The word ital is derived from the word vital, which reflects
the Rastafarian practice of deriving words by replacing significant
syllables with the character "I." Ital cooking is way
of preparing and cooking food that is consistent with Rastafarian
beliefs and practices. Like vital, ital means essential to human
existence. Ital cooking is an eclectic form of cooking which
in its strictest expression excludes the use of salt, meat (especially
pork), preservatives, colorings, flavorings or anything artificial.
In practice, in Jamaica, it involves using available foods and
ingredients, which sometimes includes fish and dried salted fish,
but usually not shellfish, and sometimes even a little salt.
As a practical mater, cooking ital food outside of Jamaica, where
fresh ingredients are not readily available, can entail using
some canned foods, in which case additives and salt cannot be
Ital cooking is essentially traditional Jamaican cooking
without salt, meat, and additives. Therefore, a good ital cook
has to be skilled at using available herbs and spices to produce
food that is palatable and tasty -- indeed ital food is often
as tasty as traditional Jamaican cooking.
Coconut is a basic ingredient in ital cooking. Coconut
milk extracted from grated coconuts serves as the base for most
successful ital dishes. The coconut milk is often cooked as a
rundown and the other ingredients added. Scotch bonnet pepper
is another key ingredient. Pimento (allspice) is also a key ingredient.
Thyme is another essential ingredient. Thyme not only provides
a good flavor, it is a good substitute for salt. To this we can
add other ingredients such as garlic, onions, scallions, green
peppers, tomatoes, etc.
Ital cooking has expanded beyond its traditional Jamaican
roots to include other foods such as tofu and many other foods
and vegetables not native to Jamaica. To some extent then one
can look at ital cooking as an eclectic approach to the preparation
and cooking of food that is based on Rastafarian beliefs that
can be applied to foods and ingredients that are available in
up with the Global Caribbean Community.
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