July 15, 2024

The origin and evolution of west African cuisines

The origin and evolution of west African cuisines

As the level of popularity of African dishes rises all around the entire world, most of the dialogue has focused on their overall look, spiciness, and recipes, a lot more intensely on ownership and appropriation, but scarcely on how they came about.

African dishes have gone worldwide 1st by way of the transatlantic slave trade and most lately by means of migration, social media, and viral video clips. The finest-known instance is the Jollof wars.

The foods we all appreciate right now are the item of improvements and food processing technologies that emerged more than generations. Every food is a reflection of the heritage, society, beliefs, and the normal natural environment of their society of origin.


In the Sahel-Sudan (south of the Sahara), pearl millet—which originates from an place that consists of Mali and Mauritania—and guinea corn (sorghum) are the traditional staple ingredients for food stuff, beverages (kunu), and beer (burukutu and pito). This beer custom has nonetheless been wiped out in pieces wherever the inhabitants adopted Islam that forbids the consumption of alcohol.

In Guinea (coastal and rain forest location in the south), Guinea yams—which originate from the area involving Ghana and Nigeria—African rice, and Guinea corn had been the staple sources of carbs right up until the Portuguese afterwards introduced cassava.

The cultivation of yam is typically and predominantly in the jap region of the location stretching from Côte d’Ivoire to Nigeria—with Nigeria presently accounting for about 54% of international production. African rice is predominantly cultivated in the western element of the location together the Interior Niger Delta (exactly where its origin is in Mali) and the coastal zone spanning from Mauritania to Liberia. With the introduction of tomatoes to Senegal as early as the 1820s—the 1st report of tomatoes in Africa—jollof rice developed between the Wolof individuals of Senegambia.

Palm oil

In distinction to the Sahel-Sudan area, palm oil is usually a core part of the cuisines in the Guinea in particular in the Niger delta, also regarded as the Oil rivers, which accounted for extra than fifty percent of the complete quantity of palm oil exported from Africa on a yearly basis in the 1800s. The plant is the source of “edible worms” and alcoholic drinks—palm wine and its distilled derivatives these as ogogoro or Akpeteshie. The edible worm is the larva of the pink palm weevil and it’s ordinarily eaten with ekpukpu (kpokpo garri).

The palm oil tradition in Nigeria’s Niger delta delicacies is evident in the previous conventional palm fruit dishes such as owo and banga soups and banga rice. Palm oil was included to food for its supposed medicinal powers. It’s additional to garri (a granular flour) and usi (a starch dough) through processing from cassava and when cooking pink kidney beans to prevent food poisoning. Cassava and purple kidney beans obviously contain harmful substances.

Cassava, the most significant meals crop in sub-Saharan Africa, was launched to the Niger delta from Brazil by the Portuguese in the 1500s but was not essential in west Africa right up until the next 50 percent of the 1800s—when a lot of previously enslaved Africans returned to west Africa from Brazil (pdf).

The dictionary of the language of the Edo men and women of the hinterland of the Niger delta in Nigeria which was composed in 1937 by Hans Melzian, a Dutch professor of African Phonetics and Linguistics with the enable of quite a few Edo informants, displays that the societies in the Niger delta to start with eaten igari (cassava) as ebobozi (chipped cassava boiled and soaked for two to 3 times) and eferhinyea—a dish identical to garri and Brazilian farinha introduced by the Portuguese. Garri and fufu (a dough) are now the most contemporary and common cassava food items products and solutions.


Salt also formed west African cuisines, a location usually bad in sea or rock salts right until the colonial interval. The hinterland societies depended on vegetable salt, which is commonly potassium-dependent carbonates.

“For all the in-land negroes are obliged to fetch their salt from the shore from whence it is less complicated to infer that it have to price them pretty expensive: wherefore the meaner sorts are obliged to make use of a selected saltish herb alternatively of salt, which their purses will not access,” explained William Bosman, a Dutch merchant, through his continue to be in the Gold Coast in the late 1600s.

Amongst the Edo people, the salt known as odo was extracted from the mangrove tree, Odo n’owse (Rhizophora racemosa), by cooking the wooden and leaving the water to evaporate on the fire. When additional to palm fruit juice or oil, odo, as well as kanwa (rock salt) coagulate it to deliver a thick sauce or soup these types of as owo.

The vegetable salt known as pot-ash or salt-ash was built in the Sahel-Sudan by burning the stalks or straws of millet and palms in a pot to ashes. The area also experienced entry to rock salt from the Sahara Desert, obtained from dried-up lake beds or shallow mines. In contrast to sea salt, which is tough to retailer and transportation mainly because it absorbs humidity and loses its features in a limited time, rock salts are stable slabs that were traded broadly.

Spices, sauces, and soup

A trademark of a west African dish, especially in the Guinea, is its sizzling spiciness. The location is house to a number of unrelated warm spices, typically referred to as Guinea pepper. They were being a significant export to Europe in the precolonial period. These spices, this kind of as the melegueta or alligator pepper uziza, Benin pepper or Ashanti pepper and Senegal pepper, are the core of west African pepper soup.

Bosman’s account confirmed that the kind made with intestines has a extensive record and was eaten during a spiritual ceremony in historic Gold Coast: “The guts they reduce into little parts, and squeezing out the excrement with their fingers, they boil it alongside one another with the lungs, liver, and coronary heart, with a minimal salt and malaget, or Guinea pepper, devoid of warning it from the blood.”

The west African swallow-soup dishes quite possibly formulated in the Guinea from generations of feeding on rice, sorghum, yam, and cassava made into dough with salted and peppered palm oil or palm-fruit juice which could be referred to as the initial generation of soups. The common preparing of owo with a nearby vegetable salt and its use as the only sauce for just one of the earliest indigenous cassava merchandise, significantly abacha (a sunlight-dried ebobozi), indicates it to be the 1st technology soup.

Bosman wrote about the dish of the people on the Gold Coastline in the 1600s: “Their typical food is a pot complete of millet [sorghum] boiled to the regularity of bread [dough], or as a substitute that of yams and potatoes around which they pour a little palm oil, with a couple of boiled herbs, to which they increase a stinking [smoked] fish.”

The tradition of introducing leaves to palm oil which is the foundation of “vegetable soup,” possibly arose from the notion of integrating medicinal herbs in dishes, obvious in the medicinal Edo omoebe (leaf soup), also acknowledged as black soup. This was followed by the 3rd-generation soups created with palm oil and seeds these as ikpogi or egusi (melon), oyele or ogbono (African mango) and ikporu (cotton).

As African food items turns into world it is vital that the wealthy history and the stories at the rear of African dishes be shared with the planet as effectively.