African Diaspora may be a new term for many people. We don’t hear it used very often in conversation or writing. African Diaspora is the term commonly used to describe the mass dispersion of peoples from Africa during the Transatlantic Slave Trades, from the 1500s to the 1800s. This Diaspora took millions of people from Western and Central Africa to diﬀerent regions throughout the Americas and the Caribbean.
These African ancestors landed in regions that featured diﬀerent local foods and cuisines, as well as other cultural inﬂuences, that shaped their unique cooking styles. The overall pattern of a plant-based, colorful diet based on vegetables, fruits, tubers and grains, nuts, healthy oils and seafood (where available) was shared throughout these four regions, but their cultural distinctions have reason to be celebrated. Their tastes can be shared and tried by people everywhere.
Here is a brief description of the four healthy regional diets of African Heritage. See the diﬀerences and similarities throughout:
Africa is home to leafy greens, root vegetables, mashed tubers and beans, and many diﬀerent plant crops across its lands. In Central and Western Africa, traditional meals were often based on hearty vegetable soups and stews, full of spices and aromas, poured over boiled and mashed tubers or grains. In Eastern Africa, whole grains and vegetables are the main features of traditional meals, especially cabbage, kale and maize (cornmeal). In the Horn of Africa, where Ethiopia and Somalia are found, traditional meals are based on ﬂat breads like injera (made out of teﬀ, sorghum or whole wheat) and beans blended with spices, like lentils, fava beans and chickpeas. Today, many meals in the Horn are still prepared in halal style meaning that they include no pork, no alcohol, and meat only from animals who have died on their own. Across Africa, couscous, sorghum, millet and rice were enjoyed as the bases of meals, or as porridges and sides. Watermelon and okra are both native to Africa, and many believe that cucumbers are too. Beans were eaten in abundance everywhere, especially black-eyed peas, which were often pounded into a powder for tasty bean pastes seared as fritters.
African American cuisine has been called “food to fall in love with.” Much of early African American cooking was inﬂuenced by both French and Spanish cuisines, and intertwined with Southern cooking to co-brand some of its major staples. The majority of traditional African American foods came straight from the garden. Cabbage, okra, tomatoes, peppers, and greens were abundant, including dandelion, mustard, collards, and turnip greens. Pickling vegetables was a popular way to preserve food; pickled beets, radish, cabbage, carrots, and cucumbers were enjoyed—and the list goes on! Louisiana’s Creole cooking has its roots in French, Spanish and Haitian cuisines, with a common base called “The Holy Trinity”: celery, onions and red bell peppers all equally chopped—which is at the heart of Louisiana’s popular Gumbo soup. Traditional Low Country cooking, from South Carolina and Georgia’s coast, features oysters, crabs, shrimp, sweet potatoes, Hoppin’ John, and rice.
The West Indies and Caribbean Islands bring tropical accents and various seafoods to the African Heritage Diet Pyramid. Approximately 23 million people of African descent live in the Caribbean. Here, we ﬁnd French, African, and Spanish culinary inﬂuences. Surrounded by ocean, traditional African-Caribbean fare included a variety of seafood, like salt ﬁsh and conch; tropical fruits, like papaya and guava; rice and peas dishes, typically featuring pigeon peas or red beans. Coconut milk, breadfruit, callaloo, yams, plantains, annatto and pumpkins are all found in the Caribbean islands. In the southern parts of the Caribbean, roti is a popular ﬂatbread, primarily made from whole wheat ﬂour, that can be ﬁlled with curried vegetables and shrimp, or bean dishes, as a warm, soft roll-up.
There are an estimated 100 million people of African descent living in South America, with a large majority in Brazil. The same African Heritage staple-dishes are found here: soups and stews are very popular, as are rice and beans, and tubers like yucca and cassava. Okra, peanuts, squashes and plantains appear on many plates, as do fruits and fruit juices like mangoes and guava. A few favorite ingredients are red snapper, avocado, cilantro, and tapioca. Native American roots are seen in their corn/maize use, and their tamales that combine peas, carrots, potatoes, rice, and various spices as ﬁllings. Moqueca Baiana is a popular traditional dish of Brazil. It is a seafood stew with prominent African roots made using palm oil, coconut milk, shrimp and crab, onions, garlic, peppers, tomatoes, and cilantro.