Black pepper and other spices are the backbone of traditional African recipes and cooking (www.africanepicure.com)

Unripe peppercorns in a spice garden (Flickr: meaduva)

The sheer enormity of the number of botanicals, herbs and spices used to flavor food in Africa makes it impossible to accurately to this section any justice, but we will try.

In addition to indigenous spices that grow naturally on the continent, Africa has long been a prized possession of invading nations who sought trade routes to the Spice Island of the East. Soon, seafaring merchants who settled on the East African coast waiting for favorable trade winds brought seedlings and began to grow valuable spices in the islands off of East Africa. Spice plantations in Zanzibar and Madagascar, to name just a few, still exist and made the islands famous. Even Zanzibar’s name means “ginger” in Arabic.

Although “seasoning” or “stock” cubes have taken over from many ancient local African seasonings, the flavors we look for in our food are the same: sweet, sour, spicy, salty, bitter and umami. The deeply flavored umami flavor is beloved by Africans and finds its way into the best African food. We treasure the richness of deep flavors. Many grandmothers still remember how to use local plants, roots and bushes to revive and inspire the flavor of a dish.

The careful and masterful use of spices in the kitchen is the signature of an African chef.

Here are some recipes on the site that will guide you in your exploration of spices:

Chai Iced Tea