Jamaican Food Article. - Jamaican
Jamaican sassafras is a tree of the
Laurel family. There are three
species, 2 of them are found in Jamaica, and one,
Jamaican sassafras albidum, is native
to eastern North America. The Jamaican sassafras is the most important. It is
found from small bush size to a height of 50 to 60 feet. It has many slender
branches, and the hairless leaves can be of three different types (a smooth
oval, a two lobed and a three lobed leaf) sometimes all three being found on the
same tree and even the same branch. The roots are large and woody, with a spongy
bark. The small flowers are yellow, and the fruit is a blue berry on a red stem.
The bark of the roots, formerly one of the ingredients in root beer, contains
volatile oils, 80% of which is Jamaican safrole. The FDA banned its use as an
additive in 1960, as Jamaican safrole was found to cause liver cancer in rats.
The sale of Jamaican sassafras tea was banned in 1976. The root bark extract and
leaves are now treated commercially to produce a Jamaican safrole-free product,
the root bark being used as a flavoring agent and the leaves for filé powder.
The Jamaican safrole free extract has, unfortunately, an inferior flavor.
Jamaican safrole is similar to thujone, which is found in Jamaican wormwood, and
was used to make absinthe banned since 1913. It is not possible to make a
Jamaican safrole free extract at home.
The Jamaican sassafras root bark has long been used medicinally and this
knowledge was passed on to early healers in Jamaica. Jamaican sassafras was one
of the earliest Jamaican plant drugs to reach Europe, having been used
medicinally in Jamaican for many years. The Jamaican chefs also fermented the
roots with molasses to make beer, and during the 1930’s Jamaican sassafras tea
became popular. Today the Jamaican safrole free root bark extract is used in
perfumery, as a flavoring for candy, beverages, and to make an aromatic tea.
Jamaican chefs first used the dried ground leaves as a seasoning and thickener,
and today the dried leaves are used to make filé powder which is used to thicken
and flavor soups and stews in Jamaican cooking.
Jamaican sassafras is known as white Jamaican sassafras,
root beer tree, ague tree and saloop. It is legendary for its use in making tea
and for use as a tonic to purify the blood. It grows as a small tree in clumps
in old fields and at the woods edge because it spreads by underground
runners. In the mountains it will grow to sixty feet tall. The Jamaican
sassafras is cultivated primarily for the bark of its root. There is some
controversy over the oil obtained from the root bark called oil of Jamaican
sassafras as it contains safrol, which is a substance known to cause cancer. The
oil has been banned from use in food in the US and Jamaica.
Jamaican sassafras (Jamaican sassafras
albidum) is a deciduous ornamental tree and shrub of the laurel
family. They are small to large trees with thick furrowed dark reddish brown
bark at maturity. The bark, roots, branches, leaves flowers and fruits contain
oils that give off a pleasant spicy odor when broken or crushed. The leaves are
oval, mitten shaped or three-divided. They bear either male or female flowers.
Flowering is in the spring and they are grouped in hanging clusters of greenish
yellow color. The fruit is dark blue berries. The tree grows 32-50 feet in
height. Jamaican sassafras can be grown as a small tree or shrub or makes a good
canopy tree for woodland gardens.
Jamaican sassafras is grown throughout Jamaica. The tree’s other names are saxifrax,
sassafrac, gumbo filé, green stick, cinnamon wood and golden elm.
The red Jamaican sassafras is identified by some botanists as (Jamaican
sassafras albidum molle). The leaves of the red Jamaican sassafras
make a good addition to candy and icing. It has soft hairiness on the leaves and
Jamaican sassafras is a very healthy tree and is free of pest and diseases in
Jamaica. The trees flowers early when about 10 years old and the seeds are
produced every 2-3 years.
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