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A history of Caribbean desserts

The cuisine of the Caribbean has been shaped by the many different international cultures and traditions which have ended up in this area of the world. 


Caribbean cuisine is often described as a fusion of African, Creole, Cajun, Amerindian, European, Latin American, Indian/South Asian, Middle Eastern, and Chinese cuisines. With cuisines so varied contributing to the food and drink consumed in this region, you can expect all kinds of ingredients making up some of the most beautiful and unique tastes in the world. And when it comes to desserts, this is incredibly accurate. 


Below, we take a look at the history of some of our favourite Caribbean dessert


Grater Cake


A favourite throughout Jamaica, grater cake is an incredibly sweet dessert option which is made from grated dried coconut and lots of sugar! In fact, the sugar content of this dessert is so high that it is recommended it is only consumed in small amounts.


Instantly recognisable due to its two-tone pink and white colouring, grater cake is sweet, sticky, rich and creamy. Given its name due to the grated coconut which it is made with, grater cake sometimes also goes by the names of sugar cake or pink on top.


Each year, Jamaica produces approximately 90 million coconuts, so it makes sense that one of their favourite desserts uses this ingredient. Coconut has widely been used in Jamaican cuisine for as long as history has been recorded. The coconut used in grater cake was traditionally made with muscovado sugar, a raw and unrefined sugar, also known as wet sugar. However, today it is most commonly made with conventional white sugar.


Whilst the cake is instantly recognisable to Jamaicans because of its pink and white colour combination, these colours aren’t exclusive to the cake and you will often find it suitable coloured to match the theme of many different occasions.


Black Cake


Tracing its history back to the traditional British plum pudding made in the United Kingdom for centuries, black cake is essentially a combination of the British colonisation of Jamaica, Barbados and The Bahamas, and the production of rum on these islands.


Black cake is a dessert filled with tradition, throughout Trinidad, Jamaica, Barbados and The Bahamas, you will often find that the recipe for this is passed down through the generations. Each of the recipes for this are slightly different, however, they all retain the same key ingredients of dried fruit, rum and burnt sugar. It is the burnt sugar which gives the cake its colour and its name. 


Often you will find that the fruit used in black cake has been soaked in rum for months in advance for deeper and richer flavour, often waiting to be baked in a cake in time for Christmas, a key time for the cake to be served. At Christmas, it’s a tradition to visit the homes of friends and family and be offered this cake. However, it’s not a cake reserved for Christmas, this heavy but moist, rich, and chewy cake is also served at weddings and parties all year round.




Cassava pone


Whilst not much is known about the exact origins of cassava pone, this Trinidadian treat food is primarily made from cassava - an ingredient introduced by the Arawaks, the earliest known settlers to Trinidad, over 5000 years ago. Over the years, the cassava root vegetable has been utilised in many different dishes, with ‘pone’ as it is lovingly called being a firm favourite. 


Pone is made from cassava root, pumpkin, sweet potatoes, coconut, sugar, nutmeg, butter, and milk, for a sweet, moist and gummy jelly-like taste and texture. 


A real comfort food, pone is often also made with cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger, some of the most popular spices used in Caribbean cookery. Some people even bake it with black pepper for a little burn after each bite.


Cassava pone is so popular that anyone who grew up in Trinidad, will have their own memories of this delicious dessert.



Duckanoo


Brought to the Caribbean by the enslaved peoples from west Africa, duckanoo is made of a blend of batata, sweet potato, coconut, spices and brown sugar. This delicious blend of ingredients makes for a superb sweet which isn’t quite a cake and isn’t quite a pudding.


Taking advantage of the local produce, in Jamaica, banana leaves are used to wrap it up like a parcel so that it can be steamed in boiling water. It’s this method of cooking it which gives it its nickname of tie-a-leaf.


In addition to Jamaica, it’s eaten across many Caribbean islands including Antigua and Barbuda, and French Guiana. One of many dishes which originated from the African people brought over to these islands, this dessert has its roots in the similar African dish of ducana. A key difference being that ducana is not always a dessert dish. It is instead sometimes eaten as a main meal, where it is served with salt cod and what is referred to as "chop-up"- a mixture of spinach, aubergine and okra. 

Duckanoo though is a dessert which is often served accompanied with the widely found Caribbean spices of cinnamon, nutmeg, plus salt, butter, raisins, and often a dollop of cream




Sweet potato pudding


The sweet potato is a staple food eaten throughout the Caribbean. Due to this, it is eaten in all kinds of dishes, both sweet and savoury. One such dish is something which you will find all over - sweet potato pudding. 


Made with sweet potato (batata), dark sugar, flour, rum and spiced with cinnamon, it’s a delicious treat which is great for coffee time, as well as being an after dinner favourite when it’s served with cream or ice cream.


Unlike the sweet potato pie served in the US, Caribbean sweet potato pudding uses batata, which has white flesh with a red outer skin. 


Another dessert filled with tradition, sweet potato pudding is simply referred to as ‘potato pudding’ throughout the Caribbean. It is definitely one of those desserts with a recipe that is passed through the generations, which makes it a family favourite and definitely a dessert which you seek out to find a variation that is just as good as ‘granny’ made it.