A jerk marinade produces food that is distinctly hot and spicy. This is because of two ingredients that every good jerk marinade should have. Allspice and Scotch bonnet peppers are vital ingredients needed to give the marinade the unique jerk flavor. The best jerk marinade, aside from containing those two ingredients, can be a combination of any number of other spices, including garlic, onions, cloves and thyme. Finding a personal favorite is a matter of finding the base ingredients and then narrowing down other flavor options by individual tastes.
One of the main ingredients that can help to make the best jerk marinade is the Scotch bonnet pepper. It is one of the hottest peppers commonly available. It is so hot, in fact, that it needs to be handled with gloves — or, at least, great care — because it can actually cause chemical burns to the skin. When placed in a marinade, it imparts its heat and a very fruity flavor.
The other ingredient that should be in jerk seasoning is allspice, which also is known as pimento in Jamaica. This is a spice native to the region that has a flavor like cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and black pepper combined. It provides a rich, spicy flavor to meats that are marinated in it. Traditional jerk food is actually cooked over the wood and leaves of the allspice plant.
The best jerk marinade will add other flavors to the pepper and allspice base to help balance those flavors and add complexity. A classic marinade also would include onions, garlic, thyme and ginger. Some marinade recipes choose to reinforce the flavor of the allspice by adding additional cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves.
The acid used in a jerk marinade can be one of several. Many recipes call for vinegar to be used, adding in a sharp flavor and contributing to the robustness of the marinade. Another choice is orange juice, which adds a small amount of sweetness to the savory ingredients. Soy sauce also can be used. Several recipes call for all three liquids to be combined and put in the marinade, creating a very complex taste.
Other ingredients that a jerk marinade can contain to help enhance the flavor are brown sugar for sweetness, dark rum for richness and limes for a fruit flavor. Honey and other sweet ingredients or fruits also can be added to help offset the heat of the peppers. People have different tastes, though, so the best jerk marinade ingredients are likely to be different for each person.