This weekend I will be cooking (and sharing) a recipe that uses one of the most common staples in West-African kitchens; Palm oil. I am not talking about the controversial palm oil that is grown mostly for commercial purposes and is associated with endangered species, no I am talking about the pure unrefined palm oil sourced from West Africa. Palm oil is an ingredient that has been used by west Africans historically, and is still being used till date.
Highly underrated and surprisingly healthy, this rich red oil has its own distinct savory flavor (the unrefined version) and adds a depth to west African dishes that no other oil can. The rich flavor of palm oil can be a bit intimidating at first, so its best consumed with traditionally African dishes that call for it. This oil although used to fry savory foods, is mostly used in soups, stews and sauces. It adds a nice rich red color to most dishes, but care needs to be taken when using it, because palm oil stains clothes very easily, and those stains can be annoying to clean. Also, palm oil tends to be semi- solid at room temperature, but liquifies once heated (almost like coconut oil). Palm oil is known as one of the healthiest oils to consume containing vitamin A and other anti-0xidants as well as having the right type of fat but since I am not a nutritionist, I won’t say much more than that.
Sustainably sourced cooking palm oil is best found in African grocery stores.
The flavor of palm oil is difficult to substitute, and may be somewhat challenging to source locally if you don’t live close to an African store however, the color and look of palm oil can easily be mimicked with annatto oil. Annatto oil, has a mild flavor, is pretty simple to make, looks almost identical to heated palm oil and can be used as an alternative to palm oil to add the palm oil color to Afro-recipes.
On the left of the picture above is the annatto oil, and on the right is the palm oil.
- 1/2 cup vegetable oil
- 2 tbsp annatto seeds
- In a clean pot, heat up the vegetable oil and annatto seeds on low heat for about 3 minutes. You should notice the oil becoming bright red in color.
- After 3 minutes, remove the oil from the flame, and set aside for 10 minutes to cool.
- Drain the oil to remove the seeds. Use the oil right away for a recipe, and discard the seeds.