When visiting Jamaica it is customary to enjoy the colorful drinks made with local rum. But one can also dine on pleasing rum-flavored desserts that are delectable and easy to make at home.

Rum is the only distilled spirit made from sugar cane. While it can be made anywhere that sugar is grown, most rum comes from the Caribbean where sugar cane has been flourishing in the ideal moist tropical climate since the 1500s. Rum is believed to have been created on the island of Barbados from fermented leavings of sugar in the early 1600s.

The origin of the word rum is not certain. Some authorities believe it came from the Latin word for sugar, saccharum. Others suggest that the name is a shortening of the old English words rumbullion and rumbustion which meant tumult. The heady drink, a standby for our American forefathers and the British Royal Navy, was also called Kill Devil.

Throughout the Caribbean islands there is a fascinating variety of rums. Because all derive from sugar cane they have certain characteristics in common but each has an individual quality of aroma, color, flavor and strength that makes it distinctive. While some rums are made from sugar cane juice, most are fermented and distilled from the residue, called molasses.

There are three primary kinds of rum: light, medium and heavy. The former come primarily from Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Virgin islands and are popular for making cocktails and long cool drinks. Of the medium and heavy rums made on such islands as Haiti, Martinique and Barbados, that of Jamaica is particularly pleasing in that it is dark, strongly flavored and full-bodied. The best known dark rums are Myers and J. Wray & Nephew. Other prestigious lighter but full-bodied rums are the amber Lemon Hart and golden-colored Appleton Estates.

Jamaican rums should be used in drinks and with foods when an all-pervasive flavor is desired. They are excellent in hot toddies, milk punch, egg nog, and especially fruity punches such as the potent planter's punch. The latter is made, according to island jingle, with "One of sour, two of sweet, three of strong and four of weak" or one part lime juice, two parts sugar, three parts strong run and four parts water or fruit juice. A dash of Angostura bitters, grated nutmeg and a fruit garnish are also usually added to the drink.

There are Jamaican rum drinks with such intriguing names as Quarter Deck, Black Stripe, Around The World In Eighty Days, Port Royal and Wine Juicer. Two delectable Jamaican liqueurs are: Tia Maria, a coffee-flavored liqueur made with rum and Angostura bitters, and Pimento Dram, based on rum and oil of allspice (called pimento in Jamaica).

The role of rum in Jamaican desserts is important. It marries well with sugar and bananas. A small amount of rum blended with butters, sauces, frostings or sprinkled over dark cakes gives a rich, mellow flavor. Rum also enhances a steamed Christmas pudding, Independence fruit cake, banana fritters, pancakes, yeast cakes, a yellow yam pudding, and ice cream.

Noteworthy desserts are rum snaps, rum flavored ginger cookies filled with rum-flavored whipped cream; Planter's Cake, frosted layers of rum-flavored sponge cake; hot rum-flavored grapefruit served in grapefruit shells; rum syllabub, baked banana skins filled with mashed cooked bananas and rum-flavored cream; and floating island, a custard topped with guava-flavored "islands" and rum-flavored whipped cream.

Given below are recipies for three typical Jamaican rum desserts. RUM ICE CREAM (4 to 6 servings) 2 cups light cream or milk 3 eggs, beaten 1/3 cup sugar 1 cup heavy cream 2 tablespoons Jamaican dark rum

Heat light cream in top of a double boiler. Combine eggs and sugar and add to cream or milk. Cook slowly over simmering water, stirring, until mixture is smooth and thickened or until spoon is coated. Remove from the heat. Add heavy cream and rum; mix well. Cool. Turn into two refrigerator trays and freeze until mush, several hours. Turn into a large bowl and beat until smooth. Return to trays and freeze until firm. COLD RUM SOUFFLE (6 servings) 1 envelope plain gelatin 4 eggs, separated 6 tablespoons sugar 1 tablespoon cornstarch 1 cup evaporated milk 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract 1/4 cup Jamaican rum Pinch Salt

Sprinkle gelatin over 1/4 cups cold water in a small bowl to soften. Beat egg yolks with 4 tablespoons sugar in a small bowl until light and creamy. Combine cornstarch, 2 tablespoons cold water and milk in top of a double boiler; mix well. Cook slowly, stirring, over simmering water until slightly thickened. Add beaten egg yolks and sugar and softened gelatin; mix well.

Cook slowly, stirring constantly, until mixture is smooth and thickened or until spoon is coated. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla and rum. Beat egg whites in a large bowl until frothy.Add remaining 2 tablespoons sugar and salt and beat until egg whites are stiff. Fold into custard and turn into a 1 1/2 quart souffle dish. Refrigerate until set and firm, 3 hours or longer. BANANAS WITH RUM FLAMBE (6 servings) 1/4 cup butter 6 ripe bananas, peeled and halved lengthwise 1/4 cup brown sugar Dash cinnamon 1/2 cup Jamaican rum

Melt butter in a chafing dish over direct heat. Add bananas. Sprinkle with 2 tablespoons sugar and dash cinnamon. Cook until golden and soft. Turn and sprinkle with remaining 2 tablespoons sugar and dash cinnamon. Add rum and ignite. Serve when flambe dies out.