The Jamaican Origins Of Hummingbird Cake

If you're a fan of fruit making an appearance in your favorite desserts, then discovering the famed hummingbird cake may make your day. This Jamaican cake showcases some of the best fruit grown in the country, specifically bananas, and pineapples. The mashed fruits are blended into an airy carrot cake and flavored with aromatic vanilla, nutmeg, and cinnamon, according to Epicurious. And, Southern Americans will recognize the cake as being smeared with cream cheese frosting.

The New York Times notes this cake is easy to whip up, with the simple ingredients highlighting the special flavors of Jamaica. However, while this cake likely originated in Jamaica, the elements of this recipe are not seen in traditional Jamaican baking, and the cake is arguably more popular in America than in Jamaica itself. So, you might be asking yourself how and why this cake is so strongly associated with the country — and one of its stunning hummingbird species.

Sweet as nectar

According to Epicurious, the first rendition of the famed cake was created in the late '60s by the Jamaica Tourist Board. In an effort to showcase certain fruits of the island, the board concocted the recipe and sent it out to Jamaican newspapers. After newspapers published the recipe, this pineapple-and-banana-flavored dessert became a hit and circulated throughout the American South, according to Jamie Oliver.

The first name given to the recipe was "Doctor bird cake," inspired by a nickname for the Red-billed Streamertail, a Jamaican variety of hummingbird. The exact reasons behind this namesake are debated. One of the origin stories states that it's because the cake was considered as sweet as nectar and thus able to attract the beautiful birds. Others argue it was more about aesthetics, noting the yellow streaks in the cake are similar to the bird's beak, according to The New York Times.

However, Epicurious notes that this moist, fluffy cake is not a part of any traditional Jamaican cooking techniques or recipes, rather it likely comes from British influence. Because of this, some argue that the hummingbird cake highlights the difference between how the world sees and stereotypes Jamaica rather than how Jamaica sees itself. To some, it embodies the idealized resort-style aesthetics that compete with the truly authentic local beauty, making this sweet cake much more than an ordinary dessert but an indisputable part of a larger, important conversation.