Around the world, there are common food ingredients we are all used to having in the kitchen. As much as there are similarities ranging through countries and continents, there are also different varieties specific to different cultures. In the next few minutes, you will read about 10 essential ingredients in a Nigerian kitchen. This was not an easy list to compile because Nigerian being the most populous country in Africa has over 300 sub-groups, tribes and languages. Of which the most popular is Yoruba, Igbo and Hausa. However, there are various other sub-groups that are not wildly spoken for, but in total makes a large percentage of the country.
Hence why it was important for me to choose items that I believe you will have a high chance of finding in any Nigerian kitchen. Well, let’s say you will find at least 80% of these items in a Nigerian kitchen. My selections are based on both my upbringing and interaction with Nigerians locally and in the diaspora over time.
Here is my list of 10 essential ingredients in a Nigerian kitchen:
Plantains are the hybrid version of bananas. Popular in Latin America, the West Indies and of course across Africa. Every Nigerian knows about and have eaten plantain (if you are a Nigerian that hasn’t eaten plantain, please return your passport! Ahaha just kidding!). Plantain is embedded in the Nigerian food culture, from the yellow sweet plantains to the green plantains. Plantains are also a go-to side dish with the popular Nigerian jollof rice.
Did you know you can use plantains in cooking the same way you would use potatoes and bananas? These days you can find meals like plantain pancakes, gnocchi, bread etc. Below is a list of classic Nigerian plantain dishes:
- Dodo (Fried Sweet Plantains) – a.k.a the best friend to Jollof rice.
- Kpekere (Plantain chips)
- Plantain pottage – The plantain version of the simple one-pot dish typically made with yam cooked in a blended mixture of tomatoes, peppers and onions. Also known as ‘Asaro’ in the Yoruba language.
- Plantain Peppersoup – Spicy and hearty soup with plantain chunks and meat or fish. Perfect for the cold weather. Also known as ‘Ukodo’ in the Urhobo language.
- Boli (Roasted plantains) – A popular Nigerian street food.
If you love plantains, check out these 4 Ways to Prepare Plantain Around the World.
2. Palm oil
Oil is a big deal around the world and one of the most commonly used and produced oil in Nigeria is Palm oil. According to the World Bank, Nigeria is the largest consumer of palm oil in Africa. Palm oil is used in various cultures across the country to make dishes ranging from soups, stews, pottages, sauces etc. Palm oil has a high smoking point of 235 degrees celsius making it one of the best oils for frying.
3. Black Eyed Beans
Honey beans and black-eyed beans are the most popularly used beans in Nigeria. Black-eyed beans are the go-to legume in Nigerian homes locally and in the diaspora. Meals such as Moi-Moi (bean pudding) and Akara (bean fritter) are two classic Nigerian ways to transform simple beans into something exquisite.
If rice is common to mankind, I will say it is a necessity to a Nigerian. That’s just a little bit of humour, but in all honestly, Nigerians eat rice almost like we drink water. Well somewhat close. This is evident in the various rice dishes we have, the most popular one being Jollof rice. Various types of rice are farmed and produced in Nigeria, especially long-grain rice. However, the showstopper rice of Nigeria is what is known as Ofada rice. Ofada is ‘The Nigerian Rice’.
5. Stock Fish (Or any smoked dried fish)
As much as I can remember and I believe even beyond that, stockfish has been a huge part of traditional Nigerian cooking. My parents, grandparents and their parents before them used stockfish not just as a protein in dishes but as a seasoning. Most Nigerians still use it today in soups, stews and sauces. You can imagine my disbelief when I found out that Nigerians do not produce stockfish but rather is it imported from Norway. This adds up as stockfish is unsalted cod that has been dried in cold air, which is not a common practice in Nigeria. Every Nigerian sub-group, culture, tribe and/or religion has a loved rice dish. Hence why it made it to my 10 Essential Ingredients in a Nigerian Kitchen, similar to all the other items on this list.
6. Smoked Crayfish
Similar to stockfish, crayfish is a unique delicious additive to Nigerian cooking. It comes in handy for soups, stews, rice dishes, potages and more. It adds a great flavour in its whole form but is also great as powdered seasoning.
Garri is a type of cassava flour a.k.a milled cassava. Cassava is grounded, fermented, drained of excess starch then toasted. Garri can either be yellow or white. for the yellow Garri, the fermented and drained cassava is mixed with a little palm oil before toasting. These are the two classic ways Garri is eaten:
- Eba – Garri mixed with hot water to form a dough. A type of “swallow” that is used to eat soups and sauces by moulding into small dumpling to dip into the sauce or soup. Swallow is the generic Nigerian term for these hot dough dumplings.
- Soaking Garri – Just as the name implies, it is Garri that is soaked in cold water. It’s basically a cold porridge typically made with ice water, sugar and optional additives such as milk, peanuts, coconut flakes. Soaking Garri is also great served with Moi-Moi, grilled fish, and bean dishes.
8. Spice mix
Spice mixes are popular amongst Africans and the black community at large. A combination of different spices, herbs and seasonings always takes a meal to a tastier level. Some of the most common spice mixes in Nigeria are:
- Suya spice mix
- Banga spice mix
- Pepper soup spice mix
9. Ata-Rodo – Scotch bonnet and/or Habanero
Nigerians love a flavourful spicy dish and our go-to ingredient for a rich spicy flavour is scotch bonnet peppers or/am habanero peppers. Popularly known in the Yoruba language as ‘Ata-Rodo’. Ata-Rodo is one of the base ingredients to classic Nigerian stews, including the base sauce for Jollof rice.
10. Fresh leafy greens and/or Herbs
Finally, last, but not the least on my 10 Essential Ingredients in a Nigerian Kitchen are green leaves. Green leaves are a huge part of the Nigerian community. Especially in cooking soups. The majority of Nigerian staple soups varying across smaller and larger cultures uses fresh green leaves. Three examples of Nigerian soups/sauce made with green leaves:
- Edikaikong – Traditional to the Calabar people of Nigeria. Edikaikong is both the name of the soup and the Calabar name for the leaf. Also popularly known as the Ugwu leaf (Pumpkin leaf).
- Egusi soup – Made with a mixture of Ugwu leaves and a leaf commonly known as bitter leaf. These days people across the diaspora make this soup with simple spinach.
- Efo-Riro – Basically the classic Nigerian green leaf stir-fry.