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In the African culture, cooking and eating is a coming together of family and community.  All members share in the growing, picking, preparing and cooking of the food. Food is also cooked in such a quantity to have enough for any unexpected visitors coming to share in the hearty feast.  All phases of life are celebrated with food.


But the one element that can make or break good food is the spice.  And African Cuisine has its own unique spices that give it that tasteful, memorable flavor.  


We are going to explore some spices that are uniquely African, and specifically unique to West Africa.  Some of these spices you might have heard of in a few international cooking shows – they brought a taste of Africa to the world:




  • Turmeric – It has an earthy flavor and gives food that distinctive yellow color.
  • Tamarind –This spice is native to the Tropics, but can be found in the Caribbean, Africa and Latin-America.
  • African Bird Pepper – Or better known as Piri Piri.
  • Ras-el-Hanout – This is a North African / Moroccan blend.
  • Preserved lemons – mostly used in Entrees.
  • La Kama – A curry blend from Morocco.
  • Tajines – Mostly used to flavor stews.
  • Berbere – Ethiopian blend.
  • Dukka / Dukkah – A very coarse Egyptian spice blend.
  • Sharmoula / Chermoula / Charmoula – A puree unique to North Africa.
  • Garlic – Closely related to the onion, can be used in its dried or fresh form.  When grown, it is in the form of clumps or heads of cloves.
  • Saffron – The most expensive spice in the world, mainly due to the fact that so many of its flowers are individually required to create even a pound of this spice.  
  • Cardamom – The seed needs to be cracked before use.
  • Fernugreek – Has both a sweet and somewhat bitter taste to it.
  • Nutmeg – With its distinctive mildly sweet and warm taste.
  • Cinnamon – Derived from the “Cinnamon Cassia” family.
  • Ginger – This spice is regarded as one of the most popular in Africa.
  • Coriander – Can mostly be found in use in Morocco and Egypt.
  • Lemon Grass – Commonly seen as a substitute for lemon zest.
  • Cumin – Traditionally worn by a bride and groom at their wedding ceremony – to bring forth a joyful life.





  • African Potash – Used as a native salt.
  • Ginger, Thyme and Coriander – These spices are mostly used very sparingly.
  • Sumbala / Soumbala – Prepared over an extended period of time by using Néré seeds.
  • Aframomum Melegueta – Derived from the Guinea Pepper plant.


Interesting spice fact:  In Ghana it is believed that hot pepper cleanses and cools the body.


Sampling cuisine from different countries gives you a unique glimpse into what gave food such a great impact to the people of that area.


Do yourself a favor – try some of these wonderful spices and have a go at the recipe below.  Your senses will take a magical journey through Africa you will still remember, long after your last spoonful of food…


Okra is a vegetable that’s very popular throughout Africa and the Caribbean and it is rich in vitamins. Okra’s hearty, so a common way to cook it is in soup. Okra Soup is best eaten with ebà or Pounded Yams, but some choose to serve it with cooked rice.

In some parts of Nigeria, Okra Soup is one of the first solid foods offered to babies because it’s so easy to digest—so if you’re not sure how much your stomach can handle, Okra Soup is a great place to start! This particular recipe is popular among the Ibos in Nigeria.


Okra Soup

Preparation time: 15 minutes

Cooking time: 10 minutes

Makes: 3 serving



  • 450g raw beef cut into 5 pieces (optional)
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 stock cubes
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 200g fresh okra, cut into tiny cubes
  • 1 fresh habañero pepper, cored and finely chopped
  • 4 tablespoons red palm oil
  • 1 piece dried fish
  • 1 tablespoon ground dried cray-fish or prawns
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 handful sliced ugu (fluted pumpkin leaves)
  • Ebà or cooked white rice, for serving



  1. In a medium pot over medium heat, combine the meat, water, and 1 of the stock cubes and cook until the beef is tender. Remove from the heat and set aside.
  2. In a second medium pot over medium heat, warm the oil for 1 minute. Add the onion and cook for 1 minute. Reduce the heat to low, add the okra and habañero pepper, and fry for 2 minutes.
  3. Add the beef stock (in the first pot) to the pot containing the okra mixture. Immediately add the dried fish, the remaining 1 stock cube, and the crayfish and bring to a boil. Boil for 3 minute. Taste and season with the salt.
  4. Add the ugu and stir until well combined. Remove from the heat.
  5. Serve hot with the ebà or rice.


Cook’s Tips

After adding the okra, be sure to use low heat to avoid overcooking. If you can’t find red palm oil, fry 2 tablespoons of tomato paste in vegetable oil as a substitution. Red palm oil can be bought in African shops. You can replace Ugu with spinach leaves.

Did you like that recipe? Share one of your own!

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