Did you know that watermelon, yams, black-eyed peas, and okra are all indigenous to Africa? But how did they become a huge part of American cuisine?
In both the 17th and 18th centuries, African people were kidnapped and forced into slavery in America. During their time of enslavement, they were forced to work as laborers and servants. With over seven million people imported to America over this time, their African influence became part of American culture. This includes the food we eat today. Enslaved people and their descendants had an impact on what Americans eat and grow today. In this blog post, we take a look at how African slaves influenced American cuisine.
Fruit & Vegetables Brought To America
There were two ways fruit and vegetables came to America from Africa. The first is through enslaved Africans who hid seeds in their hair. They buried these seeds in their hair before they were kidnapped. The seeds gave them a small amount of food for sustenance while heading to America. The second way was through those who captured the slaves. Once captured and put on ships, slaves needed to be fed to stay alive. Captors found the food that Africans ate and fed it to them throughout the journey. They also fed it to them when they arrived in America. Given fruit and vegetables from Africa by their captors, enslaved Africans planted the seeds in their gardens. Everything that grew in the garden would supplement the minimal food rations they received. These fruit and vegetables flourished on American soil. They soon found their way into the homes of the wealthiest and most prominent people in the country. This included George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.
Enslaved Chefs Influenced American Cuisine
For over 200 years, plantation owners in the South relied on enslaved Africans to them provide food. The recipes and stories of talented black chefs that worked in those kitchens are not well documented. Enslaved African cooks developed recipes of now staples in American cuisine. They brought unique flavours to their dishes. They added ingredients such as peanuts, okra, greens, and hot peppers. With these flavours, they created the following recipes:
- Gumbo which was an adaptation on a West African stew.
- Jambalaya which is the cousin of the Nigerian Jollof rice.
Deep-frying fish and barbecuing are all methods that were from West Africa. Today, all these recipes and cooking methods form an essential part of American cuisine. Whether you enjoy soul food from the South or a Texan barbecue, the influence of African slaves can be tasted in a lot of American cuisines. From the flavours to the cooking methods, enslaved African chefs and their dependents indeed left their mark on America in a subtle yet impactful way.