Africa is home to 54 countries that each boast a unique set of flavors inspired by a variety of influences. Some of these include intergenerational transmission of traditions, culinary exchanges as a result of Colonialism, continuous global contact through trade and migration, and a shift in how food is prepared and consumed in today’s modern world. For centuries, African food has absorbed outside influences, yet it has also managed to retain its authentic regional flair and nuances.
Foods and recipes rooted in traditional African cultures have been adapted into new creations by those within the African diaspora. For example, okra, yams, and certain beans are just a few of the staples in traditional soul food recipes that are influenced by African dishes. Similarly, much of Brazil’s food, in its Bahia region and elsewhere, is rooted in West African cuisine, with many dishes calling for cassava, palm oil, or black eyed peas. You’ll also find parallels between African food and some Caribbean, Creole, and Gullah-Geechee dishes.
Despite all of its history and influence, the African food sector outside of the continent, particularly in the United States, hasn’t realized its full potential. While other ethnic cuisines like Chinese, Japanese, Mexican, Indian, and the likes have become embedded in America’s food scene, there is still a lot of mystery shrouded in African food. The conversation has been slowly shifting, and recently, traditional West African food managed to secure a spot on Whole Foods Markets list of top 10 food trends for 2020. And while there is a growing interest in African food, it has not yet fully manifested into a popular food category.
Several dynamics contribute to the overall obscurity of African cuisine with a few including the tendency to lump foods from the continent’s 54 countries into one category, insufficient marketing, poor access to African food in various locales, stigmas and stereotypes, and a general lack of knowledge.
Realizing the need for further conversations and education regarding African cuisine, 54 Flavors hopes to boost the profile of foods from all of the countries that make up the vast continent. Through an ongoing series of conversations with Africans and those across the diaspora, we intend to gain insight on what is being done right, what areas of the African food industry can use some work, and, of course, the foods that are essential in different cultures and how they have been adapted as they make their way around the world.
As innovation is crucial within the ever-evolving food sector, we’ll be profiling those who have implemented new methods of weaving African food into Western societies and how these approaches are shaping the path forward. We will examine the ways that African food is experienced from a design and architectural standpoint, as food consumption is as much a cultural experience as it is an essential. Traditional methods of communal cooking, eating, and celebrations where food is a focal point continues to transform, especially as we head towards a post-Covid society.
We’ll have some fun along the way, getting some insight on things like the light-hearted rivalry known as the “Jollof Wars” and the failed appropriation attempts on the dish by celebrity chefs like Jamie Oliver.
There’s a myriad of African bloggers and vloggers casting the spotlight on delicious African dishes that have gone unnoticed in Western cultures; we’ll be connecting with them, as well as other industry experts doing their part to expand the African food imprint.
So join us as we cover all things African food, from restaurants to food trucks to frozen foods at big brand supermarkets, and more. And if you come across something that you think we should explore, get in touch!
Series developed by Zetashi & Design233. Creators Nana Dennis Manu & Korantemaa Larbi.