For hundreds of years, food on the African continent has been preserved without the benefit of refridgeration. How? This article describes four methods of food preservation common in Africa.
For many Africans, the sun is an important factor in food preservation. Soon after the harvest, grains such as millet, maize, sorghum, green gram, and wheat, as well as pulses such as beans and peas are spread out in the sun to dry. If completely dried of moisture, these foodstuffs can last a very long time – sometimes years – if stored in a cool, dry place and protected from pests.
Most households had a granary built way above the ground, where foodstuffs were stored. In addition to drying, it was also common to apply wood ash to pulses like beans and peas to discourage insect infestation. The ash could easily be washed out before cooking the pulses.
Various types of vegetables, tubers and fish can also be successfully preserved in this way. Tubers such as cassava or sweet potato may have to be sliced into thin pieces to facilitate drying.
Smoking is another important method of food preservation. Formerly, after the hunt, hunters smoked large amounts of the meat for easier transport back home, and also to preserve it. It was common to smoke game meat, while domestic animals were often consumed fresh after slaughtering.
Smoking fish is still a very important method of preserving fish, used all over the continent.
Salt was often applied to foodstuffs in order to preserve them, in conjunction with sun-drying and smoking. Many fisherman generously salt fish before sun-drying or smoking it, to further improve the chances that it will not decay. Salting was also applied to certain vegetables during the sun-drying process.
4. Using fat
A few communities used fat to preserve food. These were mainly communities that herded animals, such as nomadic communities. For example, among the Somali, when a camel was slaughtered, part of the meat was cooked in generous amounts of fat and salt. It was then stored for future use. The meat remained suitable for human consumption because of the large amounts of fat in which it was cooked and stored, and the salt.
Many parts of Africa still do not have the necessary electrical infrastructure necessary for sustained refridgeration. Traditional methods of food preservation continue to play a vital role in keeping food edible for millions of people.
These methods, such as sun-drying, smoking, salting and using fat, have not only stood the test of time – they are also inexpensive and sustainable without requiring too much energy.