Top 10 Essential West Indian Ingredients

Pantry Items for Caribbean Cooking

There are certain ingredients that can be found in every Caribbean kitchen. However, there are variances depending on the cultural influence on individual countries. For example, in Jamaica, Guyana, and Trinidad and Tobago, an essential ingredient would be curry powder; for other countries, bay leaves and dried pasta are a must.

The following list of ingredients, however, you will find in all West Indian kitchens regardless of its make-up. These ingredients are at the top of the shopping list and give the cuisine its unique flavor, providing the key to many iconic West Indian meals.

  • 01 of 10

    Green Seasoning

    Spring or green onions are often called scallions but these have clear bulbs developing. Their flavor will likely be stronger than true scallions.
    Spring or green onions are often called scallions but these have clear bulbs developing. Their flavor will likely be stronger than true scallions. Guy Montag

    This is a blend of fresh herbs, onions, garlic, and hot peppers. Depending on which country you are from, ground spices such as cloves, allspice, and cinnamon are added to the mixture and impart a unique flavor. This herb mixture is used to season seafood, poultry, and meat for frying, stewing, baking, or roasting. It is also used as a base, sautéed in hot oil to cook vegetables.

  • 02 of 10

    Hot Peppers

    Hot peppers

    Mark Goebel Photo Gallery / Contributor / Getty Images

    Scotch Bonnet pepper is the pepper of choice when cooking Caribbean cuisine. They are used to make the famous West Indian pepper sauces. However, it's important to find out how to control the heat when cooking with Scotch Bonnets.

  • 03 of 10



     Jeremy Hudson/Getty Images

    Limes are used in combination with salt to wash/clean seafood, meat, and poultry. The lime juice and salt are lightly added to the ingredient, tossed, and rinsed thoroughly in water before use.

    Fresh lime juice is also used as the base in certain pickles. On a hot day, jugs of lemonade are made with freshly squeezed lime juice, water, sugar, and vanilla essence.

  • 04 of 10

    Salt Meat

    Salt cured meats

    Andrea Donetti / Getty Images

    Salted pig tails and salted beef are used to flavor dishes and to season (salt) the food. Salt meat can be used in soups, stews, and rice dishes.

    Continue to 5 of 10 below.
  • 05 of 10

    Dried Peas and Beans

    rinse the pinto beans and pick them over
    Diana Rattray

    Pigeon peas, kidney beans, black eye peas, and yellow and green split peas are the most commonly used legumes in the English-speaking Caribbean. They are used to make rice and peas, stewed peas and one-pot rice dishes such as pelau and cook-up rice.

  • 06 of 10


    Several types of rice
    Foodcollection RF / Getty Images

    Rice is a staple, and it is cooked daily. It is served with rice and peas or cooked plainly using the absorption method or by boiling and straining it. Long grain parboiled rice and long-grain white rice are the two most common varieties used.

    Rice dishes such as pelau, fried rice, cook-up rice, Spanish rice, etc., commonly make appearances on the dining table at weekends. We also use rice for desserts.

  • 07 of 10



    Henrik Sorensen / Getty Images

    Coconuts are used in both sweet and savory preparations. The flesh of the coconut as well as the milk (squeezed) from the freshly grated flesh are used. And yes, the coconut water as well. The coconut is primarily used in its fresh form. 

  • 08 of 10

    Ground Provisions

    Rodrigo Ruiz Ciancia

    Tubular root vegetables such as cassava (yucca), sweet potatoes, eddoes, dasheen, and yams are necessary ground provisions. They are all hearty and nutritious.

    Continue to 9 of 10 below.
  • 09 of 10


    polenta vs. grits

    Getty Images / Tatiana Romanova 

    Finely ground cornmeal is used to make sweet and savory dishes. Cou-cou (cornmeal cooked low and slow with okras - think polenta) and dumplings are among the savory offerings, porridge, and conkies (a steamed pudding) are among the sweet offerings.

  • 10 of 10

    Bouillon Cubes

    Bouillon Cube

    magnez2 / Getty Images 

    Instead of liquid stock, bouillon cubes are used to flavor most of the dishes when cooking, whether it is a stew, a sauce, soup, or rice and peas.