As one of the most popular and illustrious cuisines of the South, recipes for soul food have been passed down through the centuries. From the cultural roots of the Deep South, soul food started with the story of many African American slaves relying on small food portions to survive. They had to come up with a creative way to make food last and taste good at the same time, which is where many soul food recipes originate. In this blog, we’re going to discuss a few key soul food ingredients and talk about each of their historical and cultural backgrounds!


During the early 1600s, slave traders took several crops native to Africa and made limited portions of food on the slave ships in order to keep the slaves alive. Once in the Americas, enslaved Africans grew these crops on the plantations as food sources to help keep their energy up during the long days of hard labor. Since there was so many types of rice crops being grown, it became a staple for many dishes, including jambalaya and Jollof (a popular traditional dish in many West African countries). Rice still continues to be a foundation for soul food dishes today!


Okra made its debut in the Americas around the 18th century, where its origins can be traced back to Ethiopia. Coming across the seas on trade ships, okra was used as a soup thickener, a substitute for coffee, and even as a material to make rope. This green and slimy vegetable is now used as an ingredient in African soups and stews like gumbo. Many people in the Deep South also serve it deep fried.


When slaves were brought over from Europe, they were tasked with the important job of preserving pork with fine salts. Curing the meat allowed the product to stay fresh during long trips overseas. If there was leftover meat, slave owners would give them the cheapest cuts of pork, such as the feet and intestines. To give these parts more flavor, the African people started adding seasonings like hot red peppers and vinegar. Today, Southern barbeque meals still use these flavorings as a base for sauces and rubs.


The cultural history of soul food comes from a generation of people who persisted over generations. What has now evolved into the soul food you know today, can better be appreciated with the ingredients and seasonings in each dish. To order an authentic soul food meal, visit Mama Sheila’s House of Soul. We serve up some of the best soul food in town, so come on by today!