African foods, health and well-being is the focus this blog and I would like to begin with a series of posts on the identification of common foods in the west African region of the continent with their names in English and our local languages. The categories of posts will be fruits, vegetables, spices and grains, tubers and nuts. Keep in mind, I will be updating and including more local languages as time goes by so please be patient with me for my limited language selection for now.
I am sure the experience that led me to write on these topics is not unique to me. I still I remember all those feelings of denial, anger and disbelief when I first discovered the local name for black pepper. Many years ago, I was just getting my feet wet with the internet and I wanted to try some simple western recipes I found online.
Black pepper kept coming up in most recipes I found. Video recipes made such a big fuss on the importance of black pepper for taste. It was made out to be something very important and just too good to leave out. This made me perceive black pepper to be a very foreign and exotic spice that was necessary for cooking tasty meals. So, i decided to thoroughly search for this spice in my city. I found it in a super market and I bought it for about 8x its local price (unknowingly) and brought it home only for my mom to tell me its a local spice with its name.
Priding my self on my little knowledge of (mostly foreign) spices (at that time), I thought she must be mistaken only for me to buy the same black pepper from our local market and compare it with the one bought from the supermarket. To my horror and disbelief, they are the same thing. I felt cheated!
This all happened many years ago and since then, I began to learn more about my local environment rather than looking for things beyond my reach when there is much around me that I do not know about. It also made me appreciate our local foods more. I realized how much we (at-least I) don’t know and unfortunately, we are over reliant and over excited for foreign foods when we have a lot of local foods that are undervalued and foreign to us.
Ok. Enough of my stories and unto what brought you here: common grains, tubers and nuts in West-Africa. I hope this limited selection will inspire you to eat more healthy and whole grain foods. For the past few decades, white rice and white flour has replaced many of our local and indigenous foods which were more suitable for our body and our environment.
Lastly before I begin, I am familiar with the confusion and frustration of finding the correct local name from a reliable source as most of the sites do not always get it right believe me I have been there and done that. It is very common to find 3 sites showing three different local names of the same plant/food.
I have done my best to make sure that all of these foods listed have been well researched to get their accurate information. But to err is human so, if I made a mistake please feel free to correct me in the comments below.
Here we go:
English Name: Fonio, white fonio, fonio millet, hungry rice,
Scientific Name: Digitaria Exilis
Hausa Name: Acca ( pronounced as Ach-cha)
There is much to write about this wonderful grain but I will try to just give a quick over view of its nutritional table. Fonio is gluten free which makes it ideal for those with gluten intolerance, high in nutraceuticals, minerals, vitamins, low in calories , high in carbohydrates, amino acids and proteins. etc. it is also easily absorbed in the stomach, has high fiber components, etc.
I believe everyone should try this grain atleast once in their life because it is such a nutritional powerhouse. There are many delicious recipes you can try making with Fonio for starters or just for a change if you have been cooking it for a while. You can also try substituting it for rice and other common staple food grains in your diet, fonio grounded to flour for baking, cooking it as a couscous etc. You can try this nice selection of food bloggers crafting creative and easy recipes for breakfast, lunch/dinner, snack time , salads. I will probably be making a fonio salad soon as I love to incorporate healthy foods in my mainly rice diet.
English Name: Corn (informal), Maize (formal)
Scientific Name: Zea Mays
Hausa Name: Masara
Maize is one of the most produced grain in the world and is especially popular with food manufacturing and pharmaceutical industries.
With regards to nutrition, Maize may be high in sugar and carbohydrates (carbs) and contains gluten, it has many useful nutrients as published by mayo clinic such as vitamins (vit. B), High fiber which aids in digestion and can help when constipated, prevents hunger as corn (just like Acca) keeps you full for longer periods than other grains such as rice, minerals (zinc, magnesium, copper iron, manganese) a good source of anti-oxidants, etc. other benefits includes improving eye health and improving gut-health.
English Name: Cassava, Manioc, Yuca
Scientific Name: Manihot Esculenta
Hausa Name: Rogo
Cassava is a root crop that originated in south America but became very popular in Africa, Asia and the west Indies. Particularly in west Africa, cassava is quite an important crop because it is the is the main ingredient for preparing the popular Garri (like a rough cassava flour).
Cassava doesn’t have much nutritional value but it is high in carbohydrates and water content. Caution should also be exercised when consuming cassava. Raw cassava should never be directly consumed as it contains dangerous compounds (naturally occurring toxic cyanogenic glycoside) that can lead to death or severe health problems. Beets and sweet potatoes have a better nutritional profile and are safer than cassava
Note: Processing cassava significantly depletes its little nutritional value as reported on healthline so, boiling is the best method for retaining the most nutrients.
English Name: cocoyam, taro
Scientific Name: Colocasia esculenta
Hausa Name: Makani
Cocoyam is a root crop that originated in Asia and over time, became a stable food crop in many developing nations around the world. The tuber crop is has higher nutritional value in vitamins, fiber and minerals than its cousins which are cassava and yam though its mostly comprised of carbohydrates. It is a resource for potassium, fiber, magnesium, and vitamin C, vitamin E, and anti-oxidants. The leaves are also used as a food and in natural medicine.
English Name: Guinea corn, Sorghum, great millet
Scientific Name: Sorghum bicolour
Hausa Name: Daawa
Sorghum is a type of millet that has been cultivated for centuries that is home to Africa. It is currently the fifth most cultivated crop in the world due to its nutritive content, versatility, ease of cultivation etc. It varies in size and color from red, brown, purple to black. Many communities especially In Africa and Asia have guinea corn as a stable food using various processing methods.
Sorghum got title of a super food for its high protein, fiber, essential minerals, anti-oxidants, vitamin B & E which is why it is often used for treating digestive issues, weight loss, loss of energy, malnutrition, bone weakness etc.
Moderation is key as they say and this is very fitting for the consumption of sorghum as some people with gastrointestinal issues may not find the grain to be suitable due to its high fiber content.
As we can see, guinea corn is not only for making pap as we normally use it but is has many other way it can benefit us and improve our health. I encourage everyone to find recipes that incorporate this wonderful grain or if you feeling creative, just make your own recipe and share it with us in the comments below.
Caution: Avoid the consumption of the immature plant as it can contain poisonous compounds.
English Name: Pearl millet
Scientific Name: Pennisetum glaucum
Hausa Name: Gero
There are various types of millet and the referred millet here is the grey-colored millet that is is very common in Africa called the pearl millet. Often on other sites, they refer to this grain as just the millet which is not correct because millet is a family of grains and every specific millet has a specific name.
Pearl millet is well used especially in Africa in many different ways such as to make pap ( also known as koko, akamu, or ogiri) and other types of pap, The Hausas utilize it to make fura and the Gambians/Senegalese use it for chakri where it is cooked then taken with yoghurt etc.
Some have stereotyped this grain as a “poor man food” just like Acca, which is unfortunate because they do not know what they are missing out on. Pearl millet just like most millets has a high fiber and carbohydrate content, vitamins, protein, minerals and beneficial anti-oxidants that are important in maintaining a healthy body.
English Name: Sesame, Beni seed , Benne
Scientific Name: Sesamum indicum
Hausa Name: Ridi
Sesame seeds come in a variety of black, brown/golden and white sesame seeds. Oil rich and tiny, these very old and very useful seeds are utilized in many different ways such as foods (baking, cooking etc.), oil-extraction, medicine, etc. In Africa, it is mostly utilized as a snack or stew (soup) and the oil is often used for skin, hair and as medicine.
Notable for its high nutritional profile, it is used to reduce inflammation, support bone health, balance hormones, regeneration of cells, anti-ageing etc
English Name: kolanut or cola nut
Scientific Name: cola nitida
Hausa Name: Goro
Kolanut is very popular in Nigeria particularly and other west-African countries for it is used in a variety of way such as a snack for caffeine where each kola nut contains more caffeine than two cups of coffee.
The chewing of kolanut is especially common in older men and women, cultural and social purposes (such as friendship and marriage, making a promise etc.), medicine etc. In food manufacturing, it is used as a flavoring agent such as sodas, energy drinks etc. and also an ingredient in pharmaceuticals ,
In general, kolanut is used as a natural stimulant and as an appetite suppressant, aid digestion and remedy hangovers. Just a little caution though, chewing on a piece of kolanut stains teeth, can make a person dependent/addicted just like caffeine and should be taken in moderation. One should not take more than half a kolanut in a day.
English Name: common wheat
Scientific Name: Triticum aestivum
Hausa Name: Alkama
The popularity of wheat cross the world as the second most harvested crop can be attributed to versatility. Most of us buy wheat without knowing it because food companies have become creative in transforming it from the whole grain to the finished products.
This includes common all-purpose flour, foods and snacks, food manufacturing (cereals, biscuits, semolina, couscous etc.), pharmaceuticals etc. Unfortunately, though wheat is a whole grain, but when over processed it can have little to no nutritive value. Hence it is better to buy to buy whole meal wheat products when shopping.
Unfortunately, the use of whole wheat has declined in Africa and bleached flour has replaced wheat in many local recipes making our food less nutritive and our bodies less healthy.
Note: common wheat or just wheat as we know it is not the same as barley.
English Name: Tiger nut, chufa nuts, earth almonds
Scientific Name: Cyperus esculentus
Hausa Name: Aya
Not to be mistaken, tiger nuts are not actually a nut but a tuber crop that grows in wet soils and taste similar to almods and pecans. Its named tigernuts for its color and stripes resembling a tiger.
Tiger nuts are usually eaten in African as a snack just like kolanut. It is prepared in different ways including making drinks, smoothies, baking etc. in Africa we often just take this nutritive crop as a snack but it can be used and prepared in so many different ways.
English Name: Cowpea, black-eyed beans, Southern beans, crowder beans
Scientific Name: Vigna unguiculata
Hausa Name: wake
Black-eyed peas despite the name are actually beans that come in a variety of red, white, black, brown of colors and is very commonly eaten in Nigeria and Africa at large. It contains all essential minerals and vitamins needed for proper body function. It can be used to rejuvenate and repair damaged skin, boosts hair health and growth and does what many are not able to do which improves spleen function.
English Name: soya bean
Scientific Name: Glycine max
Hausa Name: waken soya
Soya beans having varieties in colors and sizes are ancient of legumes that are native to east asia but have become popular around the world especially in the form of tofu (Awara in hausa) , soya oil and soy milk. Soybeans are usually eaten whole in asia and Africa while the European and northern American continent are more familiar with manufactured soy products.
These beans are low on saturated fat, high in protein (one of the best in plat proteins), fiber, iron, calcium and has a good amount of phytoestrogens which are naturally occurring chemicals in plants that mimic the female estrogen in the body
English Name: Bambara groundnut, Bambara Nut, ground bean, hog peanut etc.
Scientific Name: vigna subterranea
Hausa Name: Gujiya, Gurjiya, Kwaruru
Bambara nut is not a nut but a root crop just like groundnuts/peanuts that originates from west Africa. it has color varieties of red, black, brown cream and a combination of these colors. As a cousin to groundnuts, it has similar applications and uses though it is not very much popular to food scientists, researchers, the general population and the world at large.
Due to its nutritional benefits, it has been termed as a “complete food” for it is high in carbohydrates, protein and fat in that order. It also contains fiber, iron, zinc magnesium and high levels of methionine that is used to prevent liver damage and the general growth and repair of body tissues.
English Name: Bitter Kola, Garcinia Kola, cola nut
Scientific Name: Garcinia kola
Hausa Name: Namijin Goro
Bitter kola is a sibling to kola nut that is mostly found in western and central African region. True to its name, bitter kola is indeed bitter and for centuries, every part of the plant has been reported to be used in treating various ailments in African communities.
Bitter kola is well recognized as a stimulant just like kola nut and contains beneficial anti-oxidants. It is an anti-diabetic, antibacterial and antiviral power house. It was reported that it can help manage stress in the body by influencing some regulatory systems in the human body that are responsible for stress management as indicated by this study.
English Name: Thespecia, Silky kola, African chewing gum, Snot Apple
Scientific Name: thespecia Garckeana, Azanza garckeana
Hausa Name: Goron Tula
Silky Kola fruit is often referred to as the as the African chewing gum for its jelly-like and chewy texture. It is often taken as it is or added to soups and stews for a more complex taste. It is sold in local markets e.g in Botswana, Tanzania, Kenya Zambia, Nigeria and Zimbabwe etc. and grow in the wild/bush but they are sometimes grown domestically too.
A study indicated that the silky kola plant is used in herbal medicine for over 22 ailments as it is found to be an antibacterial, antioxidant, anti-fungal, anti-hyperglycemic and promotes good iron absorption and contains essential minerals.
There wasn’t much reliable information on the internet about this nut that gained popularity for its multiple benefits and effectiveness for it is unknown to most of the world. I will do more research and update you later about it.
English Name: Groundnut, Pea nut
Scientific Name: Arachis hupogaea
Hausa Name: Gyada
Peanut is or groundnut as we know it in Africa is a very common and popular nut around the world. They are unrelated to nuts but are related to other legumes such as beans and Tigernuts. Peanuts are used in a variety of ways such as a source of vegetable oil, butter, as a food and snack, flour, etc
Groundnuts are packed with healthy fats, high-quality proteins and high calories thus making it not ideal for those losing weight. In lesser quantities, they also contain minerals, vitamins and anti-oxidants.
There you have it. 23 foods items with their brief nutrition profile and these are all available in the local markets as they are local produce. Though some of them will need a little more effort to locate but once you identify a place you can buy it easily, that’s it. Your work is done!
I hope you enjoyed reading and being here with me today. If you would like any additional information or clarification, just comment in the comment section below and I will get back to you soon. if you just enjoyed the post or not let me know below in the comment section too. Don’t forget to let us know the grain, nut or tuber from the list that you would like to incorporate more in your food. For me, it is Acca, tiger nut and pearl millet. Wish me luck.
Don’t forget to subscribe to my blog so that you will get an email notification when I publish the rest of the series. Coming up is the vegetables of West Africa.
Update: Here is a link to the article. Enjoy!
I hope to see you there.