Make sure your kitchen is stocked with these essential ingredients.
8 May 2013 - 12:50 PM  UPDATED 6 Sep 2013 - 9:31 AM

Brown cardamom pod seeds

Larger and more "hairy" than their green cousins, the aroma is camphor-like and the flavour is smoky. Excellent in stews and used in many spice mixes.


A long pepper also known as Balinese pepper, Bengal pepper and Jaborandi pepper that is used in berbere spice mix. Hot and warm, with sweet overtones.

Tikur azmud/nigella seeds

Known as "black cumin", these seeds have a slightly bitter taste. Commonly used in stews.


For Ethiopians and Eritreans, berbere is Red Gold! A hot chilli spice mix comprising a dozen spices, it is used widely in stews and sprinkled on top of many dishes for a garnish and extra chilli kick.

Nit’r Qibe

A spiced clarified butter, sometimes known as Niter Kibbeh, which is usually made in large quantities and kept for daily use. Ingredients include brown cardamom pods, korseret (native to Ethiopia – it has a minty thyme flavour) and fennel. Some recipes for Nit’r Qibe also include; garlic, ginger, finely chopped onion, turmeric, nutmeg, fenugreek, a whole clove and a cinnamon stick.

African basil

With a warm, sweet, camphor scent a taste, this easy-to-grow, drought-resistant herb is used in many recipes from the Horn of Africa.

Red palm fruit oil

Oil extracted from the fruit of the African oil palm. Not to be confused with Palm kernel oil. Native to Africa, red palm fruit oil has long been appreciated as an excellent base for cooking. Not only does it give a distinctive red colour and taste to soups and stews, it is also high in carotenoids (hence the red colour), is a good supply of Vitamin A and is high in antioxidants.

Smoked fish

Flaked into stews, ground into powder or used whole, smoked fish is popular in most West African countries. It is also used in ceremonies and is sometimes offered as a dowry.


Belonging to the banana family, plantains are firmer and lower in sugar content than regular bananas. Plantains usually require cooking or other processing, and are used either when green or under-ripe (and therefore starchy) or overripe (and therefore sweet). In most dishes, they are deep fried and eaten as a side.

Sorghum flour

Native to Africa and gluten free, the sorghum grain ranges in color from white to red depending on the variety. The white grain is generally used as food and the red grain is used for brewing beer. Sorghum grain has a sweet, nutty flavor.


These tubers are used from Senegal to the Congo. They can be cooked and eaten (as you would a potato) or processed into flour for the beloved "fu fu". The leaves (shoot of the cassava) are used in sauces and stews.

Black-eyed beans

Protein rich and widely available, black eyed beans are a popular ingredient throughout Africa and in USA due to the many African slaves sent there. Used in "hotpot" type stews or processed and mashed to make fritters (akara), they are a perfect, healthy snack.