5  Popular Foods of African Origin You Didn’t Know About

Debbie Obierika
Debbie Obierika
I am a versatile writer with passion for curating interesting and thrilling content that wll keep my readers glued to their screen.
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A lot of meals eaten around the world are of African Origin. The African continent has diverse foods that have been adopted by other parts of the world and publicized as their meals whereas these foods are of African Origin. In today’s article, we will highlight 5 popular foods that you probably always thought originated in the Western world but are actually of African Origin. Your jaw might drop once or twice in shock so be prepared for this informative jolly ride.

African Food, History, and Its Authenticity

African food is a staple of the culture of the continent, and its history is always intersecting with the story of the African people. 

The majority of the food eaten by Africans is influenced by their religion, some by the climatic conditions, and others by their lifestyle. The first Africans to live on the continent were hunter-gatherers who ate what could be found in nature. Agriculture became popular as well as agriculture-based diets.

The roots of foods of African origin date back thousands of years to the Bronze Age in Northeast Africa when early civilizations began the cultivation of grains such as wheat and barley. In the Fertile Crescent settled agriculture was practiced by the Ancient Egyptians in this area. Animals such as donkeys and sheep were also domesticated starting the spread of agriculture to other parts of Africa, notably West Africa. However, most tribes still lived a simple hunter-gather diet. The American rice growing in the Carolina Lowcountry was influenced by West African techniques of rice cultivation and many slaves hailed from rice-growing regions of West Africa.

Arab explorers Leo Africanus and Ibn Battuta provided accounts of African foodways that they encountered on their travels through sub-Saharan Africa. Most of the staples introduced in Africa were colonized by Europeans. Foods that are now integral in African foods are maize and potatoes which were not common until the 19th century.

The influence of foods of African origin on Caribbean, Brazilian, and American cuisine is seen in rice dishes and green stews such as Afro-Caribbean Efo, duckanoo, and callaloo. The vegetable and the okra, introduced from Africa, and is used in classic Louisiana  gumbos

The American rice growing in the Carolina Lowcountry was influenced by West African techniques of rice cultivation and many slaves hailed from rice-growing regions of West Africa.

The authenticity of foods of African Origin is that they are widespread across the world and used by different people of various descents. They have unique tastes and styles so much so that they inspire a lot of meals and agricultural processes around the world. 

Foods You Didn’t Know Are of African Origin

Foods of African Origin have been adopted as staples in a lot of cuisines in the world. People eat many foods of African origin without knowing that it is actually from the continent of Africa, Africans included. In researching for this article, I too got shocked by some of the foods of African origin because I always thought they were Western dishes and we Africans were just adopting their cuisines. So let us talk about foods of African origin that you and I did not know about.


African Origin Jambalaya

The first food of African Origin that we are going to be talking about is Jambalaya. I honestly have always thought that this meal was probably of Caribbean descent. So imagine my shock when I discovered that it is of African origin. Although Jambalaya is tied more to the Lousianna people, history shows that it was during the trans-Atlantic slave trade period that this dish came about, thanks to the Creole African roots of the people who settled in Lousianna.

Jambalaya is rice-based as it begins with a rice base and incorporates a variety of flavors. Some of the main ingredients include different kinds of meat, vegetables, and stock. It’s a type of dish that can be enjoyed in a variety of ways. traditionally, the meat includes sausages of some sort, smoked meat along with pork or chicken. Some Jambalaya recipes also include seafood such as crawfish or shrimp. The vegetables consist of onions, celery, and green bell pepper, though other vegetables such as okra, carrots, tomatoes, corn, chillis ad garlic are also used.

After browning and sauteeing the meat and vegetables, rice is added with seasonings and broth, and the entire dish is cooked together until the rice is done.


African Origin Watermelon

The second food of African origin that might not necessarily come as a surprise because of how prevalent and popular it is in Africa is Watermelon. I for one believe that no fruit tastes as good as Watermelon and I know you agree too.

Watermelons come from the Citrullus species(Cucurbitaceae) are native to the African continent and have been cultivated since ancient times. They originate from a series of selection events in a single ancestral population. 

Early watermelons were not sweet, but bitter, with yellowish-white flesh and difficult to open. Through breeding, watermelons later tasted better and were easier to open. Watermelons were originally cultivated for their high water content and were stored to be eaten during dry seasons, as a method of storing water.

Indications show that northeastern Africa is the birthplace of Watermelons. They have been domesticated for food and water over 4000 years ago and sweet watermelons emerged in the desert land approximately 2000  years later 

Watermelons are eaten globally, they are very rich in amino acids and very essential for the bodily function of the human body. It is now grown in diverse parts o the United States of America in places such as Florida. This fruit of African origin is one to be proud of as it has become one of the most sort after fruits in the world.


African Origin Okra

The next item on the foods of African origin that is eaten across the world is Okra. Okra/Okro also known as ochro or ladies’ fingers, is a warm-season vegetable. It is a good source of minerals, vitamins, antioxidants, and fiber. It contains a sticky juice that people use to thicken sauces.

The origin of Okra is often disputed amongst the Western, Northern, and Eastern parts of Okra as they all claim that it originated from their parts of the world. However, history shows that it most likely originated from the  Egyptians and Moors of the 12th and 13th centuries who used the Arabic word for the plant, bamya. 

Okra is said to have come into Egypt from Arabia, but earlier it was probably taken from Ethiopia to Arabia. The plant may have entered southwest Asia across the Red Sea or the Bab-el-Mandeb strait to the Arabian Peninsula, rather than north across the Sahara, or from India.

The scientific/botanical name for Okra is Abelmoschus esculentus. Okra is a very versatile vegetable that is used to make diverse meals across the world. Some Popular Okro meals include Miris, Superkanja, Okra and Rice Casserole. This is one food that is of African origin that is eaten by so many ethnicities that most times it is easy to forget its actual descent.


African Origin Coffee

Another food of African origin on our list is Coffee. If you watch Telenovelas as I do, you were probably thinking that Coffee originated from places like Columbia or Mexico. Well, it actually originated in Africa. 

Wild coffee plants originated from Kefa, Ethiopia, and were taken from southern Arabia and placed under cultivation in the 15th century. 

Coffee is a beverage brewed from the roasted and ground seeds of tropical evergreen coffee plants of African origin. It is one of the three most popular beverages in the world alongside Water and Tea. Though coffee is the basis for an endless array of beverages and it is mainly attributed to its invigorating effect which is produced by caffeine, an alkaloid present in coffee.

Coffee is very common in the Western world, such as Europe, Canada, Arab Nations, the United States, Columbia, and Mexico and it has been tweaked to suit different cultures. This is one beverage of African origin that has gained worldwide recognition.

Black-Eyed Peas

African Origin Black-eyed Peas
Black-eyed Peas

Last but not least would be the Black eyed peas. This is another food of African origin that is eaten in different parts of the World. The black-eyed pea or black-eyed bean is a legume grown around the world for its medium-sized, edible bean. It is a subspecies of the cowpea, an Old World plant that is domesticated in Africa. The Black-eyed peas originate from West Africa, despite their name black-eyed peas are actually beans. Black-eyed peas have an earthy, slightly sweet flavor and firm texture, and pair well with greens, onions, garlic, and tomatoes.

There is a Myth about black-eyed peas, if it is eaten on New Year’s Day, they’ll bring prosperity in the upcoming year.  It is also said that the swelling of the simmering peas symbolizes prosperity and others say that the peas represent coins and the greens accompanying the meal represent dollars.

 These above-mentioned foods, beverages, and fruits are popular foods eaten around the world but they are of African Origin. It is very easy to assume that they are not of African Origin because they are eaten by different people around the World and it is easy to get carried away by the different adaptations done to these meals by different cultures that after a while forget or never know that they are of African Origin.

This article highlights some popular foods eaten by all and sundry that are of African Origin, let us know in the comments about any other such foods that you know about, that are of African Origin and it just might be helpful.

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Debbie Obierika
Debbie Obierika
I am a versatile writer with passion for curating interesting and thrilling content that wll keep my readers glued to their screen.

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