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5 of the Best African Spices

Jan 25, 2022 10:00AM ● By Anand Subramanian
collage of spices

Most African nations rely on healthy and productive soils for food security, important environmental services, social cohesion, and economic development. Africa boasts some of the most fertile regions on the earth, and it is from this richness that culture-rich foods, herbs, and natural spices are produced, which are loved across the world. Throughout history, the use of herbs and spices has been important. Long before they were utilized in cooking, many were recognized for their healing properties. Many of them have now been demonstrated to have major health benefits by current research. Spices, spice seeds, and herbs are used in cuisine to provide taste, fragrance, and depth of flavor. They may have little nutritional benefit in the little quantities needed to prepare gourmet meals, but they stimulate hunger, give zest to food, and improve tastes. Let’s go through 5 of the best spices from Africa.


Irú is a fermented seasoning that has long been utilized by Nigerian tribes, particularly the Yoruba and Edo people. It is made by fermenting and processing locust beans (Parkia biglobosa), and it is available in both fresh and dried forms, whole or mashed. The tannins that form during the fermentation process are responsible for the seasoning's trademark earthly odors, which are typically characterized as evocative of terrible body odor and stinky feet. Despite its earthy aroma, the spice is still widely used to flavor a wide range of traditional stews and soups, including okro soup, efo riro stew, ewedu soup, egusi soup, gbegiri soup, and ogbono soup. Irú provides therapeutic advantages such as wound healing capabilities, treatment for hypertension, immune system booster, treatment for respiratory infections, and treatment for gastrointestinal problems, according to


Figure 1 - Photograph of Iru Spice. Source - Google

Alligator pepper

Alligator pepper, also known as “Grains of Paradise”, is a West African spice with a strong, aromatic, and spicy flavor. It is similar to a fruity cardamon pod and is a member of the ginger family. Alligator pepper is also used culturally across Africa. For example, the Yorubas of Nigeria often utilize it at infant naming rituals and other traditional events. Alligator pepper is widely used to flavor soups, vegetables, and stews in West Africa, but it is flexible enough to spice lamb, chicken, and cattle meals as well. Grilled steaks with a dash of alligator pepper are a perfect combination. According to, the whole plant is utilized for medicinal applications in addition to peppercorns. The rhizomes (also known as rootstalks) have historically been used as antibacterial and antifungal medicines; the long leaves are used to cure measles and gastrointestinal ailments, and the seeds have anti-inflammatory effects. Alligator pepper contains a variety of minerals, including calcium, magnesium, and zinc. Among the amino acids contained in alligator pepper that are required to create proteins is l-Threonine; humans do not naturally generate this amino acid, so we must get it via our diet. Alligator pepper includes several antioxidants in the form of flavonoids, tannins, and terpenoids, which provide advantages such as scavenging free radicals in the body that cause inflammation.

 Figure 2 - Photograph of Alligator Pepper. Source - Google.

Alnif cumin

Alnif cumin is traditionally harvested and processed by local women in the same Moroccan hamlet located in the foothills of the eastern Anti-Atlas mountain range from the end of April to the beginning of May. The cumin plant is often picked before it fully matures. This prevents any seeds from being lost. The procedure also aids in the preservation of the green hue. After harvesting, the cumin is dried in the shade before being battered to liberate the seeds. Following that, the farmers sift away the dust and other debris that have accumulated with the seeds.

According to Pan African, this cumin species, distinguished by its high quality and rich perfume, may be used whole or ground, and it is widely used to improve the taste of classic Moroccan dishes such as couscous, tajine, and soups. These dried leaves have a two-year shelf life. To get Alnif Cumin powder, the seeds are crushed using a conventional mill.

Figure 3 - The Photograph of Alnif Cumin. Source - Google

Mau Forest Dried Nettles

Native populations of the Mau forest in the Rift Valley have been gathering leaves and plants from the surrounding region for years. This includes nettles, which have long been a staple of Kenyan cuisine, even during times of drought. However, their usage has been dramatically curtailed since the early 1980s. This is owing to increased deforestation and the elimination of information about their culinary applications. As a consequence, a group of women has begun to produce nettles in the Molo highlands at altitudes ranging from 2000 to 3000 meters, with the greatest results achieved on highly rich terrain in certain regions where cattle historically grazed. They are hand collected from March to June and September to October, according to Taste Atlas. After being picked, the nettles are bathed in water to lessen the stinging impact before being sold fresh or dried and processed into a powder. The leaves are used in a variety of traditional dishes, including mukimo, which is made with mashed potatoes, maize, beans, and nettles. They are used in the local porridge, along with millet flour. They are also used as fresh vegetables, medicinal herbs, and herbal tea. They are also advised as a nutritional supplement for nursing women (the leaves contain 6 percent protein, 3.5 percent minerals, and are a rich source of iron and Vitamin A). To boost soil fertility, the dry powder may also be diluted with water and sprayed on it. While young plant leaves are mostly sold fresh at local markets, dried nettles in powder form have a larger market and are sold all year.

Figure 4 - The Photograph of Mau Forest Dried Nettles. Source - Google


Peri-peri is possibly the most well-known African spice, used in rubs for chicken, fish, steaks, and other meats and even vegetables all over the world. This African spice is also frequently utilized in several restaurant chains in the Americas and the United Kingdom, and it is readily accessible as sauces, rubs, and dry spice for cooking. Crushed chillis, citrus peel, tarragon, basil, pimento, bay leaves, paprika, salt, onion, garlic, pepper, and lemon juice are common ingredients in peri-peri. This African spice is quickly becoming a worldwide favorite, and it's most renowned for being used on chicken. Vitamins A, B, and C are abundant in Peri-peri chili seeds. They also include capsaicin, which improves mood by dilating pupils, increasing metabolic rate, and releasing endorphins when ingested. According to African Dream Foods, it has been produced in the wild for generations in Africa and is currently commercially farmed in Zambia, Uganda, Malawi, Zimbabwe, and Rwanda. Malawi, Zambia, South Africa, Ghana, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, and Portugal are the primary growing areas. It is grown for commercial food processing as well as the pharmaceutical business. Peri-peri is mainly used to treat schizophrenia, anxiety, and depression.

Figure 5 - Photograph of Peri Peri Spice. Source - Google

 Anand Subramanian is a freelance photographer and content writer based out of Tamil Nadu, India. Having a background in Engineering always made him curious about life on the other side of the spectrum. He leapt forward towards the Photography life and never looked back. Specializing in Documentary and  Portrait photography gave him an up-close and personal view into the complexities of human beings and those experiences helped him branch out from visual to words. Today he is mentoring passionate photographers and writing about the different dimensions of the art world.

Read more from Anand Subramanian:

Figure 1 - Visual representation of Yoga Source - Google

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