Mixte épice Martinique
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The spices of Creole cuisineA taste of the Antilles

Spices of the Creole cuisine

Spices, aromatics, condiments and herbs are indissociable from Creole cuisine. We’re lucky in the West Indies to find many of these in their natural state or in the Creole garden. Vanilla, bois d’Inde, cinnamon, nutmeg have always abounded in traditional dishes. Not forgetting spice blends that are sure to remind you of the taste of Martinique…

The curcuma

Curcuma longa, family Zingiberaceae

Used in India for over 4,000 years, this rhizome once called turmeric (this is still its name in English) is derived from the Arabic word “kourkoum” meaning “saffron”. Although the curcuma is referred to here as “saffron”, saffron and turmeric are two totally different spices. Turmeric is in the same family as ginger and cardamom. This lightly scented spice has a warm but mild flavor that goes perfectly with salads and dressings: feel free to put it everywhere, it’s a powerful anti-oxidant! It colors scrambled eggs, rice, pasta and can even be added to desserts… It’s the basic ingredient in blends used in world cuisine such as colombo, curry or massala.

The ginger

Zingiber officinale, family Zingiberaceae

The ginger, native to India and China, is one of the oldest spices, known since time immemorial in the Far East.This rhizome is to Asian cuisine what garlic is to Western. Its fresh root, finely chopped (or powdered), flavors salads, meats, sauces and fish. Marinated in vinegar, it is an essential condiment for sushi, while candied in sugar, it becomes a delicacy. Imported to the West Indies by the Spanish, we love its peppery, lemony flavor in colombo or macerated in a rhum arrangé ! A perfect partner for both sweet and savory dishes, it enhances gingerbread, fish or melon.


Cinnamomum zeylanicum, family Lauraceae

Original to Sri Lanka and Burma, the cinnamon is the oldest spice and one of the few with a bark. Derived from the cinnamon tree, 10 to 15 m tall, cinnamon has long been unaffordable. Its use is very common in the West Indies: it goes equally well with soups, meat or fish dishes and cakes. It’s an essential ingredient in traditional hot chocolate, and a delicious addition to rum-based aperitifs. A word of advice: grate the bark directly onto your preparations (you can find it at any market or supermarket), it’s nothing like ready-made spices!

The nutmeg

Myristica fragrans, family Myristicaceae

The nutmeg is the fruit of the nutmeg tree, native to the Moluccan Archipelago on the island of Banda. This majestic tree (it can reach 10m!) with its fragrant leaves and delicate white flowers produces an orange fruit containing the famous nutmeg. Only female nutmeg trees bear fruit, so one male tree is planted for every 20 females, and reproduction is by pollination. Nutmeg as we know it is in fact the kernel of a fruit wrapped (the almond) in a shell covered with a sort of scarlet-colored mesh (the anil) called mace. Both are used almost identically in cooking, their taste quite similar even if the mace is more subtle and the walnut more aromatic according to enthusiasts!

Here, it’s used to enhance many savory dishes, gratins, desserts, punches and even hot chocolate. It is grated by hand

Be careful, however, not to be too heavy-handed: above 20g, the dose of nutmeg can prove highly toxic, even fatal…


The clove

Eugenia Caryophyllata, family Myrtaceae

The flower bud of the clove tree or “Nail Tree” native to the Moluccan Islands, it is now grown in Indonesia, Madagascar, the Caribbean and South America. It is harvested unhatched and dried in the sun for 3 days. Used as a spice in cooking, the clove has a fruity, pungent and bitter flavor. It’s also used for its memory-stimulating properties and for its aphrodisiac virtues…

The Indian wood

Pimenta racemos,family Myrtaceae

From an endemic tree, the berries and leaves of the Indian wood make up one of the Caribbean’s most typical spices. Its fragrant seeds, once used by Amerindians, develop several aromas reminiscent of black pepper, cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg (hence the name “four-spice”, “allspice” in English). Dried or ground, they brighten up pork brines and cured meats, spice up fish blaffs and heat up all your stews… The leaves can also be used as a condiment, like bay leaves, and are part of many local specialties, such as Cochon de Noël. They keep easily in an airtight jar and are harder to find commercially than seeds… They are also the basis of the famous “Bay rum” lotion marketed in the West Indies, Saint Lucia or Dominica, used as a massage lotion to relieve aches, pains and chills.

The spice blends

The colombo

This spice blend was introduced to the West Indies by coolies, immigrants from the East Indies between 1852 and 1865. Its name probably comes from the Sri Lankan capital, Colombo. The Creole equivalent of curry, this fragrant mixture gave its name to the Colombo, a typical West Indian dish, the famous spicy stew of meats (cabri, chicken, pork), ouassous or fish (shark, marlin) served with rice and vegetables. This fragrant ochre powder is essentially made up of coriander, turmeric, ginger, cumin, paprika, fenugreek, yellow mustard, chilli, garlic, pepper and cloves, all finely ground and browned in oil. Cinnamon, saffron, cardamom or tamarind are sometimes added.

Scorching seeds

Composition: cumin, fenugreek and mustard.

This blend quickly dry-roasted or in a little oil in a pan flavors meat recipes. It’s indispensable for browning meat (chicken, pork, lamb) before simmering your colombo.

The four-spice

Composition: Cinnamon, ginger, clove, nutmeg

Very widely used in Creole cuisine, the local version contains no pepper. This highly fragrant, powerful blend can be used for both savory and sweet dishes: pork stew, cakes. A pinch in my planteur is perfect!