Food Glossary

The following are popular food items found throughout the Caribbean, the Pacific and other islands. 

Ackee - This reddish-yellow fruit of an evergreen tree was introduced into Jamaica from West Africa. Ackee's scientific name, blighia sapida, comes from Captain Bligh, who introduced the plant to Jamaica from West Africa. It is often called “vegetable brains” since the fruit lies within the red section. When ripe it bursts open to reveal three large black seeds and bright yellow flesh that is popular as a breakfast food throughout Jamaica.

Ackee is popular in dishes featuring saltfish, hot pepper and onions, and hot peppersAckee is poisonous if eaten before it is fully mature and because of its toxicity, it is subject to import restrictions. Ackee is sold canned in West Indian markets. Some Caribbean islands grow ackee as an ornamental tree.

 

Adobo - A seasoning made by mixing crushed peppercorns, oregano, garlic, and salt, with olive oil and lime juice or vinegar.

 

Allspice, Pimienta - Dark-brown berry, similar in size to juniper, that combines the flavors of cinnamon, clove and nutmeg.

 

Annatto - This slightly musky-flavored reddish yellow spice, ground from the seeds of a flowering tree, is native to the West Indies and the Latin tropics. Islanders store their annatto seeds in oil--giving the oil a beautiful color. Saffron or turmeric can be substituted.


Araňitas - Fried "spiders" made of julienne strips of green plantains.

 

Arrowroot - Neutral tasting starch extracted from the root of tropical tubers, used as a last-minute thickening agent for sauces.


Asopao – (means “soupy” in Spanish). Very popular in Puerto Rico, asopao is a soupy stew which contains chicken, meat or seafood and rice, plus ingredients such as tomato, onion, bell pepper, ham, peas, olives, and capers.

 

Bay Rum - The bay rum tree is related to the evergreen that produces allspice. Used to flavor soups, stews and, particularly, blaff, the small dark bay rum berry is called "maleguetta pepper" in the French West Indies.

 

Beans, Peas (habichuelas, frijoles, judías, alubias, judias, porotos, and caraotas) - Habichuelas in Puerto Rico and Dominican Republic – Frijoles and Judias in Cuba.
Red kidney beans, black beans, black-eyed peas, pigeon peas (gandules), and yellow and green lentils. Often combined with rice, used in soups and stews or pulped and made into fritters.

 

Blaff - A broth infused with whole Scotch bonnet peppers and bay rum leaves in which whole or filleted fish is poached.

 

Boniato - Also Known as: batata, Cuban sweet potato, white yam, Florida yam, camote, kamote, kamura. Grown throughout the Caribbean, this tuber is a white semi-sweet potato with white dry flesh with a pink to purple skin. It is fragile and bruises easily.

 

Blue Marlin - Jamaicans have little need for imported smoked salmon, as they enjoy their own classy variation from the nearby waters of the Gulf Stream. The marlin that isn't immediately devoured as streaks is carried off to the smoker, where it takes on a milder salmon like flavor and texture that holds up well when thinly sliced.

 

Boudin, Black Pudding - Sausage that may include pigs' blood, thyme and Scotch bonnet peppers. Frequently served with souse, a pork dish that can include any part of the pig.

 

Breadfruit (pana or panapen). - Introduced to Jamaica from its native Tahiti in 1793 by the infamous Captain Bligh. The breadfruit is a large green fruit, usually about 10 inches in diameter, with a pebbly green skin and potato-like flesh. Breadfruit are not edible until they are cooked and they can be used in place of any starchy vegetable, rice or pasta. Breadfruit is picked and eaten before it ripens and is typically served like squash--baked, grilled, fried, boiled or roasted after being stuffed with meat. It's even been known to turn up in preserves or in a beverage.

 

Bunuelos - Similar to crullers, they are made with flour, cassava meal or mashed sweet potato and have fruit fillings like guava and banana.

 

Callaloo - Spelled half a dozen different ways, this colorful word turns up in Jamaican records as early as 1696. This leafy, spinach-like vegetable is typical prepared as one would prepare turnip or collard greens. The variety of callaloo Amaranthus viridis, better known as Chinese spinach or Indian kale, should not be confused with the callaloo found in the eastern Caribbean, which refers to the leaves of the dasheen plant.

 

Calabaza (West Indian Pumpkin), ahuyama in Dominican Republic - Caribbean pumpkin-like squash with a very sweet taste. It is commonly found in pumpkin soups, stews and meals with a lot of vegetables

Carambola - Known as the “star fruit” because it looks like a star when cut a certain way. It is crisp, juicy and golden in color, and is used in desserts or salad, garnish for drinks or cooked together with seafood.

 

Cassareep - Made from the juice of grated cassava root and flavored with cinnamon, cloves and sugar--this is the essential ingredient in pepperpot, the ubiquitous Caribbean island stew.


Cassava - This tuber is also known as manioc and yuca. A rather large root vegetable with a 6- to 12-inch length and 2- to 3-inch diameter, cassava has a tough brown skin with a very firm white flesh. Both kinds of cassava can appear as meal, tapioca and farina and can be bought ready made as cassava or manioc meal, which is used to make bammie. Sweet cassava is boiled and eaten as a starch vegetable. Bitter cassava contains a poisonous acid that can be deadly and must be processed before it can be eaten.


Ceviche - is a seafood dish prepared in citrus juices and served with herbs and onions. 

 

Chayote - A member of the squash and melon families, it is also known as Cho-cho or Christophene, and Tayota in Dominican republic. It is a green pear-shaped fruit used as a vegetable, in salads or cooked in a variety of ways.

 

Cherimoya - Pale-green fruit with white sweet flesh that has the texture of flan. Used for mousse and fruit sauces, the fruit is best when fully ripe, well chilled and eaten with a spoon.

 

Chico zapote (nispero) - Sweet fruit with a flavor similar to maple sugar.

 

Chili Peppers - Members of the Capsicum genus ranging from medium to fiery hot. Scotch bonnet pepper, the most widely used, can be replaced with serrano, jalapeno or other hot peppers.

 

Chirimoya - A heart shaped or oval fruit with white flesh that has a sweet-sour flavor.

 

Christophine, Chayote, Cho-cho, Mirliton - A small pear-shaped vegetable, light green or cream colored, and often covered with a prickly skin. Bland, similar in texture to squash and used primarily as a side dish or in gratins and souffles. Like pawpaw (papaya, it is also a meat tenderizer.)


Chutney - is a mixture of cooked tropical fruits and vegetables flavored with peppers and spices. Mango chutney is often served with different curries. 

 

Coconut - This member of the palm family, which is native to Malaysia, yields fruit all year long. Coconut is edible in both its green and mature forms. Both the water and the "jelly" of the green coconut find their way into island drinks, and meat from the mature coconut gives desserts a Caribbean identity.

 

Conch - These gastropods are a beloved part of the cuisine as far north as the Bahamas and Florida. When preparing conch soup, conch salad or, best of all, spicy conch fritters, you must beat the tough conch flesh into tender submission with a mallet, the flat of a cleaver or a wooden pestle before cooking. The job can sometimes (depending on the recipe) be made easier by using a food processor.

 

Coco Quemade - A pudding similar to flan. Also a base for ice creams and a replacement for creme anglaise.

 

Coo-coo (or cou-cou) -The Caribbean equivalent of polenta or grits. Once based on cassava or manioc meal. It is now made almost exclusively with cornmeal. Versatile coo-coo can be baked, fried or rolled into little balls and poached in soups or stews.

 

Coriander, Cilantro, Chines Parsley - Intense, pungent herb that looks like parsley. The seeds are used in curries.

 

Creole, Criolla - Creole refers to the cooking of the French-speaking West Indies, as well as to southern Louisiana and the Gulf states. Criolla refers to the cuisine of Spanish-speaking islands. Both terms encompass a melding of ingredients and cooking methods from France, Spain, Africa, the Caribbean and America.


Curry - is a spicy or very seasoned sauce that originally comes from India. Curry is popular in Tobago, Trinidad, and Jamaica since immigrants from India migrated to these countries during the 1800’s. Common curries are seasoned with cayenne peppers, turmeric, cumin, coriander, and allspice. Many Caribbean cooks use prepared spice mixtures that include coriander, cumin, turmeric, black and cayenne peppers, and fenugreek, among others. Caribbean cooks also commonly add allspice to their curries.

 

Dasheen - Also known a coco, taro and tannia, dasheen is a starchy tuber that is usually served boiled or cut up and used as a thickener in hearty soups. While considered by some to have a texture and flavor superior to that of a Jerusalem artichoke or potato. Potatoes can often be used as a substitute for dasheen in recipes. Dasheen is often called coco, but coco is actually a slightly smaller relative of dasheen.

 

Dhal - Hindu name for legumes; in the Caribbean, it refers only to split peas or lentils.

 

Darne - The Caribbean name for kingfish.

 

Duruka - Called the ‘Fijian Asparagus’, the unique Fijian vegetable of duruka is actually the unopened flower of a cane shoot (closely related to sugar cane). It is believed that early settlers brought the plant from Papua New Guinea in the late 1800s, but is also prevalent throughout coastal areas of southeastAsia and other Pacific islands where it is known as pit pit. Green and red varieties of the vegetable that Fijians often add to coconut milk or put in a curry. The red shoot contains a more crumbly, nutty flavor in comparison to the softer green shoot. Both types have a stringy and fleshy consistency and are incredibly tasty.

 

Eddoe or Eddo (malangas in Spanish-speaking areas) - Tropical vegetable often considered identifiable as the species Colocasia antiquorum closely related to Taro, which is primarily used for its thickened stems. The young leaves can also be cooked and eaten, but (unlike taro) they have a somewhat acrid taste.

Eddoes appear to have been developed as a crop in China and Japon and introduced from there to the West Indies where they are sometimes called "Chinese eddoes". 

 

Escabeche - The Spanish word for "pickled”, known by Jamaican citizens as Escovitch. It usually refers to fresh fish (and sometimes poultry) that is fried or poached, then marinated in vinegar or citrus, spices, hot peppers and oil.


Guava, Guayaba - Tropical fruit with a vivid orange coloring about the size of a small lemon. It is common to see guava in jellies, sauces, and compotes. Guava sauces from the Spanish speaking islands are very tasty and often spread over bread, served with cream cheese and spread on cassava or other crisp breads or crackers.

 

Halo-halo - Milk with coconut, plantains, jackfruit and yams in Palau.

 

Hearts of Palm -  Ivory-colored core of some varieties of palm trees.

 

Hibiscus, Flor de Jamaica, Sorrel - A tropical flower--not to be confused with the garden-variety hibiscus--grown for it crimson sepal, which is used to flavor dinks, jams and sauces. It is available dried and fresh during the Christmas season.

 

Jack – A colorful saltwater fish with over two hundred species (varietal names include yellowtail, greenback, burnfin, black and amber jack) weighing a much as 150 pounds

 

Jerk – Tender meat preserved by saturating it in hot peppers and spices. Jerk meat is very popular in Tobago, Barbados, Trinidad, and Jamaica. Jerk money is frequently seasoned with garlic, onions, peppers, allspice, and thyme. To make the meat sweet, it is often seasoned with molasses. Common jerk seasoned meats include fish, pork, and chicken. 

 

Jicama - Large root vegetable looks like a large brown turnip with white sweet crisp flesh is crunchy and tasty. 

 

Kokoda – Pacific island’s equivalent of South America’s ceviche, made up of raw mahi-mahi fish and a dressing called miti which is made from a thick coconut cream with onions, lemon/lime juice, salt and chilies. The act of cooking the raw fish by marinating it in citrus juice is a technique used by people in many lands. Different Pacific Islands have different styles, but all generally involve sharp citrus juice, coconut cream and chunks of a white-fleshed fish.

 

Limes - Caribbean limes have light yellow skins when ripe, though they are often picked green because they go bad rapidly when ripe. Limes are one of the most important ingredients in Jamaican sauces and marinades, and are used to perk up dishes from savory to sweet (beverages, cakes and preserves).

 

Lobster - In Jamaica, it's the spiny or Caribbean lobster that is found--the same delicious crustacean as the langouste in France, and aragosta in Italy, and the langoasta in Spain. Although the texture of this cooked meat is consider in some to be inferior to that of the Maine lobster, the flavor of the spiny lobster meat more that makes up for the inferior texture.

 

Malanga, Yautia – This tuber relative of dasheen or taro is prevalent throughout the Caribbean.

Mamey Apple - A large tropical fruit yields edible pulp that's tangerine in color. With a flavor similar to that of the peach, mammey turns up most often as jam.

 

Mango - Actually a native of India, this tropical fruit is a brightly colored fruit with a thick covering. This fruit is very sweet and often made into sauces, marinades, and sorbets. Green colored mangoes are an important ingredient in different hot sauces, condiments, soups and chutneys. Ripe mangoes appear in desserts and candies and in drinks. The best varieties of mango are the Bombay, East Indian, St. Julian and Hayden.

 

Manioke – Cassava or manioc in Tonga.

 

Maitai – Famous cocktail associated with the Pacific islands.

 

Mauby (or Mawby) - Mauby is the bark of a tropical tree. It is boiled with spices to make a Caribbean drink of the same name, reputed to lower blood cholesterol.

 

Miti – Mixture of coconut milk and water, with minced onion, salt and chili, commonly used as condiment for fish in Fiji.


Mojito - Cuban cocktail made with rum, lime and soda water.

 

Nama - Type of seaweed or colloquially known in Fiji as ‘sea grapes’. Sea grapes are used differently by other nations who prefer to cook them as part of a soup or stew, but in Fiji nama is traditionally used as a fresh vegetable or salad. Often used as a garnish but also served in a salad or coconut milk. Locals are known to mix them withkora (a fermented coconut paste) along with freshly grated coconut, chili, lemon juice and salt to create a thick paste of a condiment. The little pods are incredibly green and look like tiny little beads that pop once in your mouth into a sensory explosion.

 

Nutmeg - Jamaican cooks are insistent--when cooking their recipes, skip over the pre-ground nutmeg sold in supermarkets and buy the spice whole, grating it only as needed. Nutmeg, the inner kernel of the fruit is more flavorful when freshly grated. The spicy sweet  flavor of this aromatic spice makes it an excellent addition to cakes, puddings and drinks.

 

Ñame - This giant tuber could be called by any of a variety of different names. The Spanish translation of the word ñame isyam. The outer skin is brown and coarsely textured, while the insided is porous and very moist. The ñame grows to enormous size and is considered to be the "king" of tubers.

 

Okolehao – Hawaiian spirit made from the roots of the ti plant.

 

Okra, Okroes, Bhindi, Lady's Fingers, Gumbo - Finger-shaped vegetable, green-ridged and three to five inches in length used to thicken soups or cooked to be eaten whole. It was introduced to the Caribbean region by African slaves.

 

Oppot – Speciality of Chuuk (Federated States of Micronesia- FSM) made by alternating layers of banana leaves with pieces of ripe breadfruit, weighting it all down with stones and leaving it for months before eating, Particularly useful on long sea voyages.

 

Ota Miti – Young fern leaves served with coconut, onion and chili in the Pacific islands.

 

Otaheiti Apple - Yet another fruit introduced from the Pacific by Captain Bligh, the pear-shaped otaheiti apple ranges from pink to ruby red in color. This fruit is usually eaten fresh, though it can be packed in red wine or turned into a refreshing cold drink.

 

Palolo – Reproductive segments of the neiris sea worm, a delicacy in the Pacific islands.

 

Palusami – Fiji and Samoan equivalent of rukau.

 

Pandanus – Indispensable food plant on many atolls, yielding fruit and starch.

 

Papaya (lechoza and/or fruta bomba for Dominicans and Cubans and paw paw in the Pacific islands) - This native of South America big melon like fruit with a tasty orange colored filling is called PawPaw by many island natives. Papaya comes in a variety of shapes and sizes, it can range in weight from 8 ounces to 20 pounds. Papaya is used in desserts, salads, and drinks.

Green papaya is often used as an ingredient in chutney or relishes and makes a nice main dish when stuffed. When ripe, it is eaten as a melon, or served in fruit salad. Papaya juice makes a nice drink when sweetened with condensed milk or sugar.

 

Parcha (maracuyá) - Also known as yellow passion fruit, this is a round, green fruit with orange pulp.

 

Passion Fruit, Maracudja, Granadilla: Passion fruit (parcha, chinola, or ceibey) - Round or oval fruits with green-orange pulp and sour-sweet flavor.

Oval-shaped fruit that has a tough shell and a color range from yellow-purple to eggplant to deep chocolate. The golden-yellow pulp is sweet and tropically exotic, and must be strained to remove the seeds. Used primarily in juices, desserts, drinks and sauces.

 

Peas - Jamaicans refer to nearly all beans as "peas." Kidney beans are probably the most popular. Gungo (pigeon) peas have also been a hit since their introduction from West Africa by the Spanish, as have cow peas, black-eyed peas, and butter, lima and broad (also called fava) beans. They are the island's primary source of protein--even more than meat. Smaller peas are used in Rice and Peas while larger-sized peas often appear in savory stews and side dishes.

 

Pe’epe’e – Coconut cream obtained by straining grated coconut in Samoa.

 

Peke Peke – Coconut cream in Tonga.

 

Pia – Arrowroot flour.

 

Picadillo - Spicy Cuban hash, made of ground beef and cooked with olives and raisins.

 

Pichi-pichi - a traditional dessert made with coconut and cassava in Palau.

 

Pick-a-Peppa Sauce - A mango-tamarind based spicy pepper sauce from Jamaica.

 

Pimento - Just to keep things interesting, Jamaicans call what the world knows as allspice "Pimento"--a word that elsewhere refers o bell peppers or chiles. The more global name refers to the allspice berry, which has the taste of nutmeg, cinnamon, black pepper and clove. Allspice is used in numerous Jamaican classics, from Escoveitched Fish to Jerk Pork.

 

Plantain (plátano) or cooking bananas - Staple food throughout the Caribbean region. Technically a banana-family fruit, but generally regarded as a vegetable. Inedible raw, cooked plantains are served as appetizers or starchy side dishes. The unripe (green), ripe (yellow) and very ripe (dark) plantains are used in Caribbean cooking. They become slightly sweet as they ripen. Green plantains are frequently fried to be served with fritters. Thinly sliced and fried plantains are a crunchy treat similar to potato chips.

 

Po’e – Tahitian word for a similar preparation to poi but made with breadfruit.

 

Queneps (kenepas, limoncillos, or mamoncillo) - Also known as Spanish limes, this fruit appears like green grapes. The sweet yellow flesh is surrounded by a large inedible pit.

 

Ropa Vieja Shredded beef in a spicy sauce. Means “old clothes” in Spanish, prepared by cooking shredded beef in a sauce full of spices. 

Roti - Caribbean dish with Indian influence. Roti is made from wrapping a piece of flat bread around vegetables or meat. 

 

Rukau - Taro Leaves Cooked in Coconut Cream in Cook Islands.


Salsas - are flavored sauces loaded with chili peppers, herbs, spices, and fruits. These tasty condiments are usually spicy and add great flavor to any meal. 

 

Saltfish (Bacalao on the Spanish-speaking islands, and Morue on the French-speaking islands) – Saltwater dried fish which is salted and dried. Most often it is made with cod, but can be made with mackerel, herring or haddock. Served with Ackee as a specialty in Jamaica. Bujol is a salted codfish salad made with onions and peppers. Ackee and Saltfish is the preferred breakfast of Jamaicans.

 

Scotch Bonnet Peppers - The fiery Scotch bonnet pepper, ranging in colors from yellow to orange to red, is considered the leading hot pepper in Jamaica, though several other varieties have recently been developed. Some peppers are sold whole, others are dried and ground, and still others are processed into sauces, such as Jamaica Hell Fire. If you can't get your hands (wash them afterward!) on Scotch bonnets, you can substitute habaneros or jalapenos.


Sofrito - Spanish tomato sauce made with herbs, chilies, tomatoes, garlic, onions, bell peppers, and cilantro. Sofrito is an important component of Asopao and numerous other Puerto Rican soups, stews and vegetable dishes.

 

Sorrel  (roselle, flor de Jamaica) - Brought from India by way of Malaysia, this unusual plant was introduced to Jamaica by the British soon after 1655. A tropical flower grown throughout Caribbean  islands, it is boiled with other ingredients such as cloves, orange zest, and ginger, and then sweetened to make drinks, jams and jellies. The spicy-tart beverage is a beautiful raspberry-grape color, and is a Christmas tradition throughout the English-speaking islands.

 

Soursop, Corossol, Guanabana - Elongated, spike-covered fruit, slightly tart and delicately flavored. The sour juice from this fruit is a common ingredient in many sorbets and drinks. Stamp and Go - these deep fried cod meat patties are seasoned with chilies and annatto to create a distinct flavor. Excellent Stamp and Go can be found in Jamaica. 

 

Stamp and Go, Baclaitos - Codfish patties fried in heavy batter which has been flavored with onions, annatto, and chiles.

 

Star Apple - An important part of a traditional dessert known a as matrimony, the star apple is a succulent round fruit about the size of an orange. Native to Jamaica and the Greater Antilles, the skin of this fruit is either a shiny purple color or a less eye-catching green. No matter what color, the flesh of the star apple is delicious.

 

Star fruit - Unusually shaped fruit with golden yellow skin and crisp juicy flesh.

 

Stinking Toe - Pod that resembles a human toe, this bizarre fruit possesses an evil-smelling and rough exterior. The sugary power inside can be devoured on the spot or turned into a flavorful custard or beverage.

 

Sugar Apple, Sweetsop - An interesting challenge to eat, the flesh of the sweetsop is actually a collection of black seeds surrounded by sweet white pulp. The sweetsop is native to the tropical Americas.

 

Tamarind (tamarindo) – Fruit of a very large tree is an ingredient in Worcestershire sauce, curries, and other sauces.  This decorative tree produces brown pods containing a sweet and tangy pulp that's used for flavoring everything from beverages to curries and sauces--including Angostura bitters and Pickapeppa sauce. It is also an important ingredient in Jamaican folk medicine.

 

Taro - Staple of the Fijian diet for centuries. Taro is a heavy, potato-like root with a violet hue.

Can be mashed and boiled like a potato and cut into fries or chips. All elements of the ingredient can be used, including the leaves of the taro as mentioned above.Taro leaves can be fried into fritters or even boiled in coconut milk to create a great spinach-like dish. A particularly comforting and flavorsome dish involving taro is kolokasi – a chicken and taro stew. Also taro soup, taro salads or rosti-style taro cakes in Palau. 

 

Tinola - Soup made with chicken and papaya and ginger in Palau.

Tostones are green plantains sliced and fried, pounded flat and refried to form crispy chips.

 

Ulkoy - Crunchy, deep fried shrimp and squash fritters in Palau. 

 

Ura - Freshwater prawns (Cook Islands).

 

West Indian Pumpkin (Calabaza)- A member of the gourd, squash and melon family, possessing a sweet flavor similar to that of butternut squash, this firm-textured vegetable is commonly found in soups, stews, breads and sweetened puddings. Though hardly the same, the best substitutes for calabaza are Hubbard, butternut and acorn squash.

 

Yam (ñame) - Similar in size and color to the potato, but nuttier in flavor, it is not be confused with the Southern sweet yam or sweet potato. Caribbean yams are served boiled, mashed or baked.

 

Yautía (taniers) - A member of the taro root family, the yautía is the size of a potato, but more pear-shaped. It has a brown fuzzy outer skin. The flesh is white and slimy and is custard-like when cooked. It is one of the most natural thickeners, used to thicken soups, stews, and bean dishes.

 

Yuca (manioc or cassava). Yuca is very tasty whether fried, baked, or boiled. Yuca is a common ingredient in tapioca, syrup, and casareep. Yuca can also be used to make bread. Universally made into flour for breads and cakes, and used as a base for tapioca.