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What is the difference between Jamaican jerk and Caribbean jerk seasoning?

Jerk is a style of cooking native to Jamaica in which meat is dry-rubbed or wet marinated with a hot spice mixture called Jamaican jerk spice. Jerk seasoning originated amongst Jamaican Maroons, African slaves who escaped into the mountainous interior of Jamaica during the era of Spanish occupation and fought against the British military during the 18th century.

Jerk cooking techniques and seasoning blends are now popular throughout the Caribbean as well as internationally. However, there are distinct differences between traditional Jamaican jerk seasoning and the mass-produced “Caribbean jerk” seasoning blends that are commonly sold outside of Jamaica.

What is Jamaican Jerk?

Authentic Jamaican jerk originated in Jamaica and involved seasoning meat with a wet marinade or dry rub, then cooking over pimento wood. The traditional method of jerk cooking in Jamaica involves digging a hole in the ground, placing pimento wood logs in the hole, placing the seasoned meat on grills placed over the hole, and cooking the meat covered with zinc sheeting.

This method allows the meat to be infused with smoke from the aromatic pimento wood while retaining moisture and tenderness. Jerk pork, chicken, fish, sausage, and goat are the most common meats used. Typical Jamaican jerk seasoning ingredients include:

  • Allspice berries (also called pimento)
  • Scotch bonnet peppers
  • Onions
  • Garlic
  • Thyme
  • Salt
  • Black pepper
  • Cinnamon
  • Nutmeg
  • Brown sugar

These ingredients deliver a flavor profile of heat and sweetness balanced by aromatic spices. The allspice berries grown in Jamaica give true Jamaican jerk its distinctive peppery taste. Scotch bonnet peppers are also integral to making traditional spicy and fiery Jamaican jerk.

What is Caribbean Jerk?

Outside of Jamaica, the term “Caribbean jerk” has become a more generic marketing label for seasoning blends inspired by the traditional Jamaican style of jerk. However, most commercial Caribbean jerk seasoning blends are made with ingredients that differ significantly from real Jamaican jerk.

Common ingredients in Caribbean jerk seasoning blends include:

  • Chili peppers
  • Onions
  • Garlic
  • Paprika
  • Dried thyme
  • Brown sugar
  • Salt
  • Black pepper
  • Cinnamon
  • Nutmeg
  • Allspice

The most noticeable difference is that Scotch bonnet peppers are often replaced with generic dried chili peppers, and the authentic pimento berries/allspice from Jamaica is substituted with generic allspice seasoning. Caribbean jerk seasoning blends also tend to be heavily diluted with paprika to replicate the desired red-orange color.

While Caribbean jerk blends take inspiration from Jamaican jerk, they lack the specific ingredients and traditional techniques that make real Jamaican jerk unique. Most commercial Caribbean jerk seasonings provide more of a hint of jerk flavor rather than an authentic re-creation.

Key Differences Between Jamaican Jerk and Caribbean Jerk

Jamaican Jerk Caribbean Jerk
Uses authentic pimento berries/allspice grown in Jamaica Uses generic allspice/allspice powder
Contains Scotch bonnet peppers Contains generic dried chili peppers
More complex blend of spices Simplified blend focused on heat
Traditionally cooked over pimento wood Cooking method not specified
Dry rub or wet marinade Usually sold as a dry spice blend
Spicy and aromatic Mainly spicy and less aromatic

As demonstrated in the table, while Caribbean jerk captures the spicy essence of Jamaican jerk, it lacks the complexity, authentic ingredients and traditional cooking techniques.

How to Use Jamaican Jerk vs. Caribbean Jerk

Jamaican jerk can refer to either a wet marinade or a dry rub, while Caribbean jerk is sold as pre-made dry spice blends.

To use Jamaican jerk as a marinade:

  • Blend wet jerk marinade ingredients, like onions, garlic, scotch bonnets, allspice, etc.
  • Marinate protein (chicken, pork, fish) for hours or overnight.
  • Cook over pimento wood or charcoal.

For Jamaican jerk as a dry rub:

  • Blend dry spice mix with ingredients like allspice, thyme, brown sugar.
  • Coat protein evenly with dry rub.
  • Cook over pimento wood or charcoal.

For Caribbean jerk seasoning:

  • Follow instructions on dry Caribbean jerk seasoning blend.
  • Typically used as a dry rub on meats before cooking.
  • Can be added to recipes for heat and spice.

While Caribbean jerk can provide spice and heat, it will not replicate the complex flavor or traditional cooking techniques of true Jamaican jerk.

Examples of Popular Brands

Jamaican Jerk

  • Walkerswood Jamaican Jerk Seasoning
  • Grace Jamaican Jerk Seasoning
  • Spice Island Jamaican Jerk Seasoning
  • Huckleberry Hill Jamaican Jerk Rub

These brands import ingredients like authentic Jamaican pimento berries and Scotch bonnet peppers to create authentic jerk flavor.

Caribbean Jerk

  • Badia Caribbean Jerk Seasoning
  • McCormick Caribbean Jerk Seasoning
  • Adobo Caribbean Jerk Seasoning
  • Spice Hunter Caribbean Jerk Rub

These commercial brands use generic dried spices to create a Caribbean-inspired jerk seasoning, though typically not true Jamaican jerk.

Should You Use Jamaican Jerk or Caribbean Jerk?

Here are some factors to consider when deciding between Jamaican jerk and Caribbean jerk:

  • Authenticity: If you want true, authentic Jamaican jerk flavor, use Jamaican jerk seasoning and marinades made with pimento and Scotch bonnets.
  • Heat: Caribbean jerk blends tend to focus on spiciness, while Jamaican jerk offers complexity and nuanced spicy-sweetness.
  • Convenience: Premade Caribbean jerk seasoning is easier to find and use compared to making homemade Jamaican marinades.
  • Cost: Authentic Jamaican jerk ingredients can be pricier than generic Caribbean jerk seasoning.
  • Cooking method: To get the true jerk cooking experience, you need to use traditional Jamaican techniques.

In the end, it depends on the authenticity you want for your dish and how much effort you are willing to put in. Caribbean jerk makes a convenient substitute, but for true Jamaican jerk flavor, go with true Jamaican ingredients and cooking methods.


While Caribbean jerk seasoning certainly captures the essence of Jamaican jerk’s heat and spice, it does not provide the full complexity of traditional Jamaican jerk’s flavor profile. True Jamaican jerk relies on specific ingredients like Scotch bonnets and Jamaican allspice berries as well as cooking techniques using pimento wood smoke and wet marinades or dry rubs.

If you have the option, try to source authentic Jamaican jerk spices and marinades to experience the difference from commercial Caribbean jerk blends. However, Caribbean jerk can be a tasty shortcut for adding a kick of spice and heat inspired by the classic Jamaican cooking tradition.