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Types of African Traditional Food and Ingredients

The African Kitchen is home to a wide variety of tribes, ethnicities, and social groups. No wonder so much variety can be found in African cuisine, from the ingredients used to the preparation and cooking techniques.

In Africa, food consists of local fruit, grains, vegetables, milk, and meat products, as well as influences from Arab, European, and Asian cultures.

There is a great deal of variation in the eating habits of different African regions. There are some areas where milk, curd, and whey would make up the bulk of the diet, while in others milk cannot be produced due to cattle diseases. The Eastern African diet consists largely of grains; cattle, sheep, and goat meat is rare, if ever, eaten, while Central Africans hunt for other meat in the forest in addition to beef and meat when available.

African Traditional Food and Ingredients

African foods can be categorized by the type of African staple food they primarily feature. There are two types of staple foods used by Africans: starchy and fibrous. This article discusses the African staple foods that are primarily starchy, which is why we’re starting with them. Starch is a highly valued nutrient in African cooking, especially in rural parts of the continent where there are limited access to other types of ingredients. The staples that feature a lot of starch are yams and plantains, but there are other starchy foods such as cassava, sweet potatoes, taro and yams too.


The most popular African starchy food is the yam. Yams are typically eaten boiled and sometimes fried, but they can also be eaten raw in soups or salads. They're known to have a chewy texture and a mild flavor. Other starchy foods that Africans eat with yams include plantains, as well as taro and cassava. All these ingredients are made into starch by cooking them with water or oil so that it softens up the tough cell walls. Starch plays an important role in African cuisine because of its nutritional value. One cup of cooked yam contains about 8 grams of protein, 8 grams of dietary fiber, 3 grams of iron and 3 grams of Vitamin A (1). All these nutrients make it easy for Africans to get their daily requirements for these vitamins and minerals without having to rely on meat sources like beef or poultry.


Plantains are the most common type of starchy staple food in Africa. They are usually eaten boiled and mashed, or fried into bread. The plantain has a brown color, which is caused by endosperm cells that are rich in anthocyanins. They have a taste similar to potatoes and can be used for anything from soups to desserts.


Taro is a type of tuber that grows underground and is a staple in African cooking. Taro is primarily found in west Africa, which is where it was first domesticated. Taro has been popularized by the West African country of Benin, where it's known as Benin Beni. In Benin, taro is an important ingredient in soups and stews, but it can also be eaten raw or boiled. It can be paired with vegetables like tomatoes, onions and garlic to make a simple dish. The traditional food of west Africa West African staple foods are starchy staples that feature yams, cassava and plantains as the three major ingredients. These foods are grown primarily in west Africa including the countries of Ghana, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Guinea Bissau and Senegal.


Cassava is a staple food in Africa and is commonly found in soups, cakes and breads. This root vegetable can be boiled, fried or roasted. Cassava is rich in proteins, carbohydrates and fibre.

Sweet potatoes Sweet potatoes are a starchy vegetable with a high water content. The fruit starts life as a green-skinned tuber and is then harvested, peeled, and cooked before being served. Sweet potatoes are versatile; they can be boiled, baked or fried and their flesh can be mashed or sautéed. They're also great for curries and sauces, as the sweet potato's starch binds to the other ingredients in the dish.

Beans and Legumes

Beans and legumes form the second largest group of starchy foods eaten in African cooking. They’re often used as a side dish but can also be incorporated into sauces, soups, stews and casseroles. These foods include black eyed peas, black beans and garbanzo beans.

Whole grains and cereals

Whole grains and cereals feature heavily in African cuisine, but they are also staples in many other parts of the world. They often feature as side dishes rather than as a main course or starchier food. The most commonly eaten whole grain is rice, although wheat is also eaten. Cereals include things such as cornmeal mush, maize porridge, farina and polenta.

Starchy Vegetables

Starchy vegetables are vegetables that are high in starch and low in calories. They are mainly used as a side dish or part of a meal because they have a low energy density. Some of the starchier vegetables include cassava, taro, yams and sweet potatoes.

Other Starchy Food Types

Plantains are one of the most popular African starchy foods. They are one of the most important ingredients in many West African dishes and historically played an important role in introducing plantains to Africa, as they replaced rice in rice-growing regions such as Benin. Papaya is another popular African starchy food, which is often dried, ground into a flour or made into a paste and used in sauces and savory dishes such as soups and stews. Taro is a starchy tuber that's grown naturally along the Pacific coast of Africa. It's also very popular in Hawaii, where it's called eddo. Taro can be boiled or steamed before being made into a stew served with gravy or fried taro root chips called poi, which are traditionally eaten with fish or meat.

Fibrous African Staple Foods

Fibrous foods are more common in urban areas of Africa, like in Nigeria and Ghana. These foods are made from cereals which are ground into a powdery form and then mixed with water to create a dough that can be fried or baked. The most popular fibrous food is dumplings. Other popular fibrous foods include injera, banga, fufu, and kenkey. The African staple food that is primarily starry is yams, but there are other starchy foods such as cassava, sweet potatoes and taro too.

Hey, You Can Try This At Home!

African food is a delicious and vibrant cuisine that is often overlooked in the United States. However, with a little effort, you can test and cook some of your favorite traditional dishes at home. By purchasing some of the ingredients online, you can bring the flavors of Africa to your kitchen. So go ahead and try cooking up some African traditional food at home – we promise it will be an exciting culinary adventure!


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