What is soul food, and where did it come from?
Soul food history is about African American food derived from Black enslaved people’s take, often from unwanted or unknown parts, scraps, or leftovers from American and British cuisine. Then combined with the soulful essence of West Africa for color, warmth, flavor, and preservation of Black people’s traditions.
Soul food recipes have been a staple of African American cooks, Black food culture, and Southern cuisine since its inception, and it’s only gotten better with age!
So whenever someone asks, “What is soul food exactly?” or “What is the history of soul food?”
Tell them to start here!
What foods did enslaved African Americans bring to America?
An integral part of soul food history began when West Africans were forced into slavery. Their White captors also took from Africa what’s known today as some of America’s favorite foods.
Favorites from okra, peppers, watermelon, yams, and black-eyed peas.
They also brought the kola nut – one of the main ingredients in Coca-Cola. West Africans used to chew this nut for its caffeine.
What is the meaning of soul food?
“Soul” describes the swag and unique style of African-American cuisine. You know – the flavor!
Soul food definition
So what defines authentic soul food?
Soul food history and the definition of soul food can easily be summed up as tender, juicy meats, flavorful gravies, and sauces. And vegetables seasoned so deliciously that you forget they’re good for you!
That’s soul food – a legacy of Southern cooking the Black way.
Why is it called soul food?
Why is soul food called soul? It’s called soul food because of the Southern hospitality it’s served with and the heart-centric, “soulful” feeling cooked into every dish.
An attribute akin to only Black people and how we cook, fashion, and create with style and swag.
The flavor is affectionately termed soul food.
What makes soul food soul food?
Traditional soul food is closely connected to the cuisine of the Southern United States.
Therefore, it’s often considered synonymous with Southern food.
However, the true definition of soul food does not require Deep South or Southern roots.
Instead, soul food is simply a legacy of Black Southerners, African American cooking, and Black American food. Black cooks and Black people’s food.
What is the difference between soul food and Southern food?
Soul food and Southern are often compared. So to understand soul food history, it’s helpful to understand the difference.
We’ll start with the question, “What was soul food during slavery?”
Enslaved African Americans in the South developed soul food’s distinct character by creating outstanding meals from what was thought to be less-than-desirable cuts of meat and produce – the food White Americans did not want, recognize, or know what to do with.
So is soul food Southern or Black?
While not all Southern food is soul food, most soul food is of Southern African American descent.
Southern food can be described as down South, home-cooked comfort food recipes where you can taste the hospitality.
While the essence of soul food is the same as the taste of Southern hospitality described above, soul food’s core distinguishing factor is Southern food seasoned to perfection!
So what would a typical soul food meal be?
A typical soul food meal includes a flavorful, tender, juicy main dish with multiple vegetable and starchy sides, bread (usually cornbread), and a Southern dessert.
So what is traditional food for Black people?
Check out this soul food history list of favorite Black recipes:
- Black Folks Soul Food Southern Fried Chicken Recipe
- Black Folks Soul Food Baked Macaroni And Cheese
- Black Folks Soul Food Collard Greens Recipe
- Black Folks Southern Potato Salad Recipe
- Black Folks Southern Cabbage Recipe
- Black Folks Southern Candied Yams
- Black Folks Chicken And Dressing
- Black Folks Southern Shrimp And Grits Recipe
- Black Folks Tea Cake Recipe
- Black Folks Sweet Potato Pie Recipe
- Black Folks Southern Banana Pudding
- Black Folks Southern Peach Cobbler Recipe
- Black Folks Southern Sweet Tea
What is the most popular soul food?
While the history of soul food recipes may be accredited to the Southern US states, it’s loved everywhere from coast to coast in an array of popular dishes, including the soul food dishes below:
Chicken, especially fried chicken, is a food thrown on the doorsteps of Black people as a way to identify us.
But, of course, you know, African Americans didn’t invent the chicken!
We just perfected seasoning it!
That’s how soul food Southern fried chicken became arguably the most popular of the many soul food recipes.
How can you get started making soul food at home?
So how do you make soul food? Thanks to Instant Pot, most of these recipes are made to order in a fraction of the traditional time without compromising the authentic soul food flavors or ingredients.
Love easy Instant Pot recipes?
And who doesn’t love a soul food seasoned side dish?
Start with evergreen soul food side dishes like:
What can you add to baked beans for flavor?
Check out this favorite soul food red beans and rice or Southern baked beans recipe!
Then, move on to the main course to include soul food entrées like:
Finally, bring the meal to a standing ovation close with mouth-watering Southern dessert favorites such as:
Soul food recipes represent Black culture
What can you use instead of ham hock in collard greens?
Check out the below recipe for smoked turkey legs – a great addition to soul food collard greens!
What is Black culture food?
African American food culture consists of hearty homecooked meals that you can point out as dishes with plenty of seasoning and rich flavor!
Why is food important to Black culture?
People ask, “Is soul food a part of Black culture?”
Yes! Soul food has a rich and flavorful history that ties Black culture to its African roots. That history is deeply reflected in Black people’s food.
Soul food history and recipes began because of Black people’s lack of food access. “Making something from nothing” with the leftover scraps was the food system for enslaved Africans.
Being able to feed someone is a significant and respected part of Black food culture.
Black people gather, connect, and celebrate with soul food. Food is a way to show how much another person is cared for.
What does soul food symbolize?
First We Feast describes soul food as a term that “brilliantly captures the humanity and heroic effort of African-Americans to overcome centuries of oppression and create a cuisine.”
“Cooking with love provides food for the soul.”
Soul food has new meanings and multiple identities within the Black community today.
Yesterday’s food insecurity and meals made to stretch for impoverished families are now celebratory, comfort food, and often culinary delicacies and expensive cuisine.
We now recognize these Black people’s foods as soul food!
What is soul food FAQs
What vegetables are used in soul food cooking?
Popular Southern vegetable favorites include soul food seasoned collard greens, baked yams, okra, and sweet potatoes.
Why is Southern mac and cheese so important to Black History Month?
Mac and cheese has a really old soul food history.
Known initially as macaroni pie, baked mac and cheese was created by James Hemings, an African American enslaved person trained as a culinary chef.
This dish has been a staple of soul food cuisine since its inception, and it’s only gotten better with age!
Hemings is known and respected today by many culinary historians, chefs, and African American cooks.
Mac and cheese is just one of the many soul food cuisines turned American dishes.
What other foods did Blacks invent?
From Black macaroni and cheese, Hoppin’ John to Southern desserts, red velvet cake, sweet potato pie, and soul food elevated dishes like Southern banana pudding the Black way.
African Americans are responsible for many American food favorites.
What is the Black history of cornbread?
While cornbread certainly has Native American roots, enslaved Black people in the American South became heavily reliant on it when given limited rations and time to eat and prepare meals.
Cornbread was ideal because it didn’t require utensils, could be easily transported, and lasted long.
What do you eat in Black History Month?
You can enjoy notable recipes like fried fish, collard green recipes, cornbread, baked macaroni and cheese, chicken and dressing, sweet potato pie, and banana pudding. Just to name a few soul food recipe favorites.
These recipes are part of the authentic soul food family and soul food history. Recipes passed along through generations and a legacy of African Americans.
What is soul food month?
National Soul Food Month is every year in June.
June is a month steeped in African American culture and history, recognizing Black food, Black music, and Juneteenth.
What cities have the best soul food restaurants?
In the 1940s, soul food restaurants appeared in every large American city with a sizeable Black population, attracting a diverse clientele with their flavorful and culturally rich foods.
Some of the most famous soul food restaurants are:
- St Louis, MO – Sweetie Pie’s restaurant
- Los Angeles, CA – Roscoe’s Chicken And Waffles
- Harlem, NY – Sylvia’s
- Las Vegas, NV – Mario’s
What cities have the best soul food scene?
New Orleans is famous for its iconic soul food gumbo, while Atlanta is recognized for anything peach.
What state has the best soul food?
Instead of just one best state, states are recognized individually for their most famous soul food dishes.
- Alabama fried catfish
- Mississippi pot roast
- Tidewater Virginia yock
- Texas BBQ
- South Carolina low-country boil
- Carolina collard greens
- Georgia peach cobbler
- North Carolina sweet tea
- Louisiana shrimp and grits
Are there books on Black people food?
Adrian Miller’s book, Soul Food The Surprising Story of an American Cuisine, One Plate at a Time, tells the insightful and eclectic history of Black people’s food. The influences, ingredients, and innovations make up the soul food tradition.
Miller uncovers how each dish got on the soul food plate and what it means for African American culture and identity. Focusing each chapter on the culinary and social history of iconic soul foods like fried chicken, chitlins, yams, greens, and “red drinks.”
Do you have any favorite soul food cookbooks?
- Soul Food Holidays, by Shaunda Necole & The Soul Food Pot
Did you enjoy this recipe guide about soul food history?
Have you had soul food?
Would you make it?
Comment below and lemme know.
Then subscribe HERE for all the soul food!
Want to learn more about soul food?
Check out the ultimate soul food recipe guide below!