Seeing the headlines demonize ‘soul food,’ I am on a mission that reclaims the health and spirit of our culture of the ‘original soul food’ which is the African heritage diet. The Western or Standard American Diet has failed the African diaspora community resulting in diet-related diseases and premature death which is now robbing our youth. For example the U. S. Office of Minority Health reports the death rate for African Americans was higher than Whites for diet-related diseases in 2009. Heart disease over homicide is the number one killer of African American women. Oldways Preservation Trust reports people live better with traditional foods and culture.
By growing up in an African diasporan household, I recognized that the African American community like its food is not monolithic. I met a woman from Cameroon who shared how a Caucasian dietitian didn’t know how to educate her grandmother on how to modify her African foods to become compliant with a diabetic diet. That’s why since 2012 NativSol has offered community based nutrition and cooking classes, Pan African catering, lectures and workshops in America and Africa for more than 2,000 people. Since taking the African Ancestry DNA test in 2010, I began my journey to trace my African heritage through food and travel. This summer I returned from Nigeria where I lectured and learned about my Fulani heritage and its foodways of northern Nigeria. The foods I share such as the baobab and hibiscus can be found in northern Nigeria and part of contemporary life in Africa.
Travel to any open-air market from West, North to East Africa and you are sure to find dried or fresh roselle (a hibiscus flower) ready to prepare a classic tropical sipping sensation; hibiscus tea. Quenching the thirst of many Africans, the West African native roselle is a show stopper compared to the market’s newcomer—soda.n Nigeria, it’s called Zobo. In Ghana, it’s called Sobolo. In the Gambia, it’s called wanjo. It’s known as Dabileni in Mali. In Cote d’Ivoire, it’s known as Bissap and; in Egypt and Sudan, it’s known as Karkade; and in the Caribbean, it’s known as Sorrel or agua de flor de Jamaica. How did the roselle (known as sorrel in the Caribbean) get to the Caribbean and South America? Historians believe the seeds may have been brought by slaves taken from Africa. Since taking the African Ancestry DNA test in 2010, she began her journey to trace her African heritage through food and travel. Called by many names, this deliciousdrink from the ruby red roselle’s color gives a clue to the heart health benefit it shares with other naturally red plants.
Drinking hibiscus tea daily has been found to lower blood pressure in people with low to no hypertension according to a U.S. research study. The beautiful dark red colorful hibiscus is packed with anthocyanins (a type of flavonoid) which have many health benefits like fighting colds and flus. Packed with the cancer-fighting antioxidants, Vitamin C and other minerals, the hibiscus drink can be sweetened naturally with fruits like pineapple, watermelon or strawberries. Want to make a symphony in your mouth? Then add a range of flavors from garlic, ginger to cloves to this healing elixir. Beyond beverage brewing, the flower, its stems and leaves are used for salad making among Nigeria’s Hausa community. Also in some parts of Africa, the oil-containing seeds are eaten. Whether it’s a hot day in Cairo or a chill day in Accra, you can drink hibiscus tea hot or cold. Unlike hibiscus, the dehydrating soft drinks have no nutritional value to offer while robbing calcium from your bones. So in countries already facing malnutrition, soft drinks are the last drink to reach in hydrating your body especially for kids like little Wanda.
Calling Africa its native home, the baobab is the ‘baba’ of trees giving life to all and can be found in 32 African countries. Like an old healer, the baobab is at the heart of traditional remedies. Also it can live long in age up to 5,000 years; so we call it ‘baba.’ From South Africa, Madagascar, Nigeria, to Burkina Faso, the sacred tree stretches across Africa’s sub-Saharan arid savanna. Serving as a meeting place in villages, it holds a spiritual reverence among the people; therefore many people and animals choose to live near the tree. Beyond that, did you know the baobab tree is a high quality source of nutrition?
The raw ‘monkey bread fruit’ of the baobab is incredibly good for you and is an excellent source of vitamin C, calcium, potassium, thiamin, fiber and vitamin B6. The fruit has one of the highest antioxidant capacities of any in the world with more than double the antioxidants per gram of goji berries and more than blueberries and pomegranates combined. The many uses of baobab range from sprinkling it in your oatmeal, yogurt and all manner of tasty treats. From sauces, smoothies to seltzers, baobab is the go-to super fruit for flavor filled nutrition. Want a little flavor to your sparkling water? Swap out sugar for a teaspoon of baobab powder in your next cup. No lemon or vinegar? That’s fine, we got baobab. For tangy flavor in your sauces, a scoop of baobab better adds a citrus kick. And for the smoothie season, blend mango and pineapple with two scoops of baobab powder with coconut water.