What Sets Jamaican Curry Powder Apart From Others?

Jamaican curry powder is a beloved spice blend that is used in many popular Jamaican dishes. It gives an earthy and spicy richness to curried goat, acts as a seasoning for both the filling and the dough of Jamaican beef patties, and provides a great flavor for marinating meats. However, while this spice mix has become a staple in Jamaican cuisine, Jamaican curry powder actually draws its inspiration from another nation.

Curry powder first came about as the British looked to export the flavors of India they enjoyed after colonizing the country in the late 1700s. As workers from India arrived in Jamaica as indentured servants, Jamaicans were introduced to their traditional dishes, including masalas and the many spices that were used to create them. Over time, the spice mixes of India blended with that of Jamaica, and curry powder evolved into the spice mix we know and love today.

What does Jamaican curry powder taste like?

Jamaican curry powder has an earthy quality from the inclusion of turmeric, which provides it with its yellow-orange color, and a tangy bite from the addition of fenugreek. It also has nutty and citrusy notes from coriander and cumin. But perhaps the biggest thing that makes Jamaican curry powder stand out from other curry powders is the use of allspice, which is known for its multidimensional flavor and adds its own, herbaceous and warm twist to the mix.

Like many other spice blends, the recipe can vary. Some versions of it contain mustard seeds and spices like nutmeg and ginger; others include star anise, which may be a nod to the Chinese indentured laborers who came to the island. There are even versions made with cayenne peppers, which are perfect for those who are looking to add a bit more heat to their dishes.

Jamaican curry powder vs. Indian curry powder

There are some noticeable similarities and distinct differences between Jamaican curry powder and Indian curry powder, even though one served as the inspiration for the other. The curry powder you see on supermarket shelves was originally created to mimic the flavors of masalas, or spice mixes, from the Indian port city of Madras, now known as Chennai. Both Jamaican and Indian curry powders share turmeric as a main ingredient, but there's a larger amount of turmeric in Jamaican curry powder. You'll also see cumin and coriander. Fenugreek is another featured spice in both types of curry powder.

The greatest difference between the two spice mixes comes into play when examining heat levels. Indian curry powders tend to have more chile powder in them while Jamaican curry powder. Some commercial versions may have a bit of cayenne pepper in them, but most recipes usually omit that spice. So Jamaican curry powder is more mild in that way. Jamaican cooks usually prefer to use fresh Scotch bonnet peppers to bring heat to their dishes.

Jamaican curry powder vs. Japanese curry powder

Jamaican curry powder and Japanese curry powder share some ingredients. Both contain turmeric as well as coriander and fenugreek. While both tend to be milder than Indian curry powder, Japanese curry powder is also known for being a bit sweet. It may be some of the different elements found in Japanese curry powder that are not used in Jamaican curry powder that lends to this taste difference. Orange peel is often used in Japanese curry powder, giving it a bit of citrus flavor. Cinnamon and fennel seeds can be found in this style of curry powder as well.

In Japan, cooks will often use curry cubes that contain Japanese curry powder and wheat flour. The addition of flour helps to make the curry sauce thicker by acting as a roux. These also include mustard and celery seeds, which are ingredients not found in Jamaican curry powder.

How to cook with Jamaican curry powder

Jamaican curry powder plays a central role in many of the country's popular dishes, including curried goat, a stew made from pieces of goat meat that is slow-cooked along with onions, garlic, ginger, scotch bonnet peppers, and potatoes. This spice mix gives the dish some pepperiness and a clove-like taste. Chicken curry is another beloved dish made with Jamaican curry powder and is usually paired with onions, garlic, ginger, and scotch bonnet peppers.

Try Jamaican curry powder in place of Indian-style curry powder. Some traditional Indian dishes, such as chana masala, have become part of Jamaican food culture, albeit with a regional twist, so try this powder in a chickpea curry. Or, it would work great with lamb or in a Jamaican chicken and sweet potato curry.

Jamaican curry powder can boost the taste of any dish, from egg salad to grilled fish, and can add an herbal earthiness to spice rub for meat or bring flavor to rice. Jamaican curry powder can also be used to season or it can be mixed with mayo to make a curry aioli of sorts, which would be a wonderful way to brighten up a sandwich.

Where to buy Jamaican curry powder

Jamaican curry powder can be found in some large supermarket chains. If your supermarket has an international section, this powder is usually sold alongside other popular products from Jamaica, such as jerk seasoning. It's also usually available in specialty shops that focus on Caribbean food products. There are a number of online shopping options from major retailers as well and some spice companies offer up their own blends of Jamaican curry powder.

Jamaican curry powder isn't too expensive. You can expect to pay close to $3 for 4 ounces depending on the store, but you may score a better price per ounce for larger containers of this spice mix. It's usually available in regular and hot versions. If you can't find Jamaican curry powder, you can try using Indian-style curry powder — but you might want to add a bit of allspice to match the flavor better.