"Jerking" - where meat (originally pork but now most commonly chicken) is rubbed with a paste of Scotch bonnet peppers, nutmeg, pimento, cinnamon, spring onions and salt and pepper, and then cooked over charcoal and green pimento wood - can be traced back to the middle of the 18th century, and the guerrilla war between ex-slaves (known as Maroons) and the English. Wild boar was a source of food for the rebels, and the jerk seasoning was a means of preservation. The meat was slathered with the aromatic spice combination and wrapped in leaves before being cooked in pits filled with hot stones, or grilled slowly over a fire.
This secret way of preparing pork was mainly concentrated in the Boston Beach area in the parish of Portland, the home of the original jerk pits. Then, about 15 years ago, it started to gain popularity. Jerk huts sprang up on roadsides all over Jamaica, and soon local companies such as Walker's Wood were buying pig carcasses, jerking the meat and selling it to local bars and cafes.
According to the founding director, Roddy Edwards, no one had thought of bottling the jerk seasoning itself until the company started to get enquiries from tourists asking where they could buy it.
"The fact that people were bothering to write to us all the way from America and elsewhere made us realise that we were definitely on to something," says Roddy, whose company now supplies Tesco, Sainsbury and Waitrose.
"Jerk seasoning does seem to have captured the imagination, not just in Jamaica but increasingly all over the world.
"I think that what's so special about it is that it isn't just about heat, but is a blend of flavours that people really seem to enjoy."
A taste of jerk
l When Jamaica plays Wales at Ninian Park in Cardiff on Wednesday, the usual stadium fare of hot dogs and burgers has been ditched. Instead, the crowd will be able to sample jerk chicken and patties.
l Jerk isn't just for meat-eaters, according to the consortium Jamaica 98, which is currently promoting Jamaican food and drink in staff canteens in conjunction with Gardner Merchant. Apparently, jerk tofu and stir-fry veg have been going down well with all the companies that have tried it - including the BBC and London Underground.
l Enco Products, maker of Dunn's River Jamaican Jerk Seasoning, has produced a free Caribbean recipe booklet. Available with a large SAE from Dunn's River Cookbook Offer (IoS), Enco Products, Welham Green, Hertfordshire AL9 7HF.
For more tastes of Jamaica, try ...
l Ackee. This fruit with yellow flesh tastes remarkably like scrambled eggs when cooked. Served with salt fish, this is the official national dish.
l Callaloo. A leafy, spinach-like vegetable often used as a base for thick soup flavoured with pork or crabmeat.
l Escovitch fish - fish fried or grilled, and then pickled in a tangy sauce.
l Festival - deep-fried, slightly sweet dumpling.Reuse content