Grounded in Tradition: The History of the Jamaican Beef Patty

02 - 11 - 2023
Juici Patties

Jamaica has a rich tradition of flavorful food with bold flavors built around cuisines and techniques from the Caribbean, Africa, Asia, and Europe. One of the island’s most beloved foods is the Jamaican beef patty, which has a long tradition dating back to the 17th century.

What is a Jamaican Beef Patty?

A semi-circular flaky pastry shaped like a turnover, the Jamaican beef patty holds a variety of fillings and spices. This handheld pastry is formed by folding circular dough over the savory filling—traditionally seasoned ground beef, but it can be filled with chicken, pork, lamb, shrimp, lobster, mixed vegetables, fish, soy, ackee, or cheese.

The flaky shell is tinted a golden yellow due to the recipe containing egg yolk or turmeric. In Jamaica, it can be a snack or a full meal. When made in the United Kingdom, the Jamaican beef patty’s pastry is frequently prepared as a suet crust to achieve its signature flakiness, and curry powder with turmeric gives its traditional golden appearance.

The Origins of the Jamaican Beef Patty

The Jamaican beef patty is derived from the Cornish pasty, similar to a turnover or an empanada. The pasty was introduced to Jamaica by Cornish sailors in the 17th century who’d arrived on the island to trade spices and sugar.

The spices came about from a melding of flavors in Jamaica. The East Indian indentured servants of the colonials added cumin and curries and enslaved Africans gave depth with the addition of cayenne pepper. The Jamaican beef patty gets its firecracker flavor from the Scotch bonnet hot pepper local to Jamaica. 

Controversy in Canada over the Beef Patty

The Jamaican beef patty in the 1970s and 1980s was becoming as popular in Canada as it had been in Jamaica and elsewhere around the Caribbean. At the same time, fast food chains and grocery stores had meat production working at peak capacity to fulfill an all-time high demand.

With high demand comes high stakes. The fast food industry referred to their hamburgers as beef patties due to the Meat Inspections Act guidelines, which stated beef patties were not to be encased in dough.

Jamaican bakery owners were selling Jamaican beef patties under the same name as part of their heritage, just like they had in the Caribbean.

Fast food retailers connected the dots and brought the Jamaican bakeries to the attention of Consumer and Corporate Affairs inspectors to investigate, bringing about the beginning of the storied Patty Wars. 

Bakers who sold Jamaican beef patties were subject to fines if they didn’t adhere to the Meat Inspections Act, and some of the fines were pretty steep—$5,000 to $11,000. Jamaican bakery owners pushed back, citing these regulations were erasing Jamaican history and minimizing the heritage of Jamaican food.

Because of the public’s love of the Jamaican beef patty and other foods, pressure began to mount on the government to fix the Meat Inspections Act to accommodate the Jamaican bakers. In February 1985, key Jamaican business owners met with the Canadian government to resolve the issue, and the government made allowances for the bakers to sell their goods under the name Jamaican patties so they’d be distinguished from other Canadian beef products.

It was a big victory for Jamaican business owners and Jamaican beef patty vendors, and February 23rd was declared Patty Day in Toronto2 to celebrate.

How the Jamaican Beef Patty Has Spread Around the World

As the popularity of the Jamaican beef patty has grown, so too has its geographical reach.

With the migration of Jamaican and Caribbean people to the north, authentic Jamaican beef patty flavors came to the United States and Canada in the 1960s and 1970s. Led by women taking jobs in the healthcare sector, their recipes for Jamaican beef patties came with them. 

Now, the Jamaican beef patty can be found in grocery stores in the UK and Canada as well as Caribbean and West Indian restaurants worldwide. What started as handmade pastries in homes and Jamaican-run bakeries were becoming commercialized in the 1980s and 1990s, particularly in North America. Supermarket chains and restaurants increased demand for these Jamaican staple foods.

As recently as 2016, the New York School system served more than 3 million1 Jamaican beef patties to its students.

The Iconic Juici Patties Jamaican Beef Patty

The Juici Patties brand has an equally storied beginning, with 16-year-old Jukie Chin creating the original Juici Patty in his parents’ kitchen to sell in the family grocery store in the late 1970s.

They were a hit with customers, and word spread about the flavorful Jamaican beef patty available in Rocky Point, Clarendon so well that Mr. Chin was able to open the first Juici Patties restaurant in 1980 in May Pen, Clarendon, Jamaica. 

Since then, the Juici Patties brand has grown to more than 60 locations on the island and has sold around the Caribbean and the world, including in supermarkets in the United Kingdom and Canada.

New Juici Patties franchise locations are beginning to open in the United States as the brand continues to grow.

Interested in where you might find a “beef patty near me?” Good news! Juici Patties is expanding in the United States, beginning throughout the Southeast. Those bold, delectable beef patties may be near you before you know it!

1 Source: “Jamaican Beef Patty Extends Its Reach” NYTimes.com

2 Source: “The Surprisingly Controversial History of Toronto’s Iconic Jamaican Patties” FoodNetwork.ca

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