SPICES! The one thing that most of us feel we need for cooking almost every meal. We all have our favorite spices that we cannot do without in the kitchen. They consist of local and foreign spices but foreign spices are more popular. Have you ever thought of the local spices that are grown Nigeria and west Africa as a whole? We have many common food items including spices in this region. Some of our local spices are becoming unknown and unpopular due to the influx of foreign spices and their promotion in all these new recipes that we want to try out
Sometimes we try to recreate those delicious foods that our mothers and grandmothers made for us when we were young. But sometimes, nailing the taste as we remember can be difficult because they were mostly using local ingredients and spices which are disappearing from our society and kitchen.
This post is for local spices of Nigeria and west Africa as a whole so those foreign spices that you have been looking for their local names such as cumin, cinnamon, Fenugreek, Fennel, Star anise etc. you will probably not find it. This is because we don’t have them in our local languages because they are not our food. They are imported into the country and with time, we became familiar with them.
Likewise, you cannot find the names of our local spices e.g Ashanti pepper, uziza, ogbono, kuli-kuli in other foreign societies such as the west, China, India etc. You can try going to united kingdom and ask them for a local name for our spices like the Ashanti pepper, etc. They have no local names for them because it is not their local produce.
Today we want to discuss all those local spices that are grown by the local farmers and then we will discuss their names in our local languages. I will be updating this list with more Local languages as time passes. Some of them I am sure you are familiar with them but you might find some that you probably never knew them. If u know of other local spices not included in this list, kindly let me know in the comments below. We Shall now begin:
Spices and herbs are often listed together because they are both used to enrich the taste of foods and teas in numerous ways. Spices are defined as plant produce from other parts of the plant apart for the leaves such as the stems, bark, seeds, roots etc. e.g ginger, garlic turmeric, black pepper etc. while herbs are mainly gotten for the leaves of the plant only e.g thyme, basil, rosemary etc.. Some food items can be both herbs and spices at the same time and can be used for medicinal and household uses beyond just food. Let us begin:
English name: Mustard Seeds
Scientific name: Brassica nigra.
Hausa name: Bakin Algaru
Mustard seeds are very tiny seeds that are cultivated in a variety of colours and sizes however, the most commonly used are the yellow, brown and white mustard seeds. The black seeds are the most common in West Africa and are used to spice paps, soups and drinks in the traditional setting.
The black mustard seeds are the most pungent of the three commonly used seeds which are the tallow, black and brown mustard. They are used around the world including Africa for food decoration, cooking oil after processing and massage to keep warm in the winter and as a condiment (Dijon mustard).
Note: upon smelling a fresh hand-full of mustard seeds, no aroma can be detected. To release the flavor of this wonderful spice, you need to toast it or fry them then, you can smell for yourself its aroma. So don’t forget that when you are using this spice for cooking.
English name: Grains of selim, African black pepper
Scientific name: Xylopia aethiopica
Hausa name: Kimba
There is often, some confusion between the grains of paradise and grains of selim. These are two different spices though they can look similar to the eye. Alligator pepper within its pods is long and without the pods, it is small and grainy like the common black pepper seeds while grains of paradise have bigger seeds.
This spice has a strong aromatic and pungent scent with a slight bitterness. It looks like tiny bean pods slightly twisted. After smashing the pepper pod to release the seeds, the husk can be used has the most spice. Also, Alligator pepper has many names as it is a very old and useful spice. It is used both as medicine and as a spice in foods such as pepper soups, and drinks.
English name: Cloves
Scientific name: Syzygium aromaticum.
Hausa name: Kanunfari, Kanumfari
Cloves are one of those spices that are very commonly found almost anywhere in the world. They are known to be native to Asia and South America though they are now grown in most countries with hot and humid conditions. The clove spice we use is the dried flowers of the evergreen clove tree which were pink colored when fresh and become dark after being dried.
It is rich in antioxidants, vitamins and minerals hence it is often used for medicinal purposes such as strengthening the immune system, aid digestion, for tooth and gum care etc. Beyond its use as a spice in foods, it is a common ingredient in pharmaceutical and cosmetic industries. Clove oil is a natural insecticide as it contains the compound eugenol (some studies show that this compound can cause allergies) and carophyllene which has antimicrobial properties.
English Name: Garlic
Scientific name: Allium sativum
Hausa Name: Tafarnuwa
Garlic is a known herb and spice around the world. Most people love but but for some, not so much. Its use as a food and medicine can be traced to ancient times in Egypt and other long-lost civilisations. Garlic is from the onion family and is related to leeks, chives, shallots etc.
You might have used it before for one of its most popular medicinal use, colds and respiratory infections. Other health uses include for better heart health, to lower cholesterol, improved athletic performance, improved memory etc. They are also good blood thinners hence why the recommended dose is to take 1-2 clove pieces of raw garlic and not more than that.
English Name: Ginger
Scientific name: zingiber officinale.
Hausa name: Citta
Ginger might not be as pleasant or popular as garlic is culinary and medicinal uses. Ginger is most popular in Indian and Desi related foods. Here in Africa, we mostly use it as a spice in pepper soups, paps and drinks.
Never the less, we know that ginger has many amazing benefits which have not all been discovered by researchers. Some of its most prominent uses are for colds and sore throats, gas and bloating, nausea and indigestion. But is has more such as easing menstrual cramps, regulating blood sugar levels, preventing cell damage which in turn prevents against chronic diseases etc.
Feel free to find out how to use ginger for each of these ailments as it is proven to be effective and beneficial to overall health in numerous scientific studies.
English name: African Basil
Scientific name: Ocimum gratissimum
Hausa Name: Daddoya
There are many types of basil and they differ in colour and sizes across the world. There is much confusion on the internet on the identification of the type of basil in west Africa as the common basil that is referred to as just basil is not the same basil with our own.
I have tried to get it right and I believe that the basil that we have here locally is called the African basil (clove basil) (common in Nigeria, Ghana etc.), the Christmas basil (common in Gambia, Senegal) and the camphor basil (common in east Africa such as Kenya, Uganda, Sudan). It is not the common basil (Basil), the black opal basil nor the holy basil.
Our local basil has many uses beyond just food. It is well used for the treatment of fertility, infections and . These are just some of its local medicinal uses in some societies. I cannot speak on its effectiveness as a I don’t have any experience with the use of African basil and Christmas basil in these situations.
English Name: Grains of paradise
Scientific name. Aframomum melegueta
Hausa Name: Kaajiji
This is not to be confused with African black pepper also known as grains of selim and negro pepper. The difference is that African black pepper resembles a long bean and the peppers are inside while the grains of paradise are bigger in size and are golden brown in color while alligator pepper has a black colour .
Native to west Africa, this spice belongs to the ginger family and is closely related to cardamon. It is pungent with citrus-like taste. It is such a shame that this spice is often forgotten in the kitchen for it has a very unique taste and medicinal values.
English Name: African Locust Bean Seeds
Scientific Name: Parkia biglobosa
Hausa Name: Daddawa
Most west African cultures use this very old spice that is prepared from the fermented seeds of the locust bean pod. It has been used for centuries as a spice in west Africa and continues to be a big part of our traditional food recipes. Some love it while others not for much because of its strong smell that can last on your breath for hours (oops!).
English Name: African Nutmeg, Calabash Nutmeg & Jamaican Nutmeg
Scientific Name: Monodora Myristica,
Hausa Name: Gudan Miya, Gyada Mai Kamshi.
This is another interesting but not very popular spice that very few know about and even less use it. The African nutmeg is native to west Africa and has been used for both food and as medicine. For food, they are used as a substitute for the common foreign nutmeg spice.
Perhaps the deterring factor of this spice is the hard shell that is stuck to the spice itself. This makes it very difficult to properly crack and remove the spice whole. I know this because I have tried to do that before and it got very messy and i felt discouraged from trying to buy it again. I ended up with a blend of the nuts and the spice which made me doubt if I can even add it to my food.
It’s a shame that we cannot enjoy this spice more due to the hassle of preparing it ready hence the foreign nutmeg is more popular in our society as it has been
Update: Upon further research, turns out we don’t need to remove the difficult shell before using it as the foreign nutmeg is also grounded with its shell. Just crack the nutmeg shell without breaking it in half then grate the nutmeg on the smallest grater hole or a standard nutmeg grater and you are done. Or just blend everything to fine powder.
Hurray! I will sure buy calabash nutmeg next time I am in the market. How about you?
Englsih Name: Turmeric
Scientific name: Curcuma longa
Hausa name: Kurkum
We mostly get our turmeric in a powder form from the market. The fresh turmeric root is hard to find in many parts of west Africa but is available in place like southern Nigeria.
Recently, turmeric has gained popularity as it is the main ingredient for most curry powders that we use such as the popular Ducros curry. Though it is mostly used by Indians, turmeric has become a popular food spice and cosmetic ingredient for DIY face masks in our society. Its natural yellow and orange colour is also often used for food coloring
Englsih Name: Black Pepper
Scientific Name: Piper Nigrum
Hausa Name: Masoro
Yes this spice. The one spice that sparked my curiosity and led me to begin this journey into discovering unpopular African foods. You might have read my first post where it explained how it all started if not, you can read it here.
Black pepper is an old-world spice that has been used by many societies for millenniums. Today, black pepper is necessary for most western dishes. While we don’t use it as often her in Africa, it is still a well known spice that we add to our teas, drinks and pepper soups.
English name: Birds eye chilli.
Scientific name: Capsicum annuum.
Hausa name: Barkono.
The variation of the chilis and peppers in the world can make anyone one confused due to their numbers and variations of colour, size, shape, heat intensity etc. In west Africa, we have mostly 4 types of chili which is the birds’ eye chili, the African pepper (habanero pepper), serrano pepper and the African medium bell pepper.
The bird’s eye chili is very popularly used in west Africa, India, south-east Asia etc. It is red, yellowish or green sometimes and is the length of a human pinky finger. It is also the main ingredient for the popular Nigerian yaji, other pepper condiments while most people use it for adding some spiciness to our foods. We love spicy foods over here (haha..).
Caution should be taken by those that has stomach issues such as Ulcer and gastritis as they can irritate the stomach if not taken in moderation and with caution.
Common foreign spices
Though I am only concerned about our locally grown herbs and spices that are a part of our culture in this post, there are some foreign spices that have been with us for quite some time and have become a part of our spice corner. Some of these plants are used more for health than for cooking such as lemongrass.
Don’t forget, most of these spices don’t have a local name as they are not our own rather, they are referred by their English name, Arabic name etc. these herbs and spices include:
English Name: Lemongrass
Scientific Name: Cymbopogon
Hausa Name: Lemongrass/ Ciyawar lemo
English Name: common Nettle, stinging nettle, nettle
Scientific Name: Urtica dioica
Hausa Name: Kai kai koma kan mashekiya
English Name: Cinnamon
Scientific Name: Cinnamomum verum
Hausa Name: Kirfa
English name: Mint.
Scientific name: Mentha.
Hausa name: Na’a Na’a
English Name: Fenugreek
Scientific name: Trigonella foenum-graecum
Hausa Name: Hulba
Ok. Finally we are done. I hope it wasn’t too long for you. These are our local spices that we need to be more aware about and challenge ourselves to explore then and incorporate them into our foods. By doing so, we will give our food a fresh taste from the typical curry and thyme spices. Let us not forget, all of these spice have medicinal values that will improve our health in numerous ways.
I hope you had a great time with me today. If I missed a spice you would like to know about, please let me know in the comment section below and I will be sure to reply. Subscribe to this blog if you would like to be alerted when articles such as these are published.
Have a nice day and see you next time!