Jerk seasoning is a seasoning which has been traditionally used in the curing process of chicken and beef in Jamaica. In addition to being used to make dried meats, jerk seasoning is also a popular dry rub or marinade for barbecue, and it may be used on other meats such as pork as well as vegetarian options like tofu. Pre-packaged jerk seasoning can be found in some markets, and it is also possible to make it at home, for people who want to adjust the flavor and spiciness to their tastes.
The “jerk” in jerk seasoning comes from charqui, the Quecha root word for “jerky,” meaning “dried meat.” After Spanish explorers were introduced to Native American dried meats, they brought them to Europe and also made them in their colonies. Caribbean colonies made a lot of preserved meats because jerky was the only effective way to cure meat in the heat of the islands. Over time, people developed their own unique cures for the various meats that they made, and jerk seasoning was born.
Many different forms of jerk seasoning exist throughout the Caribbean, but most people think specifically of Jamaican jerk when they hear the words “jerk seasoning.” Jamaican jerk is characterized by the use of allspice and thyme, as well as an abundance of peppers. The heat of the peppers helped to preserve the meat while it cured, ensuring that it would be safe to eat, and many people also acquired a taste for hot food as a result.