The History of Jamaican Jerk

By Phineas Upham

Jerk is not just a kind of seasoning, it’s an entire style of cooking born in Jamaica. The basic mixture contains many spices we use in most cooking today: allspice, habanero peppers and pimento being typical ingredients to base a jerk recipe on.

Up until the 70s, when propane gas grills became popular and commonplace, most Jamaican cooking was done outdoors over a fire pit. It’s not uncommon to see this method today, but the flavor of the past has been altered thanks to cleaner burning fuels. Pimento wood was burned with charcoal to give the meats a smoky flavor that is very specific to Jamaican jerk recipes.

The Peruvian word “Charque” is the most likely origin of “Jerk,” which most historians agree is probably Spanish in origin. It was a noun at first, a jerk dish, but became a verb over time. Jerking meat came to be known as the practice of poking holes into it to let the marinade permeate layers. Jerk also came to indicate the way cooks would turn the meat to properly marinate all sides, jerking the stick and settling the meat over the open flame.

It’s probable that the Arawak Indians had been using this technique more than 2500 years ago. There is ample evidence that similar techniques were used all throughout Peru, so its probably something picked up through trade and the exchange of cultures. It was also common to smoke and dry beef, which could be taken on hunting trips to sustain the parties as they sought more game.


About the Author: Phineas Upham is an investor at a family office/ hedgefund, where he focuses on special situation illiquid investing. Before this position, Phin Upham was working at Morgan Stanley in the Media and Telecom group. You may contact Phin on his Phineas Upham website or Facebook page.

The Spanish influence on Jamaican Food

By Phin Upham

If you want to make something healthy, that’s really thinking outside the box, try making yourself Jamaican food. Rich in flavor and notably healthy, Jamaican food utilizes a lot of meats and produce, plus the coffee you’ll have after is among the best cups available in all the world. The cuisine of this place is influenced heavily by the Spanish, with some ties to English cooking as well.

Spain arrived in Jamaica in 1509, bringing contemporary technology and an inclination to drive out the native Arawak Indians. The Spanish also brought slave labor with them from various trips they’d taken around the world. Spices, cooking techniques and recipes came from all over the world to mix on Jamaican soil. Today, people who order “Escoveitch Fish” in Jamaica have the Spanish Jews to thank. The island had plenty of fresh produce to sustain life there, and the cuisine was well-flavored thanks to fertile lands and fattened livestock.

When Spain lost Jamaica to the English in 1655, they brought dishes like the Jamaican pattie. The pattie is a lot like a pupusa with a flakier crust, a kind of wrap that is colored golden with a baked egg yolk coating over the top. The English also maximized the island’s potential to produce sugar through the establishment of plantations.

Laws that changed the slave trade and made it forbidden brought a lot of foreigners seeking opportunity to Jamaica. One of the foremost regions was East India. Their rich and spicy food is a staple in Jamaican cuisine. In Jamaica, almost everything can be made into a curry.


Phin Upham is an investor from NYC and SF. You may contact Phin on his Phin Upham website or Twitter page.