Caribbean cuisine is named for the geographic location where it is primarily served. To appreciate the food, one must know the history behind it. The first meals made with distinct spices grown in this area of the world dates to 650 A.D. It was the Carib, Arawak, and Taino tribes that first used fragrant fruits like cassava, guava, and papaya, all of which can still be found on the islands today.

The Arawaks were known for cooking meats slowly, using clay pots. They believed that the flavor profile enhanced the outcome with slow cooking. They would often make large fires with specific types of wood to get the flavor they wanted. Then, they would allow the wood to burn down to amber coals. When the coals were just right, the cooking began. The ancient cooks monitored their fires carefully, to keep the meat from burning. When the dish was almost complete, the "jerk" seasons were put on top. The slang term quickly became a household name for this specific seasoning profile.

Since the temperatures in this region are sweltering, the goal was to cook meats for preservation. It has been more than 1,300 years, and locals and tourists still cannot get enough of the cuisine's pungent spices and fiery blends. Because fruits are plentiful in the Caribbean, natives found ingenious ways to incorporate them into their dishes.

The eclectic foods are just as diverse as the creators. It is the fusion of many cultures, such as African, Indonesian, Portuguese, French, and English that makes Caribbean cuisine so enticing. Though rice is not native to the area, it is used in many of their cuisines.

Most people do not realize what an influence the Caribbean culture has on foods in America. Ever had a slice of key lime pie? What about coconut shrimp or chicken kabobs? The backyard barbecue is often credited to locals in Kansas City. However, historical records show that the Arawak created this unique cooking method, and they were located in the Caribbean.

While other cultures have some claim to this style of cooking, the actual rights belong to the Arawak native tribe. Adding things like a juicy pineapple to a pizza or avocados to hamburgers indicates Jamaican influence. While we Americans tend to be more reserved in blending fruit with meat recipes, Caribbean cuisines take advantage of their abundant fruit crops.

June is designated as National Caribbean-American Heritage Month. Every year, Washington D.C. has the Jamaican Jerk Festival to commemorate Caribbean heritage and their cuisine. No matter where you live, you can celebrate the thrills and tastes of the Caribbean islands with tropically-inspired recipes.

Caribbean Shrimp

This spicy masterpiece has a delightful blend of spices that makes the shrimp a flavorful bite. It also includes the complex sweetness of molasses and tart lime juice. Cayenne pepper gives it just enough heat to call it Jamaican style, and you can adjust it according to individual taste.

Colorful Caribbean Nachos

Flavors explode when you mix Mexican and the Caribbean spices together. Nothing is better than a bed of warm nachos with green onions, bell peppers, and the meat of your choice. A generous topping of cheese is the final touch of perfection.

Caribbean Caviar

Forget a boring three bean salad -- this Caribbean caviar is more impressive! The outstanding flavors of lime, cumin, avocado, mint, and okra create a tasty and colorful dish. Add this to a menu featuring Jerk chicken or simply serve it as a standalone dish. It is an elegant snack that showcases the flavors of the islands -- it only takes about ten minutes to prepare. 

Jerk Cole Slaw

This tangy, sweet, and savory slaw has mangoes, yogurt, apple cider vinegar, onions, and fresh cilantro. The sweetness of the yogurt and mangoes combine well with the savory elements, creating a crunchy treat everyone will enjoy. 

Caribbean Salsa

Chips and salsa is a popular appetizer. Instead of the usual tomato type, try this Caribbean version, loaded with pineapple, mango, and papaya. You can serve it with chips or as a zesty sandwich condiment. You will be impressed how well the onion and red peppers complement the fruit. 

Jamaican Fish with Mango Salsa

What do you get when you mix curry powder, allspice, coriander, paprika, ground fennel seed, and cayenne pepper? A fish dish with a flavorful profile that thrills your taste buds. The fantastic thing about this recipe is that you can use any fish you like, or even with scallops. Help your family discover grilled fish with a whole new twist. 

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