25 Popular African Foods You Should Know

Africa has been featured on the media and branded synonymous with poverty, war, crises, corruption, malnutrition. While some of these are true, the solution lies in harnessing the naturally occurring staple African foods in existence. In case you have wondered whether foods are in Africa at all or what types of food people eat in Africa, African foods are some of the most diverse in the world. Some are cultivated in African soil, nurtured by African weather and produced in Africa in its entirety while others are imported and have their origin from elsewhere.

Majority of Africans wouldn’t need any introduction to the common and most abundant African foods but not everybody would know that, for example the cassava nourishes more than 500 million people worldwide and has its origin from west-central Brazil. Answers Africa brings you some of the most popular foods in Africa that have worldwide reach.

25. Watermelon


Watermelon is a vine-like flowering plant (scrambler and trailer) that originated from southern Africa where it is found growing wild. It has spread across the world starting with the northern parts of Africa where at a time, its seed was found in Pharaoh’s tomb Asian countries including Israel were not left out. Watermelon has a smooth exterior rind (green, yellow and sometimes white) and a juicy, sweet interior flesh (usually deep red to pink, but sometimes orange, yellow and even green if not ripe). Today, farmers in approximately 44 states in the United States grow watermelon in commercial amounts; Georgia, Florida, Texas, California and Arizona are the US’s largest watermelon producers. This now-common watermelon is often large enough that groceries often sell half or quarter melons. In recent times, African countries are far from the list of largest producers of watermelon which has been occupied by China, Turkey, Iran, Brazil and the United States.  [See Also: 10 Popular Tanzania Foods You Should Taste]

24. Curry


Curry is got from the curry plant and used in vegetable dishes, as well as in meat and fish dishes. Its flavour can never be mistaken once recognized initially. It one of the most widespread species in the world that has been identified with the Asian however, it’s origin in Africa could be traced to the time of early railway construction to Uganda, during which the British imported a lot of Indians who came to Africa with their curries.

23. Okra


Okra is a flowering vegetable plant that is popular in African cookery because of its seed pods. The plant is cultivated in tropical, subtropical and warm temperate regions around the world. In Syria, Tunisia, Egypt, Albania, Greece, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, and Yemen, and other parts of the eastern Mediterranean, including Cyprus and Israel, okra is widely used in a thick stew made with vegetables and meat.

22. Banana


Wild forms of banana has its origin in the tropical parts of Asia. However, the Arabians started growing banana plant in the northern parts of Africa. Today, Bananas are grown in at least 107 countries, primarily for their fruit, and to a lesser extent to make fiber, banana wine and as ornamental plants.

21. Nutmeg


Nutmeg is a spice used for seasoning foods in Africa. It originally originated in the Moluccas in Indonesia. European traders introduced nutmeg to Africa.

20. Cumin


Cumin is a seasoning common to African food, It was originally planted in the ancient Egypt around the eastern Mediterranean and India and was first used in North African cooking before being introduced to the Central parts of Africa. Cumin is commonly used as basis in sauces to accompany chicken and other meat dishes. Mostly grown small scale in compound gardens.

19. Plantains


The plantain is a common day African food and member of the banana family. Plantains can be used for cooking at any stage of ripeness, and very ripe plantain can be eaten raw. As the plantain ripens, it becomes sweeter and its color changes from green to yellow to black, just like bananas. Plantains are a staple food in the tropical regions of the world.

18. Garlic


This is mostly an Asian plant, but has been in use by the ancient Egyptians for a long time. It was recorded among the bible as part of the foods the Israelites ate while in Egypt. Garlic is one of the most indispensable ingredients around, and plays a central role in Mediterranean and Asian cookery. A bulb composed of many individual cloves enclosed in a thin white, mauve or purple skin, it’s quite fiery, pungent and crunchy when raw. As it cooks it becomes more mellow and creamy. It’s mainly available dried, but fresh (also known as ‘wet’ or ‘green’) garlic, which has a mild flavour.

17. Coriander


Coriander is native to regions spanning from southern Europe and North Africa to southwestern Asia. It is a soft, hairless plant growing to 50 cm (20 in) tall. All parts of the plant are edible, but the fresh leaves and the dried seeds are the parts most traditionally used in cooking.

16. Aubergine (Eggplant)


The plant is native to the Indian Subcontinent but later spread to the Mediterranean and Africa. Eggplant is related to the potato and tomato. Eggplant is actually a fruit, specifically a berry. Although the most common type is large and dark purple, eggplant comes in many sizes (2-12 inches), shapes (oblong to round), and colors (white to green to purple). The first varieties of eggplant known to English-speaking people bore colorful egg shaped fruits, thus the name eggplant. At one time eggplant was discounted as poisonous and dubbed the “mala insane” (raging apple) because it was believed to cause insanity.

15. Onions


The origin of onions could be traced to the ancient Egyptians and the Sumerians (modern Iraq) where it was more commonly used. Today, most African foods have onions as part of vegetable or spice. The form an important flavor ingredient in most African dishes. The rest of the world is also not left out as there is no known continent where onions is not consumed today.

14. Ginger


Ginger cultivation began in South Asia and has since spread to East Africa and the Caribbean where they are more widely used. Because ginger exists in root form, it was more easily shipped than most seasonings, and it was thus widely spread at an early stage of history. The Romans imported ginger from Egypt as at 2008, Nigeria was the 6th largest producers of Ginger in the world with Cameroon at number 10 thus making both African countries the largest producers of Ginger in Africa.

13. Lentils


The lentil plant (Lens Culinaris) originates from Asia and North Africa and is one of our oldest sources of food. Lentils are one of the world’s oldest cultivated foods that are known to mankind. They are known to have been cultivated in Egypt 5000 years ago. A cousin to the pea and a rich provider of protein and carbohydrates, the lentil is also a good source of calcium, phosphorus, iron and B vitamins – making it an important diet staple the world over. There are several different varieties – most commonly used in cooking are Brown, Red and Green lentils, although Puy and Yellow are stocked in many health and specialist shops.

12. Millet


Millets are important crops in the semi-arid tropics of Asia and Africa (especially in India, Nigeria, and Niger), with 97% of millet production in developing countries. While millets are indigenous to many parts of the world, millets most likely had an evolutionary origin in tropical western Africa, as that is where the greatest number of both wild and cultivated forms exist.