Without food from Africa, we wouldn’t have the most popular drink in America, a summertime favorite treat, or the most popular soft drink in the world. There can be no denying that Africa has had a massive impact on our food here in the United States and worldwide. Though you might not know it. Here are six foods from Africa that you may not have known about.
Coffee is the third most consumed beverage in the world after water and tea. And while these days you can find it growing everywhere from Hawaii to Brazil, the coffee tree is a native of Ethiopia. The earliest evidence of coffee consumption comes from the 15th century in Yemen, but the oral tradition of coffee drinking goes back much further. But it is important to note that coffee’s introduction to the Americas was a significant driver of the slave trade, particularly in Martinique in the Caribbean, where coffee was first brought to the Americas in 1720.
It wasn’t until the Boston Tea Party in 1773 that Americans started making the switch from tea to coffee. After the Boston Tea Party, it was primarily seen as unpatriotic to drink tea, largely imported. Fast forward to today, and coffee is the most popular drink in the United States. More popular than any soda, beer, or even water.
Unless you’re from one of the southern states, you may not have heard of okra. The edible seed pods are a gardener’s best friend and simultaneously their worst enemy. They can go from unready to be harvested to overripe and woody in a single day. The origins of okra are somewhat disputed as both Asian countries, and African countries lay claim to them. This dispute may end as some wild okra varieties have been found in Africa.
What lands them on our list, though, is the fact that they came to the U.S. from Africa via the Atlantic slave trade. It isn’t clear when okra was first introduced to the Americas, but it was first recorded in Brazil in 1658. If you look online, some sites claim that historians believe Okra may have made the trans-Atlantic journey in the hair of the enslaved. But, they do little to back up these claims. It is entirely possible. However, okra was brought over by those who had been captured for the slave trade.
Peri-peri chicken has grown in popularity thanks to the international fast food chain Nando’s spread. But did you know that Nando’s and peri-peri chicken originate in Africa? The popular food starts with the peri-peri pepper, a pepper initially from the Americas (as all peppers are) but has grown wild in Africa for several centuries.
The Portuguese brought the peri-peri pepper to Africa, and what happened after that is a bit of a mystery. Was it Portuguese colonizers who invented peri-peri sauce? Was it locals? We simply don’t know. Some theories even show that the sauce was created in Brazil and brought to Africa. Either way, peri-peri only made it big in the United States in the last couple of decades thanks to immigration and Nando’s.
Today China dominates the watermelon industry producing two-thirds of the world’s total watermelon crop yearly. Watermelon first came from Africa. The earliest signs of watermelons come from seeds found at a prehistoric archaeological site in Libya, dated around 3500 BC, more than 5,000 years ago. By 2000 BC, watermelons had been domesticated in Egypt.
There is no evidence of who brought watermelon to the United States, but we know that it was grown in Florida in 1576. By the Civil War, watermelons became a symbol for the abolition of slavery thanks to how widely free black people produced them.
Black-Eyed peas are another one of those foods that primarily comes up in southern cuisine that originates in Africa. However, they have also been grown in India and China since prehistoric times. Black-eyed peas were brought to the United States as part of the food meant to feed the enslaved. When they arrived in the new world with black-eyed peas left over, they had been planted and grown in Virginia since the 17th century.
Most of you probably don’t know what a kola nut is. You won’t find it in stores, and it isn’t an ingredient in anything you will have ever had….anymore. In the past, it was the primary flavor and the source of caffeine in Coca-Cola and other cola sodas. These days the big brands rely on artificial flavor to get their kola taste, but it is possible to make your cola using Kola nut today if you can get your hands on kola nut. Amazon has several sources for kola nut if you’re interested in trying it.
Thank God for my ancestors from Africa. We enjoy many liberties for their sacrifice, including food, but not limited to it. We have black-eyed peas often, especially on New Year’s Day… it’s a tradition.