Cooking Ingredients To Look For At An African Store

If you'd like to get more adventurous and try different African cuisines, one option is to cook African foods at home. There are plenty of cookbooks and video guides that can show you how. However, you will also need the right ingredients. Here are some staples that you should be able to find at an African store that has a food section. With these staples on hand, you can create a variety of dishes.


Tamarind is a fruit that grows on trees. It has a somewhat sweet, somewhat salty flavor. It's used in a lot of African dishes and is often the base for sauces and marinades. You may be able to find whole tamarinds in some African stores, but you're more likely to find jarred tamarind paste. This is a perfectly suitable form to use in most recipes.

Crayfish Powder

A lot of African dishes have a complex, umami flavor that will remind you of seafood, even if the dish itself does not obviously contain seafood. Often, that flavor comes from crayfish powder. It is what it sounds like — a powder made from dried, ground crayfish. It's a key ingredient in many stews, stir-fries, and soups.

Guinea Pepper Seeds

If you've ever had an African dish with a unique, pepper-like spice you could not quite place, that spice probably came from guinea pepper seeds. These are simply the seeds from a certain variety of pepper that grows mainly in West Africa. They have a spiciness similar to that of black pepper, but with a bit more herbal complexity.


Harissa is a spicy pepper paste. Sometimes it comes in jars, and at other times, you may see it in cubes similar to bullion cubes. Harissa is common in soups, stews, and marinades. It contains a lot of rich, umami flavor along with its spiciness.

Grains of Paradise

Grains of paradise look similar to flax seeds, but they are quite different from flax seeds! They have a sweet and spicy flavor that is often described as being similar to cardamom. That being said, they are most often used in savory dishes such as stir-fries and salads. They may also be sprinkled on top of baked goods.

If you visit an African store, make sure you keep your eyes out for the ingredients above. With all of these on hand in your cabinet, you should be ready to make plenty of great dishes.