30 Aug Andrew’s Essential Fiery Food Facts that a Pyro-Gourmaniac needs to Know Part 39
Fiery Cuisines Part 28…… Jamaican Ital Cuisine
People that know me or have read my rants know I love so many unusual ethnic cuisines, specially when they use rice and spice, that sometimes it’s hard for me to choose which is my favourite. However, what remains my favourite and is a big reason why SHASHEMANE started out is Jamaican Ital food. Jamaican Ital food, is my absolute favourite cuisine. Jamaican cuisine was influenced by so many cultures including Spain, China, India, Africa, Europe and the Middle East, which means there are a large variety of ingredients, spices and flavours that combined make this a truly unique cuisine.
Many Jamaican dishes have meat or fish, but Ital cuisine is usually vegetarian and more times than not vegan. Originally developed by followers of the Rastafarians faith, Ital food is a natural way of cooking that tries to avoid processed food, additives, oil, salt and sugar. Since the 1940s, Rastafarians have disapproved of processed food. Herbs and hot chillies like Scotch Bonnets are a frequent substitute for salt. Sugar is usually avoided, and only a little dark raw sugar sweetens some food on occasion. Though vegan food wasn’t popular in 1970s mainstream Jamaica, it wasn’t unusual for Rastafarians to make their own tofu, veggie mince, and soymilk from scratch. Generally, ital ingredients are directly from the Earth, and local markets are a popular place to find fresh vegetables. It’s common for some Rastas to blend their own herbs and spices to create flavor specific to their taste. Traditional ital food includes beans, peas, callaloo, and coconut, which are part of traditional Jamaican cuisine as well. Now, a whole generation has lived to see ital become a more accepted part of Jamaican cuisine. The word Ital comes from the English word “vital” with the initial syllable replaced by the letter “i” to signify unity with nature. While Ital food and recipes may vary greatly, the common goal is to increase “livity” or the life energy believed to be within all living beings. So, it is believed food should be as natural and pure as possible. Despite the general guidelines, there aren’t rigid rules about what to eat or how to make ital food. In fact, there is a tendency to experiment with food. If an ingredient isn’t available, then some Rastas will try something else. Meat is omitted because consuming dead flesh does not promote Livity. Dairy is not consumed, as it is considered unnatural for humans to consume cow’s milk. Foods that promote Livity come from the earth and are therefore limited to plants. No Salt is used as Iodized salt is avoided, because it has been chemically processed. Sea salt is sometimes used, as this is unprocessed. No Processed, Chemically-Altered, or Artificial Foods are consumed as these foods are unnatural and considered harmful to the body. Minimally processed foods are encouraged and cooked/prepared simply. No Alcohol, Soft drinks, or Caffeinated Beverages are drank. Alcohol is forbidden because it fogs the mind and is destructive to the body. It is also looked down upon because of its negative impact on society. Soft drinks and caffeine are avoided because they are deemed unhealthy for the body. Organic Food is Encouraged. The use of synthetic fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides, and other chemicals is strongly discouraged. Metal and Plastic Cookware is Avoided, Strict Rastas use clay or wood pots, dishes, and cutlery, in an attempt to stay close to nature.
Food can be influenced by other cultures. For example, Ghanaian peanut stew can get the Jamaican treatment with Ehallots, thyme, coconut milk and baby spinach added. The decision to eat Ital food may be a spiritual one to many, a health-related one to others or a compassionate one out a concerned with animals. Whatever the reasons people choose, Ital food and Jamaican food are uniquely delicious. Since I left the UK and could no longer visit or eat at Jamaican or Ital restaurants, I had to learn how to make my own versions of ITAL food. From that we ventured into opening SHASHEMANE ITAL RESTAURANT at Cabarita Beach, where we shared some of the most common ingredients, dishes and recipes that I had taught myself so others could enjoy authentic Jamaican food on the Tweed Coast.
Jamaican Ital food is rich in flavour due to its use of aromatics, herbs and spices such as Cayenne, Paprika, Garlic, Onion, Eshallots, Black pepper, Oregano,Thyme, Ginger, Nutmeg and Pimento. Pimento, which is also known as Allspice is made up of the dried berries of the Pimento plant, which is native to Jamaica. The Pimento berry has a unique flavour and aroma reminiscent of a combination of Cloves, Nutmeg, Cinnamon and Pepper which is how it got its common name allspice. Thyme is a common herb in Jamaican cooking for both its flavour and its ability to substitute for salt. Herbs and hot Chillies are frequently used as salt substitutes in Ital Cooking.
One of the best known Jamaican spice blend is Jerk seasoning, which can be a dry rub or a paste. It is most commonly used to marinate meat but, it can be used for other foods as well. Jerk seasoning is made up of Pimento, Cinnamon, Brown sugar, Chilli flakes, Cumin, Cloves, Black pepper, Thyme, Eshallots and Scotch Bonnet chillies.
Scotch Bonnet Chillies a member of the Capsicum Chinense family are essential to Jamaican cuisine. They are related to and look like Habaneros, but their taste is completely different and unique. Scotch Bonnets have a tropical fruity flavour and are extremely spicy with a heat rating of 150,000 – 325,000 Scoville Units ,compared to 5,000 units for a jalapeno. To get the flavour with less of the heat, the seeds can be removed from the Chilli or the Chilli can be added whole during cooking and removed before eating.
The beautiful tropical climate of Jamaica means there is an abundance of fruits such as Mangoes, Avocados, Pawpaws, Bananas, Pineapple, Guava, Coconuts, ackee and Plantains. Ackee is the national fruit of Jamaica. It is a bright red tropical fruit that has soft, creamy yellow flesh. Ackee is hard to find outside of Jamaica because it can be dangerous if the fruit is opened before it’s ripe, it lets off a toxic gas that can be lethal. All of the tropical fruit available means there is no lack of ingredients for beverages. At our restaurant we served a wide variety of smoothies and juices for health and healing purposes
Coconut is a basic ingredient in Jamaican and Ital cooking. Every part of the Coconut is used. The milk is the base for many dishes especially stews. The flesh of young Coconuts is eaten and the water is a popular beverage. When the Coconut is fully mature, it is used to make Coconut oil, the only oil used in Traditional Ital cooking.
Avocados are frequently used in salads, side dishes and with bread and bullas which is a firm sweet cake made with stale bread. Roasted Breadfruit is also a common Jamaican dish. Plantains which look like bananas but they are very different. They need to be cooked before eating. When they are unripe, Plantains have the consistency of potatoes. Plantains can be made into chips, baked, mashed, pureed, or sauteed. They can be used for snacks, side dishes, desserts or put into soups and stews.
Sweet Potatoes and Yams are often used in Jamaican dishes as is Yucca root. Yucca root, also known as Cassava, is a tuber with white, starchy flesh. This versatile vegetable can be boiled, steamed or processed into Tapioca flour. The leaves of the plant are also edible. Yucca root is often ground into a meal and used to make bread. Bammy is a traditional Jamaican flatbread sold in stores and by street vendors. One of my favourite vegetable used in Jamaican food is Callalloo. Callalloo is a leafy green that is somewhat similar to spinach, but spicier. Steamed Callalloo is eaten at breakfast, lunch and dinner. You can prepare Callalloo in the same way you would spinach. Beans, Peas and legumes are frequently used in Jamaican dishes. While most of the ingredients used in Jamaican cuisine are local foods, Ital food has expanded to include foods not normally found locally. Tofu, Soy chunks, vegan “meat,” and Soy and Almond milk are used in Ital dishes and are usually made from scratch.