Soup is hot in Jamaica. Whether it is in the unique form of pepperpot soup, fish tea or mannish water, soup is one of the most popular dishes on the island. In fact, pepperpot was one of the original foods of Jamaica, tracing its history all the way back to the Arawak Indians.

Like chicken soup in American Jewish culture, Jamaican soups are frequently used as a sort of folk medicine. For instance, mannish water, a concoction based on the head of a goat and green bananas, enjoys a reputation for being able to restore or enhance a man’s virility. Every groom in Jamaica eats mannish water on his wedding night--if he knows what is good for him.

The English-influenced Jamaican cooks, whose prowess with soups and chowders is fabled, reach first for their bunch of herbs--called a sive--which consists of such savories as parsley, coriander, scallions and thyme. Next comes the hot pepper, certainly a pervasive seasoning habit. Not all soups are fiery, but pepper, both ground black and red, and fresh chile peppers, are always there.

Equally key to Jamaican chefs is allspice. Jamaica not only produces and exports a tremendous amount of allspice, but uses much in its own cooking, and not only in a traditional baking role. More often than not, one finds allspice paired with meats and vegetables, as in Jamaican beef soup. Note this recipe’s underlying savoriness, supplied by thyme, onion, garlic and black pepper; its nip of hot red pepper; and that twice as much allspice is meant to be noticed.

Jamaican pepperpot soup features shrimp with spinach, sweet bell peppers and okra, which gives the soup characteristic thickness. Ever-popular thyme, as well as marjoram and rosemary, give this pepperpot an herby depth, while a generous pinch of ground red pepper turns up the heat. To these are added such tropical touches as lush, creamed coconut and a refreshing lime garnish.

Surprisingly, curry is used frequently in Jamaican cooking, resulting from a heavy East Indian immigration throughout the region. In Jamaican pumpkin soup, it is curry that makes the perfect flavor complement to a simple pumpkin puree. This smooth, rich soup is enriched with just enough heavy cream and punctuated with little flavor bursts of onion, bay leaf, black pepper and nutmeg.

Curry also finds its way into Jamaican shrimp soup, a mouth-tingling mélange of curry powder, thyme, parsley, onion, garlic and ground red pepper. The soup is cooked briefly--just long enough to marry the flavor of the spices and cook the shrimp. Fresh lemon juice gives it a final, clean, citrus-flavored note. pf

Pilot recipes for these soup recipes showcasing the spicing genius of Jamaican cooks were originally developed exclusively forPrepared Foodsby the test kitchen of the American Spice Trade Assoc. (0297) 

Jamaican Beef Soup

3 cups peeled and diced butternut or acorn squash
1lb boneless beef chuck, cut in 1-in chunks
2 cups carrots, cut in 1-in chunks
1 cup turnips, cut in 1-in chunks
1.5-tsp ground allspice
2 tsp salt
1 tsp thyme leaves
1 tsp garlic powder
1/2-tsp ground black pepper
1/4-tsp ground red pepper
3 cans (13.75-oz each) ready-to-serve beef broth
1.5-cups peeled potatoes, cut into 1/2-in chunks
1.5-cups peeled sweet potatoes, cut into 1/2-in chunks

In a large covered saucepot, simmer squash in 2 cups water until tender, about 15 minutes; mash squash until smooth. Add beef, carrots, turnips, allspice, salt, thyme, garlic powder, black and red peppers, beef broth and 3 cups water; bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer, covered, until meat is tender, about 1 hour. Add potatoes and sweet potatoes; simmer, covered, until potatoes are tender, 20-30 minutes. Serve sprinkled with parsley, if desired.