamed or stir fried.  It tastes great with meat (including ground meat) or shrimp or added to chow mein.  Its similar to the string beans but with more of a crunch. 

Bora is a good source of  vitamin C, vitamin A, thiamin, riboflavin, folate, iron, phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, and manganese.

Boulanger, Baigan, Eggplant, Aubergine
Scientific name: Solanum melongena

Boulangers may be black, purple, green, white, striped, even red. They come in many shapes, sizes and colors. (Small white boulangers gave rise to the name “eggplant.”) However, varieties in the Caribbean are somewhat limited. They are spongy in texture and are generally  slightly bitter when uncooked.

They can be baked, stewed, roasted or steamed. They are often included in curry stir-fries. Increasingly, boulangers are used in sandwich fillings and they can be made into a dip for vegetables. Boulangers can also be artfully stuffed.

A favorite use of boulangers is for making “baigan choka,” which is highly seasoned, roasted boulangers mashed up and used with dishes such as dhall.

Boulangers are a good source of dietary fiber, potassium, manganese, copper, thiamin (vitamin B1), vitamin B6, folate, magnesium and niacin.

Breadfruit, Breadnut, and Jackfruit

Breadfruit, breadnut and jackfruit trees are close relatives, and resemble each other superficially. They all belong to the botanical genus known as Artocarpus. Their most significant differences lay in their fruits.  

Scientific name:  (Artocarpus altilis, also Artocarpus communis)

 The fruits of most breadfruit varieties generally lack seeds, but have a cream-coloured fleshy starchy interior. The shape of the mature fruit is irregularly oval to round, (3 ½ to 18 inches) long and 2 to 12 inches in diameter. The outer skin is patterned with irregular 4- to 6-sided sections, more or less prominent, depending on the variety. There are numerous recipes for preparing the fruits, most of which involve baking, roasting, frying or boiling. Breadfruit is used as a vegetable, as chips, bread and even desserts.

Breadnut, katahar, chataigne (from the French  “chataignier”)
Scientific name: Artocarpus camansi, previously listed as Artocarpus altilis

The fruits of the breadnut are similar in size to the breadfruit. The shape is more oblong and the outer skin is rather spiny. The inside has little flesh, but contains numerous seeds. The seeds are eaten when boiled, steamed or roasted.

There are two main ways in which breadnuts are eaten. Small, immature breadnut fruits

are sliced and cooked as a vegetable in soups or stews. A favorite stew especially among Indo-Caribbean people is Katahar Curry, to use the Guyanese name. In Trinidad and Tobago, the same dish is called curry chataigne. In this dish, the basically bland immature nuts rely for their taste on the spices and coconut milk in which it is cooked. It is generally eaten with rice in homes and also at religious ceremonies.

 The other way of preparing breadnut seeds is by boiling or roasting the ripe seeds and eating them as a snack or as part of a salad or other dish.

Cooking breadnuts requires time and patience. A pressure cooker is definitely recommended.

Jackfruit, Jack Fruit

Scientific name: Artocarpus heterophyllus 

The jackfruit tree grows to an enormous size, and is handsome and stately. The fruit itself is the largest tree-borne fruit in the world, and may weigh as much as 80 pounds and be up to 36 inches long and 20 inches in diameter.

The color of the fruit changes from light green to yellow-brown as it matures.  It encloses 100 to 500 smooth, oval, light-brown seeds.

The pulp around the large seeds is the edible portion. Jackfruit pulp may be eaten fresh, mixed in fruit salads, cooked with rice or sugar and coconut milk, dried, or made into preserve. Jackfruit curry, jackfruit pickle and jackfruit with roti are common. The seeds can also be boiled or roasted and eaten, or added to soup. Immature fruit is boiled or fried. Pieces of it may be cooked in salted water until tender and then served.

Jackfruit contains vitamin A, vitamin C, thiamin, riboflavin, calcium, potassium, iron, sodium, zinc and niacin among many other nutrients. It is low in calories.

Scientific name: Brassica oleracea.

Broccoli is a plant with dense dark-green clusters of tight flower buds.  Broccoli heads are sometimes called curds. Related to cauliflower, it is one of the most popular vegetables with health-conscious people.

Broccoli is boiled, steamed, sautéed and stir fried. The heads are used mostly, but broccoli stems and leaves may also be cooked and eaten. To reduce its intestinal gas production, some people cook broccoli with ginger or garlic.

Broccoli is a powerhouse of nutrients. It is a good source of protein, vitamin E, thiamin, riboflavin, pantothenic acid, calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, selenium, dietary fiber, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin K, vitamin B6, folate, potassium and manganese.

Bura-Bura, Bolo maka, Coconilla

Scientific name: Solanum stramoniifolium

The bura-bura plant is a member of the egg plant family and grows wild. The plant is armed with long sharp spines under the leaves and thorns on the stems. The small ½  inch to 1-inch smooth fruits resemble small tomatoes in appearance and taste, are yellow to red in color and are covered with a powdery coating. Some types are sweet when mature. The fruits are usually eaten out of hand, mostly by children, after rubbing them between the hands to remove the coating..

Scientific name:  Brassica oleracea var. capitata

This is the well-known cabbage plant, grown for use as a fresh salad or for cooking with meat or in soups. The tightly wrapped head is generally preferred. Corned beef and cabbage is a favorite.

Cacoa, cocoa
Scientific name: Theobroma cacoa

This is the plant from which chocolate, cacoa powder and cacoa butter are made. Seeds are collected from the cacoa pods and allowed to go through a fermentation process. The beans are then dried.

In the Caribbean, sticks of chocolate, roughly 6 inches long, are rolled by hand from ground or pounded cocoa beans and sold for making “chocolate tea,” as the resulting  morning’s hot beverage is called.  The sticks are dissolved in hot water and milk and sugar are added. Another method of preparing “chocolate tea” is by using chocolate lumps, prepared beforehand by mixing a heavy batter of flour, sugar, eggs and milk with very hot cocoa and allowing everything to harden. Chocolate lumps may be stored for later use. Chocolate tea is also called cocoa tea.

Calabaza, West Indian pumpkin, Caribbean pumpkin, Jamaican pumpkin, crapaudback
Scientific Name: Cucurbita moschata.

This is really a type of squash. It is generally heavy and comes in various sizes, from small to huge, and may be round, or of some other shape. The color of calabaza may range from green to tan to red, and the skin of a single calabaza may exhibit several colors. The flesh is most often orange in color, but could be yellow.

The taste and texture of calabaza resembles butternut squash. It is fairly sweet and offers many options. It is nutritious as well, being a good source of the vitamins A and C. One cup contains about 70 calories.

Calabaza may be boiled, baked or steamed, made into a paste, added to soups, served by itself, and generally put to many great uses in the kitchen.

It is tough-skinned, and for this reason calabaza may be sold already cut into sections. If you buy a whole one, you’ll need a very sharp heavy knife or a cleaver.

Callaloo, Calaloo, Calalu, kallaloo, bhaji, dasheen bush, Indian Kale

Scienfic name: (for taro/dasheen leaves) Xanthosoma
Scientific names: (for amaranth varieties) Amaranthus sp, Amaranthus dubius, Amaranth Tricolor

The term callaloo is used in two ways: (1) as the name of one of many types of leaf vegetable, and (2) as one of several dishes.

The variations are determined by the location in the Caribbean. The leaf vegetable may be the edible young green leaves of the taro (dasheen) plant, vegetable amaranth or other leafy vegetables.

In Guyana, callaloo refers to several varieties of spinach (bhaji), also vegetable amaranth.
Jamaicans use the name callaloo to refer to amaranth, and use it in many dishes.
Trinidad and Tobago
Trinidadians primarily use taro or dasheen leaves as callaloo.  Callaloo is mostly served as a side dish to accompany more substantial dishes.
Callaloo is made from the leaves of the dasheen plant (also called dasheen bush)

Callaloo dishes may also include okra (ochro),coconut milk, ground provisions, crab, conch, lobster, various kinds of meat, chili peppers, onions, garlic and other seasonings. The dish may also be used as a stew to be eaten with rice.

Carambola, Five Finger, Star Fruit

Scientific name: Averrhoa carambola

Carambola fruits, with ridges running down its sides (between 3and 6, but usually five) reveals a cross-section resembling star, hence the name star fruit. They are lime green when immature and turn golden yellow when ripe.

Carambolas are crisp, juicy and aromatic, but usually acid in taste. However, one form is called “sweet carambola” because the acid taste is absent.

Carambolas can be eaten at different stages both ripe and unripe.  Ripe carambolas can be eaten out-of-hand, or sliced and served in salads. They are also used in tarts, stewed fruits, jellies, chutneys, garnishes and even curries. Ripe fruits are used for preserves, jams and jellies. They may be dried and used as one would use currants and raisins in fruit cakes. The fruit is often added to smoothies, but by itself, carambola juice can be served as a cooling beverage.

Carambola is rich in antioxidants and vitamin C and low in sugar, sodium and acid.

Carila, carilla, karila, karela, bitter melon, bitter gourd, cerasee

Scientific name:  Momordica charantia

The  warty, oblong fruit of the carila vine is bitter. It is green when young and immature, and yellow when ripe. The fruit is hollow and much like a cucumber in shape. It is eaten green, or as it is beginning to turn yellow.

Carila is used generally after boiling in salt water to remove some of the bitterness. It is cooked and eaten a numerous ways. Often, it is cooked with meat, or is stuffed with meat, especially ground meat. Curried carila is a favorite. It is also deep fried, or used in soups.

Carila contains iron, beta carotene, potassium, vitamins A, C, B1, B3, and is a good source of fibre. 

(See also Carila (Bitter melon) and Diabetes)


Scientific name: Daucus carota subsp. sativus

The plant is grown for its long, slender, fleshy tap root. This root vegetable is yellow in color, though there are red, white and yellow varieties.

Carrots are crisp when fresh. They may be used raw in salads, or cooked alone or with other vegetables or meats. They can be boiled, fried or steamed, and used in soups and stews. Grated carrots are used in carrot cakes and carrot puddings.

Carrots contain the deep yellow carotenoids that produce vitamin A. Cooking helps release the carotenoids so that they could be metabolized in the body. Carrots are also rich in dietary fibre, antioxidants, and minerals.

Cassava, yucca, manioc, casaba, cassada

Scientific name: Manihot esculenta

Cassava is cultivated for its long and tapered starchy root. It is classified as sweet or bitter depending on the level of toxic cyanogenic glucosides. Many farmers however prefer to grow the bitter varieties because they have special uses and deter animals, pests and thieves.

 Cassava must be cooked properly to detoxify it before it is eaten. Boiled, it can replace potatoes. It is often a component of the Guyana metagee. It is boiled, steamed and deep fried much like potatoes. Other popular products to come out of the kitchen are cassava pone, cassava chips and cassava bread

Cassareep is boiled juice from cassava of the bitter variety. The traditional Amerindian way is to express the juice from grated cassava in a matapee before boiling. A thick syrup, casareep is the basis of Guyana pepperpot, but is also used for flavoring other dishes. Tapioca is made from dried cassava and used as a thickener and for making puddings.

Cassava roots are very rich in starch, and contain calcium, phosphorus and vitamin C. However, they contain little protein or other nutrients.

Caterpillar callaloo, calalu, bhaji
Scientific name: Amaranthus dubius

This plant is often found growing wild, but is also cultivated. The dull green leaves and young stems are used as a spinach.

Scientific name: Brassica oleracea var. botrytis

The cauliflower head is a cluster of flower buds that stopped developing. The head is denser and more compact that the head of the broccoli, to which it is related. Most cauliflower heads grown in the Caribbean are white, but they may also be  lime green or purple.

The head, with its florets (flower buds) are what people eat most often, but the stem and leaves are also edible. Cauliflower is more creamy and nutty than broccoli. It is served raw, steamed, or boiled. When raw, it may be eaten on its own or with a dip, or as part of a salad. When cooked, it may be eaten alone, as a side dish, or with a sauce. It may also be cooked in soups, stews, stir fries, pasta, and omelets.

Cauliflower is a good source of vitamins C and K, potassium, fiber, phosphorus, B vitamins, complex carbohydrates and the trace mineral boron.


Scientific name:  Apium graviolens

The aromatic leaf stalks of celery are eaten raw or cooked   Both stalks and seeds are  popular in flavoring foods. The brown seeds are used either whole or ground.

Celery is used numerous ways. It is a staple in many soups (such as chicken noodle soup), curries, and Chinese dishes that are popular in the Caribbean.

Celery provides vitamin C, fiber, folic acid, potassium, and vitamins B1, B2 and B6. It also contains sodium, which does not seem to harm sodium-sensitive people. It is not clear why. The seeds are a good source of calcium.

Cherry, Barbados Cherry, West Indian Cherry
Scientific name: Malpighia punicifolia

Ripe cherries are bright red, juicy, and usually quite acid. They are often eaten out-of-hand, mainly by children, who when the cherries are not fully ripe eat them with salt and pepper. Cherries make great preserves, jellies and jams. They are also stewed with sugar to make desserts. Straining the stew separates the seeds from the pulp and the remaining sauce or puree can be used as a topping for cakes, ice creams, puddings, or other fruit. Cherries can also be used in gelatin desserts, punch or sherbet. Wine is also made from cherries.

The fruit is perhaps the richest edible fruit source of  Vitamin C. It also contains Vitamin A,   niacin, riboflavin, and thiamin.     


Scientific name: Allium schoenoprasum.

Chives are the smallest species of the onion family. The bulbs are conical in shape and grow in clusters. The leaves are green, hollow, tubular and resemble grass.

They are used as garnish and flavoring in salads and for seasoning fish, eggs, potatoes, soups and stews. The mauve-colored flowers are edible.


Scientific name:  Cocos nucifera

The term “coconut” can refer to the entire coconut palm tree, the seed, or the fruit. Here, we deal with the fruit, which is in fact the same as the seed. In passing, it is worthwhile to mention that people in many parts of the world have found ways to use virtually every part of the coconut palm tree for some useful purpose. This is why it has been called "The Tree of Life."

The coconut grows in every part of the Caribbean. Its light weight when mature, its buoyancy and resistance to water damage combine to allow easy and wide dispersal by way of the currents of the sea.

There is nutrition in the meat, juice (coconut water), milk and oil of the coconut. The green or immature nut contains the coconut water, which provides a pleasant and refreshing cool drink.  Coconut water becomes gradually denser and sweeter as it turns into meat. The meat, when tender and jellylike, is eaten uncooked, often spooned out of the shell. As it matures, it becomes hard.  

After the nut is mature, the coconut meat can be grated and strained to obtain a thick, white, creamy liquid, called coconut milk, which can be used as a substitute for cream in desserts and other foods. Coconut milk is also a primary ingredient in callaloo, the Caribbean dish of spinach, okra, meat and seafood. It also features in soups, stews, sauces and curries

The flesh is also used to make coconut choka - an Indian chutney made from roasted coconut, ground to a paste with garlic, onion, and hot pepper, with green mangoes or tamarind to give it a sour taste.

Coconuts are also used in sweet baked goods such as coconut bread, coconut buns, rock cakes and tarts. A children’s favorite, coconut sugar cake, is made from grated coconut, sugar and spices. Coconut pudding is also made.

Coconut oil, once widely considered unhealthy because of its high saturated fat content, now enjoys some respect as a health food – provided it is virgin coconut oil. However, coconut oil generally appears in processed foods in the hydrogenated form, which may not be healthy.

Coconut contains moderate amounts of potassium, phosphorus, magnesium, zinc, iron and fiber. Coconut water has the lowest amount of fat calories. The calorie content in coconut milk is relatively high.


Scientific name: Cucumis sativus

The cucumber plant is a vine that grows easily and is widely cultivated.

Most of the time cucumbers are eaten fresh in the unripe and green state. They are often used to make salads, but are also stewed and eaten like squash. Cucumbers are also pickled or stuffed.

Cucumbers can also be used to make refreshing drinks – usually with lime juice and sugar. They are also used to make wine.

Fresh cucumbers are a good source of Vitamin C and Vitamin A. They also contain calcium and potassium.

Dasheen, Eddoe, Taro, Cocoyam, Elephant Ear

Scientific name: Colocasia esculenta

Dasheen, a tuberous root, is one of the ground provisions. So is eddoe, a smaller variety not very affected by high water levels in the soil. It is used much like the potato, but has its own texture and flavor. The skin of dasheen is brown. When peeled, it is white.

Dasheen contains calcium oxalate crystals which are extremely irritating to the mucous membrane, therefore it must be well cooked before it is eaten.

Dasheen is often boiled and eaten by itself, served with meat or saltfish, or with a rice dish such as fried rice. It may also be fried and eaten with meat or butter, be part of a soup (eddoe soup is a great favorite), or an item in the Guyanese metagee (metem). The leaves of the plant, called dasheen bush, are used in the making of the popular Caribbean dish called callaloo. Some people stew the leaves and eat the stew (dasheen bush bhaji) with rice.

Dasheen contains Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Calcium, Iron, Vitamin E, Thiamin, Riboflavin, Niacin, Folate, Vitamin B-6, Potassium,Phosphorus, Magnesium, Zinc, and Copper

Eggplant : See Boulanger

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Vegetables, Fruits, Herbs and Seasonings
 of the Caribbean