All About Soul Food

Although the term “soul food” was coined in the 1960’s, soul food type cuisine has been around for millennia, dating back to precolonial Africa. The term has become shorthand for all African American cooking, but soul food originates from the Deep South during American slavery. It was the food of Black Southerners who moved in the Great Migration, spreading this type of cuisine far and wide across America.

A Rich Culture with a Deep History

Soul food has a rich and important history that ties Black culture to its African roots. Beginning in the 16th century, the transatlantic slave trade brought West African slaves to the southeastern coast of the United States, along with crops such as black-eyed peas, okra, sweet potatoes, rice and melons. African slaves were given only a small amount of rationed food each week, including “leftover” and “undesirable” cuts of meat from their masters. They supplemented their diet by gardening, foraging, fishing, hunting and raising livestock, using farming knowledge passed down from West Africa as their guide. Through unique ingredients, flavor profiles and preparation techniques, soul food has evolved into what we know it to be today. The term celebrates the creativity and skill of cooks who were able to form a signature cuisine despite all obstacles.

Soul Food Ingredients

Here are some signature and dishes ingredients of soul food:

  • Black-eyed peas
  • Butter beans
  • Catfish
  • Chicken
  • Chicken liver
  • Collard greens
  • Cornbread
  • Fatback (fatty, cured, salted pork used to season meats and vegetables)
  • Fried fish
  • Grits
  • Ham hocks
  • Hog maws
  • Hoghead cheese
  • Hot sauce
  • Lima Beans
  • Macaroni and Cheese
  • Mashed potatoes
  • Meatloaf
  •  Mustard greens
  • Neckbones
  • Okra
  • Pigs’ feet
  • Red beans
  • Ribs
  • Rice
  • Sorghum syrup
  • Succotash
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Turnip greens

Interested in Recreating a Soul Food Dish?

Check out this list here of recipes by Black culinary creatives in celebration of Juneteenth.

Want to learn more about soul food? Check out this video from Mental Floss below!