Healthy African Foods – 11 Authentic Dishes (and Recipes)
December 15, 2020
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The hottest continent on Earth, countries of diverse culture and history, and a nutritional wonderland… Experience Africa’s vast cuisine with these healthy African foods (recipe links included)!
Despite not being in the limelight of international food culture, African countries across the continent have developed rich, traditional cuisines and influenced the outside world.
Today, we’re taking a tasty tour together, so bring your sunblock and let’s go!
It must be noted that even in modern times, as much as 20% of Africa struggles through malnutrition, whilst developed countries face the opposite problem. We all have the power to help those in need; please support Save the Children by following them, sharing their work, and getting involved or donating. They are a trusted, leading organisation in ending this global crisis.
Interestingly, developed countries are plagued with processed foods (modern obesity, heart disease, and diabetes pandemics are largely driven by vegetable / seed oils, and added sugars, for example (^)(^)(^)(^)(^)(^)).
Whereas, many countries and cultures still rely heavily on natural, whole food sources, especially in less developed areas of the world.
The outcome is essentially more nutrient-rich cuisines and dishes! Consequently, this holds true in much of Africa’s rich heritage.
- Navigating Africa’s Cuisines (North to South)
- 1. Shakshouka (North)
- 2. Tajine (North)
- 3. Ful Medumas (North)
- 4. Injera (Central)
- 5. Doro Wat (Central)
- 6. Okra Stew (Central)
- 7. Maafe (Central)
- 8. Fufu (Central)
- 9. Mutura (Central)
- 10. Ravitoto (South)
- 11. Serobe (South)
- 12. “Entomophagy” (Continental)
A Gastronomical Tour: (The Many) African Cuisines
We’re taking the RV out, so hop on! Here’s a quick(-ish) tour from North to South, exploring landscapes, cultures, and their cuisines.
By no means are these exhaustive descriptions, but an overview of what to expect (according to my own research – feel free to share if you think I’ve missed anything!).
So, what are we waiting for? Let the journey begin!
First stop, the North. The arid landscapes and majestic deserts make the countries of North Africa both beautiful and mystifying.
The big countries here are Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco, Mauritania, Algeria, and Libya. Ultimately, ancient ways influenced by Europe and the Middle-East have developed complex yet refined food cultures.
The Northwest is called Maghreb, home of the native Berbers. As we head away from the Maghrebi mountains to the vast River Nile and the Delta in the East, we find Egypt and North Sudan.
Be assured you’ll never be short of traditional dishes to try and lively marketplaces to experience here!
Staples: Legumes, nuts, wheat, barley, meat (e.g. beef and lamb), seafood, fruits.
Flavour profile: Warm spices (e.g. cinnamon, cumin, chillies, saffron, paprika), light herbs (e.g. coriander, parsley, peppermint) and earthy base foods.
Central (West to East)
It’s time we take a U-Turn. Leaving tire tracks in the Northern deserts, we’re starting again in the West, but a bit lower down.
Touring from the lush forests and hills of Guinea to Tanzania’s tropical coasts, there’s a lot of land to cover… And a world of food differences to explore! Take a look at our leaflet below for the executive summary.
Starchy vegetables are the prize staples here: Plantains, yams, and cassava are a few.
In addition, nutrient-rich and flavourful veggies like eggplant, okra, squashes, and leafy greens are essentials.
When it comes to protein, seafood is the traditional go-to (especially on the coast), but chicken is incredibly popular and red meats are eaten more inland.
Stews and soups are easy to come across and are very popular.
The seasonings aren’t as emphasised as the North, but can be very spicy and uplifted by herbs.
Almost a mix of everywhere in Africa, central countries like rely on both starchy vegetables and grains.
Meats are scarce here, so locals eat a diet rich in vegetables, mushrooms, and sweet fruits.
Where possible, gathered bushmeat and fish are enjoyed as a protein, like ‘Makayabu’ – Congolese salted and dried fish.
However, insects like grasshoppers, crickets and cicadas are valued protein sources as well. They’re extremely nutritious, sustainable, nutty, and maybe a food of the future!
Grains, meats, and coastal seafood make a larger appearance in the East.
Especially, maize and other cereals, beef dishes, and grilled or stewed fish seem to be mainstays.
Also, coconut milk finds its way into vibrant recipes (like in Tanzania and Kenya).
Fruits are an important part of agriculture across the region, most famously bananas and mangoes.
When it comes to flavours, expect the food to match the climate – it’s hot.
Spices are the spirit of meals here, especially with historical influence from India.
Fortunately we have our sunhats, because this equatorial region will leave you in sweats – and so will the food!
Staples: Starchy vegetables and tubers, grains (e.g. maize, sorghum, millet) leafy greens, fish, red meat, .
Flavour profile: Varied: Generally a balance of hot spices with a hint of aromatic herbs and spices (e.g. ginger, garlic, coriander).
Cruising along the tropical coastlines now, we’re approaching the end of the tour. Just below Tanzania we reach Mozambique, a land famed for its pristine tropical beaches, blue seas, and wild national parks… And fresh seafood (I’ll race you to it)!
Spotting giraffes and lions as we then go to the west, we’re guided by the Zambezi river, passing the magnificent Victoria falls and paths surrounded by dense forests. Remember, hands and feet in the ride at all times and don’t feed the crocodiles, please…
This is a point where Namibia, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Botswana meet.
Say hi to the locals (English is a common official language), barter for plump and juicy fruits, and try to grab one of many maize porridge (like “pap”, “bogobe”, or “sadza”), grilled meat barbecue (“braaivleis”), or game meat varieties on the way.
Finally, on the West coast we find Angola with the chance to try “funje” – a cassava flour pudding, before we pass through Namibia to stop off in South Africa itself.
The South of Africa doesn’t just mean the country “South Africa”.
Staples: Maize / corn, sorghum, some legumes, meats and offal (e.g. beef, mutton, lamb, plenty of wild game), fresh seafood (on the coasts), mopane worms (Botswana, Namibia, South Africa), fresh greens, potatoes, fruit.
Flavour profile: Highly savoury, emphasis on quality main ingredients, especially spicy and vibrant in the East (Indian influence), can be sweeter in the South (Dutch, Malay, and Indian influence).
As you can see, African food is no simple matter! It’s a plethora of wonders, tastes, nutrition, and tradition.
Without further adieu, here are the top 11 healthy African foods you have to try in your travels or in your kitchen!
1. Shakshouka شكشوكة
Shakshouka, shakshuka, or chakchouka has to be the most famous North African dish of them all.
In fact, it’s a historical staple across the region, further extending into the Middle East and Mediterranean!
The nutritious stew is made with eggs poached in a spiced tomato sauce with vegetables. Some recipes add in starchy carbohydrates like chickpeas or potatoes, but many don’t.
It’s most well-known as a breakfast dish (and what a way to start the day!), but has its place in evening meals and sides, too.
Why It’s Healthy:
This comes in on top of the healthy food list, with eggs as a true superfood, packed with:
- Protein (in the form of every essential amino acid);
- Healthy fats (especially if grass-fed / pastured);
- Vitamins A, B6, B12, and D;
- And an abundance of Minerals (selenium, choline, potassium, iron, zinc, and copper).
Additionally, tomatoes have many health benefits. They’re a rich source of vitamin C and lycopene, which is a powerful antioxidant shown to reduce inflammation, skin UV damage, and potentially cancer (especially prostate) and heart disease risks (^)(^)(^).
Recipe by Our Tunisian Table (Tunisian)
There are many variations of Shakshouka, originating from historical cultural exchanges between North Africa and the outside world. For example, the Turkish “menemen“, Israeli “shakshuka“, and Andalusian “Huevos a la flamenca“.
2. Tagine / Tajine طجين
Pronounced “ta-jeen”, and also known as “maraq” or “marqa” from the Arabic word for broth, tagine comes from the Berbers.
It’s the name of any number of traditional stews, and actually refers to the conical, earthenware pots used to cook them in (above right).
You’ll find this traditional dish in almost any North African country, cookbook, or restaurant. To serve, couscous is traditional, but quinoa works perfectly for something extra healthy or gluten-free.
Varieties are plenty, and include Northern staple ingredients, varying by country, region, and season.
Meats are popular in tagine, especially chicken it seems, although there are many fish and vegetarian recipes.
Why It’s Healthy:
What makes this dish healthy is the focus on whole foods! It’s the same with anything – no processed nonsense, just quality, natural ingredients that yield outstanding results like they always have and always will.
It’s pretty much always loaded with vegetables, spices, and / or herbs. Plus, it’s a versatile way to enjoy most meats, fish, or legumes for protein.
So, try out some of these regional recipes below! You don’t need an earthenware pot, just use a heavy pan, stock pot, or slow cooker and pretend. 😉
Recipe by The Teal Tadjine (Algerian)
Recipe by My Moroccan Food (Moroccan)
Recipe by The Mediterranean Dish (Moroccan)
I had to include the sardine recipe when I found it! As one of my favourite foods ever, they’re delicious, highly nutritious, sustainable, and often overlooked. Check out my post on 21 Awesome Ways to Eat Sardines.
Libyan tagine actually refers to any casserole – not the cooking pot. And in Tunisia, ‘tajine’ is a thick baked egg dish, almost quiche-like!
3. Ful Medumas (Stewed Fava Beans) فول مدمس
‘Ful Medumas’ takes us back through time to Ancient Egypt in origin, but the dish is enjoyed (often at breakfast) in countries throughout North and East Africa and in the Middle East.
A more familiar name for fava beans is simply broad beans. Yep, the same long green ones you see in the supermarket!
However, to make the most of this dish, I recommend using the dried, soaked beans (or canned) rather than fresh, as you would find them in traditional cooking.
Why It’s Healthy:
Additionally, they’re particularly rich in vitamin B9 (Folate). This benefits us in many vital ways, including:
- DNA / RNA production;
- White blood cell production;
- Red blood cell production;
- Carbohydrate metabolism (creating energy);
- Heart health (lowering homocysteine and maintaining blood cell count and healthy blood vessels).
During pregnancy, B9 is especially important to ensure proper fetal development and keep mothers healthy during the process.
Furthermore, the beans are plentiful in manganese, copper, phosphorus, magnesium and also a small, but considerable amount of iron, potassium, and zinc (^).
Cumin (Read about its benefits here) is the star spice of ful medumas, but it’s not uncommon to use a mixture of spices, fresh herbs, garlic, or lemon juice either.
Recipe by Epicurious (Egyptian)
Behind China, Ethiopia and Egypt are the largest producers of fava beans in the entire world (^). Together, they harness almost 540,000 Megatonnes per year!
Safety Note: Allergies
‘Favism’ is a form of anaemia, and may be induced by substances in fava beans.
The symptoms are often mild, temporary, and don’t require treatment. Rather, abstinence from fava beans and certain medications are necessary as preventative measures.
This only affects people with an inherited genetic deficiency in ‘glucose-6-phosphate-dehydrogenase’ (G6PD), which is most common in Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, Asian, and African populations, and especially males. Estimates state those affected to be over 400 million people.
If you are of such descent and have not been diagnosed or eaten fava beans before, do get tested beforehand (your doctor may do a blood test).
4. Injera እንጀራ
This is one I would love to make one day! Basically, injera is a fermented flatbread (like a pancake) made from a grain called ‘teff’ – a type of millet.
The bread is light and spongy, gluten-free, and has a slight sourness to it.
Amazingly, this tiny grain called teff may have been cultivated for over 5,000 years in Africa. Since antiquity, Ethiopians and Eritreans have been cultivating teff – and today, injera is to the countries as rice is to much of India and Asia.
Often, injera serves as the utensil in a given meal – like corn tacos, chips, and tortillas in Mexican cuisine, (but more so)!
Why It’s Healthy:
First and foremost, injera is a sourdough: It’s a fermented food, one of the most important parts of the human diet.
The health benefits of this are reduced antinutrients, boosted nutrition, and improved digestibility.
Essentially, it’s one of the natural ways we have always prepared grains and seeds so that our digestive system can handle them (though processed products nowadays use unnatural and highly refined flours with yeast instead).
By fermenting the teff grain, gut-friendly bacteria “pre-digest” and break down what we can’t, and free up minerals like iron, zinc, and magnesium so that we can absorb them.
In fact, that’s why I ferment my oats (it’s very easy, here’s how)!
Teff is high in healthy fibre, complex carbs, and minerals. One cup as cooked (252g) contains the following nutrients (^):
- Calories: 255
- Protein: 9.8g
- Carbohydrates: 50g
- Of which fibre: 7.1g
- Fat: 1.6g
- Iron: 5.2mg (29% DV)
- Manganese: 7.2mg (313% DV)
- Magnesium: 126mg (30% DV)
- Zinc: 2.8mg (25% DV)
- Copper: 0.57mg (153% DV)
- Calcium 123.5mg (9% DV)
- Phosphorus: 302mg (24% DV)
Additionally, one study in mice demonstrated potential glucose tolerance (how well we “use up” glucose) and anti-inflammatory properties when compared to wheat (^).
Furthermore, it is gluten-free, making it a great choice for those with celiac or gluten-intolerance.
Recipe by Thriving On Plants (Ethiopian)
Injera is also made in other East African countries like Djibouti and Sudan, and sometimes includes other grains like sorghum or barley.
5. Doro Wat ዶሮ ወጥ
Doro Wat is a very spicy chicken stew, once again from the land of Ethiopia, and is a classic pairing with injera. So, it only makes sense to include this next!
“Wat” ወጥ is actually the word for stew in Amharic (the official language of Ethiopia), and “doro” ዶሮ means chicken.
Don’t take this dish for granted, though. Ethiopians are proud of their spices, their cuisine, and doro wat is a national dish with a lot of cultural importance.
Picture the scene: A communal village setting in the heart of Ethiopia. Maybe family and friends.
A large injera covers the shared dish on the table you surround, and from the middle a thick stew scents the air with rich spices and the smell of freshly cooked chicken.
The elder member is honoured with the first taking.
You look around and copy, tearing pieces (using your right hand) of the fluffy bread to pick up the centerpiece of the meal, and take a bite. It’s hot. Like, really hot! But it livens the spirits, and everyone’s enjoying the experience.
This is the traditional scene of doro wat.
Why It’s Healthy:
I challenge anyone to question the value of this dish!
Providing complete protein from the chicken and eggs, bursting with essential minerals and vitamins, antioxidants, and flavour, and also containing healthy cholesterol and fats (yep, from the eggs).
I’ll mention some benefits of the chillies here, because they really are what make doro wat what it is.
So, chillies contain ‘capsaicin’, which is why they taste spicy.
This phytochemical binds to our tongue’s nerve receptors, and the chemical reactions in our cells then lead to brain signals, saying “HEY! We’re feeling something!”, and what results is the burning sensation.
Apart from this, capsaicin actually has many powerful health benefits.
Recipe by Lonely Planet: ‘The World’s Best Spicy Food’ (Ethiopian)
For best results, use a slow cooker, stock pot, or other slow cooking method. (Traditionally, it may even take days to make for special occasions)!
Fun fact: Feeding each other is a custom and sign of respect and intimacy in Ethiopia and other areas of East Africa! Eating is a communal event. It’s spiritual. This is called “gursha”; don’t be surprised to see some heartwarming dinners if you visit.
6. Okra Stew
A long trek westward and we find Ghana, Nigeria, Gambia, Togo, and the West African neighbourhood. Here, okra stew comes in different forms, and often incorporates seafood like shrimp, mackerel, or white fish.
In Gambia, it is called ‘superkanja’. However, with the endless variety of stews in West Africa, it is Ghana that truly makes the most of okra.
As we know, West African cuisines skillfully emphasise main ingredients of good quality, relying less heavily on seasonings. This makes for easily palatable dishes across the region.
For cooking, red palm oil is the preferred option in the region. It has been a fundamental ingredient for thousands of years.
HOWEVER, we’ve all heard about palm oil being a leading cause of environmental destruction and even forced labour.
Therefore, it is imperative to use a trusted brand / source that is sustainable, and preferably organic.
I recommend Nutiva (Buy Here), but there are others out there.
Why It’s Healthy:
Okra, also known as ‘okro’ or ‘ladies’ fingers’, is a vegetable most used for its seed pods.
These pods are rich in digestion-aiding insoluble fibre, vitamin C, vitamin K, and also contain considerable amounts of vitamins B1 (thiamin) and B9 (folate), and magnesium.
Okra is also fairly low in calories at around 33 per 100g raw, almost all of which are complex, slow-releasing carbohydrates (^).
This lends them to calorie-restricted diets, much like many vegetables, because they are naturally filling (high volume), nutrient-dense, and versatile.
In addition, making this dish with seafood will ensure high quality proteins, and possibly good amounts of minerals like zinc and selenium from shellfish, or omega-3 fats from oily fish.
Back to red palm oil, and we see that it is a good source of vitamin E (tocotrienols and tocopherols) and beta-carotene (which we convert to active vitamin A).
Recipe by Curious Cuisiniere (West African)
Depending on the cooking method, okra produces a unique “slimy” texture. Many enjoy the feature or even take advantage of it to thicken recipes, and scientists have even used the substance produced to create biodegradable packaging!
7. Maafe (Mafé)
Do you like Satay sauce? You know, the rich, peanut paste that you’ve probably seen on Indonesian or Malaysian “chicken satay skewers”?
Well, Africa takes peanuts further: Maafe is a peanut stew!
Originating from the hot, landlocked nation of Mali, maafe, peanut stew, or groundnut stew has grown to be a staple throughout West and Central Africa.
Gambia once again has its unique variant on this stew, called “domoda”.
There are no clean cut rules for making maafe, except the peanut part, and the stew part!
Main ingredients often include:
- Meats (e.g. lamb, beef, or chicken)
- Peanuts (natural peanut butter)
Root vegetables like sweet potatoes or carrots may be added in, and so may vegetables like cabbage, okra, or other leafy greens.
For herbs and spices, garlic, ginger, and a variety of chillies make an appearance in many recipes.
To serve, rice is the most common side dish. This can be wholegrain (ideally at least soaked, or fermented or sprouted), or white rice (basmati is the healthiest option here).
Some other sides are millet dough (‘fonio’ or ‘findi’), fufu, and sweet potatoes.
Why It’s Healthy:
Since the main fixed ingredients in this meal are peanuts and tomatoes, we’ll explore some benefits of peanuts. (Tomatoes I covered briefly in the ‘Shakshouka’ section).
So, peanuts… They’re worth more than “peanuts” when it comes to nutrition (so the speak).
According to USDA data from NutritionValue.org, 100g of raw peanuts contains the following (^) (macronutrients and minerals):
- Calories: 567
- Protein: 25.8
- Carbohydrates: 16.1g
- Of which fibre: 8.5g
- Fat: 49.2g
- Iron: 4.6mg (25% DV)
- Manganese: 1.9mg (84% DV)
- Magnesium: 168mg (42% DV)
- Zinc: 3.3mg (30% DV)
- Copper: 1.1mg (127% DV)
- Calcium: 92mg (7% DV)
- Phosphorus: 376mg (54% DV)
- Potassium: 705mg (15% DV)
- Selenium: 7.2 mcg (13% DV)
Peanuts are also plentiful in several B-Vitamins and Vitamin E.
Interestingly, they’ve been compared to olive oil for the heart-healthy monounsaturated fats. These have been shown to help reduce LDL cholesterol and boost
So peanuts are high in calories AND in nutrients.
Therefore, it’s best not to have too many (particularly on a calorie-restricted diet, such as for weight loss or body recomposition).
But a little goes a long way in terms of flavour and benefits anyway. In maafe, a fair amount are used, so for a more filling meal “calorie for calorie”, add in plenty of vegetables.
Even More Benefits of Peanuts:
“Yeah yeah, they have nutrients. What else?”… I’m so glad you asked!
Science comes to the rescue.
A meta-analyses published in Nutrition (2019) took an overview of the humble legume (^)*.
Here are some of the benefits peanuts have been positively linked to in studies, and may help to provide with sufficient consumption (often multiple times a week), due to impressive nutrient-density, healthy fats, phytochemicals, and antioxidants:
- Protected heart health (reduced LDL cholesterol, inflammation, and risk of disease)*;
- Reduced risk of cancer (including esophageal, prostate, breast, and colon)*;
- Improved cognitive health* (^);
- Potentially enhanced longevity* (^)
In addition, they contain resveratrol, an antioxidant also found in grapes with anti-ageing benefits.
This also likely applies because nuts are more often part of a healthier overall diet and lifestyle.
Also see the “hack” below for store-bought peanut butter options.
Recipe by Betty Davies of 196 Flavours (Senegalese)
Recipe by Colavita (West African)
Yep, peanuts aren’t nuts! They’re actually legumes – like beans and lentils. The pods grow underground, however, and the aerial plants produce vibrant yellow flowers.
Cooking Hacks (Choose the RIGHT Peanut Butter):
Pairing maafe with some sort of wholegrain is an excellent way to get in complete proteins for vegans or vegetarians. Peanuts are particularly rich in plant proteins, especially arginine.
Sprouted or soaked peanut butter is best, by far. This reduces antinutrients called phytates in the nuts, which otherwise prevent us from absorbing beneficial minerals like zinc, iron, and calcium during digestion.
See below for a good brand to buy* (or check your local whole food or health food store), or scroll down for a recipe on how to make your own soaked version!
However, if you can’t find or make it, always go for an unsweetened peanut butter without added oils! Powdered peanut butter like ‘PB&Me’ (Amazon), ‘PB2’, or ‘PBFit’ could also deliver tasty results with lower calories, but make sure to use one without added sugar and account for more liquids in the recipe.
How to Make Your Own REAL Peanut Butter:
If you have a food processor, going “modern-style” oldschool and making some fresh peanut butter is much healthier. Here’s how.
Time needed: 1 day and 1 hour.
Basic Homemade Peanut Butter (3 cups):
- Soak the peanuts.
Soak 2 cups of raw peanuts overnight (12 – 24 hours) in 3 – 4 cups water (preferably filtered) with 2 tsp natural salt.
- Drain and rinse.
Drain and rinse the nuts. Ideally pat dry with a kitchen towel.
Heat oven to approx. 300 C, and roast the nuts on a baking sheet for 30-40 min, optionally tossing in a little olive or coconut oil and salt.
Remove tray when nuts are crispy and fragrant, and let cool.
Blend the peanuts in your food processor, stirring occasionally, until the desired texture is reached.
(For weaker processors, add in a little healthy oil to aid the process).
This can be stored in an airtight container such as an empty jar, for up to a month, or longer if refrigerated.
8. Fufu (Fufú)
Isn’t it just fun to say “fufu”?
Well, it’s also fun to cook and yes, to eat (it can be finger food)!
Fufu is a starchy dumpling most commonly made from cassava, plantain, cocoyam, or corn (or a mixture).
It’s either cooked in soups and stews, used to dip into them, or serves as a meal itself and is one of many such foods referred to as a “swallow” in Nigerian and related cuisines.
Why It’s Healthy:
Nearly every popular culture has its staple starch – rice, buckwheat, teff, potatoes, yams, traditional breads, etc.
Fufu is a living, traditional staple in many African countries, and is still made using whole, unprocessed, and unrefined ingredients.
Modern Flours and Our “Un-modern” Bodies!
This is important because modern breads are made of highly refined flours, which are often also bleached and full of chemicals.
These breads contain “acellular” (unnatural, broken down) carbohydrate forms, which spike blood sugar levels quickly and may be bad for the gut.
On the other hand, despite sometimes being made with flours, fufu contains more “cellular” (natural, in-tact) carbohydrates. We digest these much better as we have evolved to, maintaining more stable blood sugar levels, and feeding our essential gut bacteria too.
Chris Kresser explains this further with an interesting take on the Paleo diet’s benefits for metabolism and obesity. He’s a respected expert in the Paleo community, but it is important to note that many populations live long, healthy lives without a strict “Paleo diet”, even eating grains…
So, its the natural preparation method alone makes fufu healthier.
Each form will have unique benefits and nutrient profiles, which I won’t cover entirely here.
But in general, the ingredients are high in complex carbohydrates, prebiotic fibres, and a range of micronutrients. As whole foods, they’re nutritionally dense and out-compete the refined and processed foods with little nutrition and more calories!
Recipe by Nigerian Meal (Nigerian)
- The methods include from fresh cassava, cassava flour, plantains, and potatoes.
- You can make the cassava fufu the same way as with plantains, without fermenting, but make sure to cook well.
- If you try the potato method, use cassava or plantain flour rather than acellular refined grain (wheat) flour.
‘Yummieliciouz Food Recipes’ also has an easy instructional video on plantain fufu:
The name “Fufu” (fufú) literally means “white white”, referring to the colour of the cassava dumpling.
It comes from Lingala – a Bantu language native to the two Congos of Africa.
Meat lovers, welcome to Kenya. It’s a country of beautiful savannas and just as adventurous cuisine!
Mutura is basically a rolled chunk of spicy, meaty nutrition!
This “African blood sausage” is the envy of the barbecue kings and anyone who likes a hearty breakfast like black pudding.
Now, the country has many outstanding vegetarian dishes like ‘sukuma wiki’, but there’s a point to be made by learning about Kenya’s national sausage…
It’s a real sausage. So put down the flour and flavourings, because those supermarket sausages are full of them! Let’s enjoy something truly authentic.
Born through tradition at ceremonies and celebrations, men typically would help out in cooking and take pride in their mutura-making skills. However, it’s a process that everyone enjoys nowadays, and different versions can be found throughout the markets of Kenya, like in Nairobi.
Often, after skillful hand-making and with energy in the air and everyone anxious to eat, mutura goes on the grill as a ‘Nyama Choma’ (Kenyan roasted or grilled meat) alongside goat, beef, lamb, or chicken.
Sometimes, it is boiled before grilling, such as with other parts of the animal used (slaughtered) in any traditional event. This softens the casing.
Clearly, mutura is an important part of the communal culinary art of this captivating country.
Why It’s Healthy:
The most evident benefits of mutura come from the fact that it is – by and large – pure (unprocessed). Even commercial versions may lack the refined flours we use in supermarket sausages.
Tripe (intestine) makes up the casing, and the filling is traditionally a balanced mixture of meat and fresh blood, and sometimes other offal, with chillies or spices, onions, and in some cases added fat.
Kenyans know how to make the most of their resources. And it’s not like we never do the same!
Much like how we used to make sausages by stuffing them with cartilage, and some butchers may continue to, or how we make black pudding, for example, mutura minimises animal waste, appreciating the sacrifice made, and extracting the most nutrition possible.
Tripe, like all organ meats, is a nutrient powerhouse. It’s not only high in quality protein and lean at around 4% fat, but contains impressive amounts of selenium and zinc – two essential minerals that some people lack in their diets (especially plant-based and vegan diets).
- Help to regulate the immune system
- Play important physiological roles in thyroid health and hormone production and balance (thereby contributing to metabolism, mood, cognitive function, protein synthesis and muscle growth, exercise and injury recovery, fertility, and more).
Now onto the “icky” part – blood. Delivering vital nutrients, lipids, oxygen, and carrying enzymes to cells throughout the entire body, blood is naturally a prime source of nourishment.
Despite this, data regarding its exact nutrient composition is scarce.
It contains very high concentrations of heme iron (which is more bioavailable than plant sources), very little fat, and also some protein, particularly hemoglobin (average total of 17g per 100g) (^).
Of course, this differs slightly between animals.
Iron is needed for brain function, muscle function, energy levels, immunity, haemoglobin (the oxygen-carrying protein in blood cells), and to maintain our internal organs.
So getting enough is important. But not everyone does, and some people are at a higher risk of deficiency:
- Pregnant or breastfeeding women;
- New mothers;
- Menstruating women (especially if their cycles are heavy);
- Children who often consume dairy / milk (calcium competes with iron for absorption);
- Vegans, vegetarians, and those who consume little red meat, fish, seafood, or poultry.
Whilst mutura is most likely something you’ll ever encounter if you go to Kenya (making sure to choose a safe area and 100% trusted food source), there’s no reason not to make it at home! And, it is still fun to learn about.
Some of you may have access to a traditional butcher or abattoir, or even powdered blood and may wish to make your own.
If you can get your hands on certified, safe and high-quality ingredients from a trusted source, by all means give it a go!
Recipe by Kenyan Recipes 254 (Kenyan)
Recipe by Jikoni Magic (Kenyan)
- Use a healthy oil like olive, coconut, palm, or rendered butter, lard, or fat – no seed or vegetable oils!
Mutura originated from the Kikuyu / Gikuyu people. They’re Kenya’s largest indigenous population with a fascinating history and way of life.
They have their own belief systems, traditions, language, music, and still make up over 20% of Kenya’s population.
10. Ravitoto (sy Henakisoa)
Ravitoto comes from the same place as every kid’s favourite ring-tailed lemur (King Julien, of course)…
The home of the ring-tailed lemur and thousands of unique animal species and flora. In fact, over 90% of the island’s wildlife is endemic (found nowhere else in the natural world)!
Across the island’s many regions, people enjoy ravitoto as a true national pleasure. It’s made of Cassava leaves, pounded and then stewed, sometimes in coconut milk, and it’s the vegetarian superfood of Madagascar.
Numerous ravitoto dishes exist, depending on the household, region, and choice or availability of ingredients.
The most popular method of cooking ravitoto is to add pork, making a meal known as ‘Ravitoto sy Henakisoa’ – quite simply ‘cassava leaves with pork’.
For a delightful non-meat version, ‘Ravitoto sy Voanjo’ – ‘cassava leaves with peanuts’ – is another popular choice.
It’s mostly served in true Malagasay (a.k.a. Madagascan) fashion: With rice.
Why It’s Healthy:
We’ve all heard it: “Eat your greens”! Edible greens are for the most part highly valuable sources of nutrients and antioxidants.
Since this dish itself is any variant of boiled or stewed cassava leaves, here are some potential health benefits they can provide, what we know about the nutrition facts, as well as cooking tips (they’re unsafe to eat raw).
USDA Data lists just one form of processed frozen cassava leaves with water to provide the following per 100g (^):
- Calories: 45
- Protein: 7.3g
- Carbohydrates: 45.4g
- Of which fibre: 0.9g
- Fat: 1.8g
However, it is hard to find further information on cassava leaves.
According to different data sources studied in a 2009 research article by Julie A. Montagnac and colleagues, cassava leaves can vary in nutrient composition.
Here are 2 sources with values given per 100g of fresh, raw leaves (depending on factors like region, species / cultivar, growth environment and soil, and plant age):
Bradbury and Holloway (1988) (avg. from 3 Sources)
- Calories: 79
- Protein: 6g
- Carbohydrates: 7g
- Of which fibre: 3.6g
- Fat: 1.5g
- Calories: 98
- Protein: 7.4g
- Carbohydrates: 16.7g
- Of which fibre: 3.2g
- Fat: 0.9g
In general, the leaves seem to be a good, balanced plant-based source of protein, as well as starchy carbohydrates (including resistant starch) and fibre – both of which benefit overall health by aiding digestion and feeding essential gut bacteria (known as ‘microbiota’).
Cassava leaves can also provide high amounts of non-heme iron (not as well-absorbed as heme iron from animal sources), zinc, calcium, and magnesium.
As with many vegetables (especially leafy greens and cruciferous vegetables), cooking them lets us absorb the most of these nutrients possible…
But, this time, cooking is a requirement…
Do Not Eat Raw – Sayounara Cyanide!
Cassava leaves contain hydrogen cyanide.
This toxic chemical exists in the root, too, and means that none of the plant is edible raw. It’s also why we shouldn’t eat apple or lemon seeds.
Too much cyanide at once (acute) or over time (chronic), and side effects range in severity. These include, but aren’t limited to (^):
- Respiratory issues;
- Intoxication (e.g. headaches, dizziness, confusion);
- Iodine deficiency;
- Death (in extreme cases).
Treatment for toxicity is achieved through natural bodily processes (mostly via the liver and urinary systems), clinical detoxification, activated charcoal, or / and an antidote.
However, this doesn’t stop cassava being a staple throughout Africa and Asia, as proper preparation and cooking is simple and effective at getting rid of the cyanide (^).
Studies show that boiling is one of the most effective ways to do so. Therefore, a well-cooked ravitoto is practically a perfect way to eat cassava leaves.
You can easily buy the leaves online, from international, African, Asian, or Caribbean stores or markets… Or create a “psuedo-ravitoto” with collard greens, kale, spinach, or similar greens!
Recipe by World Food and Wine (Malagasay)
- Use a healthy cooking oil or a natural animal fat – no seed oils, no vegetable oils.
Water aid also have an educational video of an authentic recipe (See Note*):
Unique cassava leaf dishes are actually found in other mainland African cuisines (like Congolese ‘saka saka‘ or ‘pondu‘), Asian cuisines (like Indonesian ‘Gulai Daun Singkong‘), and in South America and the Caribbean.
But, I just couldn’t bring myself not to include the majestic Madagascar in a post all about this special continent!
We’ve left Kenya’s blood-filled mutura behind, taken a detour to Madagascar, but Botswana is our next stop… And now Kenya’s curiosities seem minor!
Serobe is another organ meat-filled dish designed to make the absolute most of what could be hunted or gathered. Plus, this genuinely is much more respectful to the animal and resourceful, rather than wasting any of it.
They key ingredients are often beef or goat tripe / stomach. Optionally, one can include or substitute any mixture of lungs, heart, kidney, pancreas or other offal.
After cleaning and cutting, these are boiled until soft, and then optionally lightly fried before adding stock to make a thick consistency.
Onions, spices, and salt tend to flavour the dish.
You can also add in trotters for the goat recipes (which, by the way, are an amazing source of collagen)!
What makes the dish interesting is its origin.
Serobe comes from the Tswana people – native tribes of Botswana and throughout South Africa, still making up over 80% of Botswana’s total population by ethnicity.
As traditional “herder-gatherers”, the Tswana have long depended on their cattle for livelihood.
With diets that are also centered around maize or sorghum, they often make a thick porridge known as ‘bogobe’. You’ll find this at mealtimes as a base or as a side.
So, why not go all-in and serve your serobe with a warming bogobe for a complete meal! (Recipes for both are below).
Why It’s Healthy:
It’s a well-known fact that organ meats / offal are amongst the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet.
In fact, they’re often referred to as “nature’s multivitamins”.
For example, liver is extremely rich in vitamin A and B-vitamins (especially B12), and even has some vitamin C! As well as this, liver meat is abundant in minerals like iron, choline, zinc, copper, and selenium.
There are literally countless health benefits and effects of organ meats we could explore. Instead of writing a book, let’s take a general overview and dive into just a little scientific fun!
We covered above how tripe (the most common ingredient in serobe) provides immune- and thyroid-boosting selenium and zinc. It’s also a source of high-quality protein and contains little fat.
You’ll have an easy time finding heart and kidneys as well, which you can add in, and I certainly encourage!
Organ Meats and Vitality Nutrients?
Heart is particularly high in a powerful antioxidant known as ‘Coenzyme Q10’ or ‘CoQ10’, which our cells’ mitochondria use to produce and transfer energy, and which decreases with age. It’s also found in other organ meats (kidney is the next best source), red meats, fatty fish, and in small amounts in some vegetables and legumes.
Coenzyme Q10 plays important roles in ageing and overall longevity, preventing oxidative stress and inflammation, muscle contraction, food metabolism, organ function, and brain health.
For these reasons, studies have linked sufficient levels of the nutrient with numerous health benefits, particularly for the elderly. These include the prevention and potential improvement of (^)(^)(^)(^):
- Neurodegenerative diseases (especially in cases of Parkinson’s);
- Low energy levels;
- Male and female infertility;
- Heart disease (CVD) and high cholesterol levels;
- Type 2 Diabetes;
- Muscle pain;
- Reduced muscle strength;
- General health decline with age.
Fascinatingly, when combined with selenium, CoQ10 treatment can be especially beneficial in aiding cardiovascular and metabolic health.
Many organ meats contain ample amounts of both of these nutrients.
Overall, “serobe” may as well mean “elixir of vitality”.
Just don’t go overboard on the organ meats (especially liver*) too often – they’re so rich in nutrients that you could get too many of some of them (including selenium and vitamin A*, for example)!
Remember, make the serobe your own, don’t be afraid to mix things up, and consider giving bogobe a try for something truly authentic.
Recipe by Alkased Mamim of Finmail (Tswana)
Here’s a “back to basics” blueprint recipe for any serobe: Triperecipes.com.
Here’s a plain bogobe recipe (it goes by many names in different countries, and traditionally it is fermented like a sourdough or with live sour milk, removing antinutrients, much like how I ferment oats): Cookpad.com.
- Use a healthy cooking oil or a natural animal fat – no seed oils, no vegetable oils.
Botswana is one of the highest consumers of mopane worms! These edible bugs are eaten raw, cooked, or dried as snacks, and form an important part of the traditional cuisine and a reliable source of nourishment.
But Botswana isn’t unique in this aspect. Adventurers and cuisine connoisseurs, follow me! Everyone else, umm, just book a local hotel for the final leg of our tour… We’ll come back, maybe… 😉
12. BONUS: Entomophagy
Ever heard of “eating grub”? Most of the time that means lunch… This time it’s a little more literal.
That’s because entomophagy is the technical term for – you guessed it – eating bugs and insects.
Edible critters like mopane worms play an important role in Africa and cultures around the world in every continent.
Here are some famous examples:
- Africa (Ghana, Botswana, Kenya, South Africa, more) – mopane worms, crickets, locusts, beetles, ants, termites,
- France – escargot (snails)
- Italy – casu marzu (Sardinian goat’s cheese containing live larvae)
- Mexico – gusanos, chapulines (maguey worms, grasshoppers)
- China – cicadas, scorpions, grasshoppers, crickets, silkworms
- Thailand – crickets, black ants, red ants, silkworms (and pupae), bamboo worms, beetles
- India – silkworms, crickets, beetles, termites, wasps, grasshoppers, locusts
- Worldwide – insect protein and bars are growing rapidly in the athletics and health communities, as nutritious, sustainable, and genuinely delicious ways to fuel performance and cut down on industrial red meat consumption.
The above list is by no means exhaustive. These are eaten as snacks or meals, skewered, fried, grilled, roasted, dried, raw, curried, and so on – just like meat.
Flavours vary, with many being pleasantly nutty.
Why It’s Healthy (for the Planet, too):
Edible insects and bugs are brimming with protein and fat contents comparable to (often higher than) those of meat, are very high in antioxidants and minerals like calcium, iron, and zinc, provide beneficial vitamins, and are amazingly eco-friendly. Plus, they can also contain chitin – a prebiotic fibre!
For years, scientists and agricultural innovators have been increasing their focus on insect and bug farming to feed the populations of the future.
This maximises output per land area used, significantly reduces water use greenhouse gas emissions, and reduces food hygeine risks.
Entomophagy is by no means yet a complete solution, and would require careful planning, considerations, and precautions to implement on an industrial scale. But, we’ve eaten them for thousands of years (since our species began) and they’re still of amazing value going forward.
I highly recommend jumping on the nutrition and sustainability train! You can buy all sorts online (Try out Thailand Unique here* – my favourite store).
In conclusion, if you go to Africa – or indeed anywhere – don’t shy away from these local, treasured delicacies.
And most importantly, enjoy them as they should be with friends and family – please share this post to help us out, too!
Frequently Asked Questions:
African cuisines are unique, rich, and often based on whole, unprocessed staples found in nature. Root vegetables like cassava and yam, and grains like millet and sorghum are popular throughout the continent, with vegetables, meats, seafood, and spices varying culturally. The North generally uses more spices and legumes, Central more mild dishes and leafy greens, and the South blending spice and sweetness from foreign influence.
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