Which African foods could succeed in the UK market?

According to a study from Waitrose and The Telegraph, African flavours and cuisines will be trending in 2019. As it stands, we don’t often see pre-packaged African foods in supermarkets, but we are starting to see African restaurants gaining popularity in the UK. Habesha in Manchester and Wolkite in London are receiving raving reviews for their Ethiopian food.

With Sub-Saharan cooking, the kitchen is mostly outdoors. Food is often cooked in pots over open fires in the yard of a house. Three stones arranged in a triangle, with the wood kept in the centre, where the pot rests. We explore some of the cuisines offered in this part of the world.

West Africa

West African cuisine can be described as starchy and spicy. Fufu is made by mixing and grinding equal portions of cassava and green plantain flour with water. It’s often eaten with soup, and commonly found in Ghana, Nigeria, and Liberia.

Kenkey (also known as kormi, kokoe, and dorkunu) is similar to sourdough dumpling, often served with pepper sauce, soup, stew or fried fish. It’s made from ground corn, and most eaten in Ghana, Guyana, eastern Côte d’Ivoire, west Benin, and Togo. The maize is left to ferment before cooking, so preparing the dish takes a few days. It’s wrapped in banana leaves (or foil, or corn husks) and steamed.

Garri is a term used to describe powdery foods, like flour grains, maize flour, and fried tapioca (starch extracted from cassava plant). Cassava tubes are peeled and mashed together, placed in a porous bag, and squeezed in a press to remove excess water. It’s then fried in a large pot, with or without palm oil (with palm oil is known as yellow garri, without is known as white garri)

  • Eba is a stiff dough made from garri, which is soaked in hot water and kneaded until it becomes doughy. It’s served with soups and sauces
  • Kokoro is a snack food in Nigeria made from a maize flour paste, and mixed with garri and sugar and deep-fried

Foutou is an Ivorian dish made of pounded plantains with palm nut stew. Sauce Graine is a sauce made of palm nuts. Banku is fermented corn and cassava dough, mixed and cooked in hot water. It’s a Ghanaian dish, often served with fried fish, stews, soups, and pepper.

Common West African ingredients include starchy tubers like, yams, eddoes, cassava; grains: millet, sorghum, rice; and oils: palm oil, shea butter. Cooking techniques include mashing, spicing, frying, roasting, boiling, and baking.

Southeast Africa

Ugali is cornmeal porridge, cooked in boiling water or milk until it’s a stiff, dough-like consistency. There are many varieties across Kenya, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Zambia, etc., with different cooking techniques.

Sukuma wiki (translated to “push/stretch the week”) is made of collard greens, and cooked with spices and onion, often eaten with ugali and meat. It’s eaten in Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, and Congo.

Halva is a sweet which is either flour-based (and slightly gelatinous; primary ingredients are flour, sugar, and ghee), or nut butter-based (made of nut butter like sunflower seeds, butter, and sugar).

Common spices used in Southeast Africa include curry, cardamon, saffron, sage, cloves, and cinnamon.

Horn of Africa

The Horn of Africa takes inspiration from other Sub-Saharan countries – Ugali is common. Teff (a type of grass native to Ethiopia and Eritrea) is used to make injera (flatbread with a spongy texture), and canjeero (a variation eaten in Somalia).

Common ingredients include: rice, banana, leafy greens, peppers, coconut milk, tomatoes, lentils, enset (a flowering plant), and noog (a plant grown for its oil and seed).

Central Africa

Cuisine in Central Africa reflects the cuisine found in general Sub-Sahara: ugali, fufu, and starchy and spicy meals. Dominant plants include plantains, peanuts, okra, chillies, and cassava. Meats that are often eaten include chicken, beef, bush meat (crocodile, warthog, antelope), and spicy hot fish. Mushroom is also used as a meat substitute.

Southern Africa

Food in Southern Africa revolves around meat: cattle, goats, and sheep.

Braai is barbecue meat by grilling foods over coals. It can also include sides like potato and corn on the cob, and is usually cooked in a social gathering. Sadza is thickened porridge made from grains and popular in Zimbabwe (a variation of ugali). Bogobe is ground sorghum (cereal crop) with sour milk.

Potjiekos is dish prepared outdoors, and cooked in a three-legged cast iron pot. Meat, vegetables, and starches are cooked in the pot, and spiced. The food is not stirred to allow the meat to flavour the vegetables while slow cooking. Biltong means dried meat, usually processed in dry air conditions. It can be eaten as a snack, or used in stews or sandwiches. Koeksister is a dessert made of fried dough, and covered in syrup or honey.

Common crops are: pumpkin beans, cabbage, leafy greens, sorghum, and maize. There are many influences from Indian and Malay cuisine: sambals, fish stews, samosas, chutney, curries, and pickled fish. European influences are biltong, potjies (stews of onions, tomatoes, and maize), French wines, and crueler (sugar syrup cookies).

What consumers think

We asked our consumer panel if they would try a few of the dishes mentioned above. We tested ten different dishes with images and descriptions using “Yes/No” steers, and ranked them in order of preference.

Here are the results:

African foods tested

The results show that African desserts are seen favourably with our consumers. Potjiekos and braai also performed well, perhaps due to their familiar cooking techniques. To determine the viability of each item, further testing against other products in the same category would be useful.

Sub-Saharan cuisine is both rich and varied, though across the country there are commonalities – starchy foods served with spicy vegetables and meats. We know that the British population are willing to accept new cuisines, so perhaps African cuisines can move from being an emerging trend to becoming established in the market.

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