African cuisine is becoming more popular the world over. This is no surprise – with it's focus on fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, it is both a healthy and a flavorful choice. Although Africa is a large continent made of many different countries and cultures, there are a few defining traits for each region that you should know before you begin stocking your African pantry.
North Africa has been in contact with both Mediterranean Europe and the Arabic civilizations for thousands of years. This means that the food has incorporated the flavors of the cultures and created its own. The whole grains of North Africa, such as couscous and semolina, have been a staple in western kitchens for many years. The favored spices reflect the region – with the musky flavors of cinnamon, saffron, nutmeg, and cloves dominating. Much of the cuisine depends upon vegetables, many familiar to the western palate, such as summer squashes, tomatoes, and spicy peppers. Beef and poultry are also common, although pork rarely makes a showing due to the many Islamic roots in the area.
This is a hot and spicy region. West African cuisine focuses on starchy vegetables, like yams and cassava, often served as a stew. Hot spices and peppers, the hotter the better, are also common in this cuisine. The native Guinea pepper is a favorite for spicing things up. Goat is a popular protein source, as is seafood in the coastal regions.
East African food is a vegetarian's delight. This is because many of the cultures in this region see meat as a currency and not as a food source. Native corn dishes, similar to polenta, are common, as are a variety of rice, lentil and couscous dishes. Much like in North Africa, the Arabic spices of saffron and cloves are preferred, but there is also a healthy use of citrus for flavor.
Central African foods have evolved very little, due to very few outside influences on the cuisine. Many of the foods are from the jungle, including such exotic offerings as monkey. Cassava, the starchy root vegetable, is a staple, as are plantains and a variety of greens.
Though they are becoming more popular, it can still be difficult to find the staple ingredients to recreate a favorite African dish. Fortunately, there are more retailers offer African food for sale online, so with patient shopping you can probably find exactly what you need.