Maize cobs (Flicrk: oneVillage Initiative)

Varieties of corn and maize are grown around Africa, often interplanted with cassava, onions and greens. In African cities all over the continent, tall and hearty maize plants grow wherever there is spare land, small gardens clinging to the side of irrigation ditches and security walls. In most countries, rural and home gardens all have some area dedicated to gangly golden maize plants. Most maize fields are burned, traditionally, long after the harvest when the stalks have been left out to dry up.

Maize is a staple crop and the ingredient in ugali and pap, without which the food of East and Southern African would not be the same. Traditionally, maize is a relatively new import, arriving to Africa via traders a few hundred years ago along with, among other things, sweet potatoes, tomatoes and hot chili pepper. The dried, ground kernels are boiled to make an African polenta, eaten with vegetables and rich sauce. Ugali and pap are easy to make at home and are excellent accompaniments to your African meal.

Mature maize is tough and starchy after the sugars of the kernels have spent a long time converting to starches under the Africa sun. But if you know your farmer, or grow your own, or are otherwise blessed and lucky, it is the young cobs of maize still sweet and roasted over a fire that taste best.

For recipes exploring how to use corn and maize in the African kitchen, check out:

Cooking with Corn and Maize

For more about African staples, explore:

Starches and Artisanal Grains
Cooking with African Starches and Artisanal Grains