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The African continent is a diverse landscape of 54 countries, each of which has rich cultural beliefs, practices, and eating habits. No two countries are the same, and several nations, subcultures, and tribes may even exist with a country’s borders.
Similarly, African food is not a monolith. While numerous ingredients are shared across the continent, they often bear different names, preparation methods, consumption patterns, and even cultural and religious significance.
African heritage foods like black-eyed peas, watermelon, and okra are commonly enjoyed worldwide. Today, more foods from this continent are making their way into homes across the globe.
Here are 4 indigenous African foods — plus their uses, nutritional value, and suggested recipes.
Baobab (Adansonia digitata L.) is the fruit of the iconic baobab tree that dots the African savannah, including the countries of Malawi, Kenya, and Mali (
All parts of the tree, including the leaves, flowers, bark, and roots, play a role in food security, income generation, and traditional healing (
The baobab fruit consists of a hard green or brown shell with a velvety coating, which — when cracked open — reveals a web of seeds clustered in a tangy, acidic pulp.
- processed into a powder
- made into snacks and sweets like ubuyu, a Tanzanian treat in which the pulped seeds are boiled in a pot of water colored with red food dye and flavored with sugar, cardamom, and chili pepper
- dissolved in water or milk and consumed as a refreshing beverage, such as bouye from Senegal
- sprinkled into porridge and smoothies to improve the taste and nutritional value
- used as a fermenting agent for traditional brews
Just 1 tablespoon (8 grams) of baobab fruit pulp provides (
- Calories: 30 calories
- Carbs: 7 grams
- Fat: 1 gram
- Sugar: 2 grams
- Fiber: 14% of the Daily Value (DV)
- Calcium: 3% of the DV
- Iron: 4% of the DV
- Potassium: 4% of the DV
- Vitamin C: 16% of the DV
While the whole fruit can be difficult to purchase in Western countries, baobab fruit powder is available in the specialty aisles of some food retailers, as well as African and international food stores.
Enjoy baobab in your kitchen using the following recipes:
Baobab is a fruit that’s indigenous to the African savannah and prized for its medicinal properties, nutrient content, and tart, acidic flavor. The pulp can be enjoyed whole or used to make a variety of beverages, snacks, and sweets.
The bambara nut (Vigna subterranea) is a legume that’s thought to originate in Western and Central Africa. Today, Nigeria, Burkina Faso, and Niger are the largest producers (
Bambara nuts grow in pods that open to reveal one or two smooth, round seeds. The seeds vary in size and can be white, black, dark brown, or speckled (
Throughout Africa, bambara nuts are enjoyed fresh or dried. They can also be roasted, boiled, or stewed to make a relish or snack. When cooked, their flavor and texture are quite similar to those of chickpeas (
- making traditional foods like okpa, a steamed pudding from Nigeria
- increasing the nutritional content of foods
- making pastries, snacks, pasta, and breakfast cereals
- making plant-based milk and probiotic-rich products
Bambara nuts play a role in traditional medicine. The Luo tribe of Kenya uses it to prevent diarrhea, while the Senegalese mix it with water to manage cataracts. In Botswana, pregnant women use the raw nut to manage nausea and vomiting (
Bambara nuts also enrich the nutrient content of grain-rich African diets. Grains like corn, sorghum, and millet are low in lysine and high in methionine — two amino acids that are important for growth, muscle turnover, and cell function.
Bambara nuts are high in lysine and low in methionine, making them a great complementary food for cereal-rich diets (
A recent study suggested that bambara nuts contain a balanced macronutrient composition and can be considered nutritionally complete. The nuts are also a good source of zinc, calcium, iron, and potassium (
Studies suggest that the brown nuts have a higher proportion of antinutrients than the white ones. These compounds may prevent your body from fully absorbing iron (
Bambara nuts are a newcomer to the global food scene but can be purchased from African and international food markets. They’re sometimes labeled as African yellow beans. Furthermore, you can buy bambara bean flour, also called okpa bean flour, in West African stores or online.
Use bambara beans and their flour to prepare these African favorites:
Bambara nuts are a legume that’s native to Central and West Africa. They contain a balanced amount of carbs, protein, and fat and are rich in nutrients like zinc, potassium, calcium, and iron.
Traditionally, indigenous African tribes salted and dried meat as a means of preserving wild game. Early pioneers introduced vinegar and spices like coriander, black pepper, and brown sugar to the preservation process (9, 10).
Today, the traditional practice of preserving meat by drying remains. The dried meat is then reconstituted in a flavorful stew with vegetables, spices, and — in some cultures — peanut butter.
As a meat product, biltong is high in protein and iron. When red and fatty cuts of meat are used, it can be high in calories, cholesterol, and saturated fats. Depending on the manufacturer and seasonings, biltong may be high in sodium.
High fat, high cholesterol, and high sodium diets are linked to chronic diseases like high blood pressure and cancer. For this reason, you should enjoy biltong in moderation (
A 2-ounce (56-gram) serving of biltong provides (
- Calories: 160
- Protein: 32 grams
- Fat: 4 grams
- Saturated fat: 2 grams
- Cholesterol: 80 mg
- Sodium: 470 mg
- Iron: 70% of the DV
Biltong, especially the beef variety, is now widely distributed outside of Africa.
Alternatively, use the following recipes to make your own biltong or a traditional stew from Zimbabwe:
Biltong is salted, dried meat that’s enjoyed as a stew, relish, or snack in Southern Africa. It’s a good source of protein and iron but may be high in saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium depending on the cut of meat and manufacturer.
Teff is a tiny grain that’s indigenous to Ethiopia and Eritrea. It grows well in harsh environmental conditions and without the use of pesticides (
After coffee, it’s the second most important crop in Ethiopia (
Teff stores well after harvest and is less likely to go rancid than wheat, barley, sorghum, or rice. In the regions where it grows, it’s eaten almost daily, often as injera — a spongy fermented flatbread served alongside wots (stews) (
Other local uses for teff include making porridge and tella, a type of beer (
This grain has recently gained global popularity in the West due to its health benefits and nutritional content. It’s now grown in Canada, Australia, and the United States, among other countries (
Teff is free of gluten, a naturally occurring protein that some people can’t tolerate. Thus, it’s safe for people with celiac disease or a gluten sensitivity (
Since the entire grain, including the germ and bran, is eaten, teff is a high fiber food. Diets high in fiber are associated with a healthy body weight and decreased risk of chronic conditions like diabetes, heart disease, and some forms of cancer (
Just 1/4 cup (50 grams) of dry teff provides (
- Calories: 180
- Protein: 7 grams
- Fat: 1 gram
- Fiber: 14% of the DV
- Calcium: 8% of the DV
- Iron: 20% of the DV
- Magnesium: 24% of the DV
- Zinc: 14% of the DV
Enjoy teff in your kitchen as a porridge or substitute for flour in recipes, as well as in snack bars or salads. You can also try the following recipes for some inspiration:
Teff is a gluten-free, high fiber whole grain that’s indigenous to Ethiopia and Eritrea. It’s regularly used to make injera.
As interest in global cuisine rises throughout the West, more retailers are stocking their shelves with foods from Africa.
This recent trend is a wonderful opportunity to try new foods and experience the flavors of a land so diverse and rich in culture.