The History of Jerk
Jamaica's Seasoned Style
Like many regionally characteristic foods, the Jamaican jerk style of cooking has a compelling and colorful history. Jerk seasoning is traditionally either a wet or dry-rubbed marinade that contains a variety of ingredients - most importantly allspice and scotch bonnet peppers. Other common ingredients include nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, garlic, thyme, and salt. Although the preparation was originally used to treat pork and chicken, jerk seasonings today are applied to many different proteins.
The etymological origin of jerk is somewhat murky. The work “jerk” is perhaps a derivative of the Spanish word “charqui”, which means jerky. Other theories contend that jerk refers the effect the intense spice has upon the palate. Still others attribute the term to the process of poking the meat during cooking, which allows the spices to penetrate more deeply.
The method itself is largely credited to escaped African slaves during the colonial era. These slaves, known as Maroons, eluded the British troops for many years in Jamaica’s Blue Mountains. The diet of these fugitives was predominantly supported by hunting the wild boar that were numerous in this area. To prepare the meat, the Maroons combined African cooking methods with elements of the native Arawak indians meat preservation techniques. This slow roasting process was further enhanced by the myriad of the new spices made available by pirates at the time.
Whatever its origins, jerk has evolved to become a distinct and celebrated style of Jamaican cooking. Family recipes are closely guarded secrets, competitively pitted against rival offerings. The spicy complexity of jerk cooking makes it a popular preparation the world over - although it’s tough to beat the real deal for tongue searing authenticity.