5 Essential African Ingredients Missing from Most Large Supermarkets

African and Caribbean cooking is important because it transports you to another location or reminds you of your childhood. You can cook together with loved ones to help cement familial relationships and promote quality time.

Some dishes and entrées need unique ingredients you may be unable to find. Most large chain supermarkets do not stock African or Caribbean ingredients, and substitutes don't always succeed. You may need to look farther afield in specialty shops. Look at these five essential African ingredients missing from most large supermarkets.

1. Tamarind

The tamarind tree is native to Africa, and produces long seed pods that contain the edible fruit. The fruit is ripe when the pods become dry. A simple soak loosens the pod away from the pulp inside. Use this yummy fruit to make a refreshingly addictive drink. You can strain the juice to remove any leftover pulp. Or, add a bit to black tea for a new twist.

2. Cassava

Cassava has several names. Manioc and yucca are used interchangeably with cassava, a thick starchy root. Cassava is wildly versatile and, once peeled, performs like a potato as well as wheat flour. Even leaves from the cassava plant are tasty in soup.

Cassava features in dishes in several forms — mashed, boiled, and fried. The high starch content makes cassava the source of tapioca pearls. Dried cassava is ground into an alternative source of flour for those who cannot tolerate nuts or gluten. Use its flour to make bread and cereal.

3. Sumbala

Sumbala is a condiment similar to miso paste. If you don't want to boil, clean, and ferment the seeds from the Parkia biglobosa tree, simply pick up a ball or patty of this condiment for your own dishes. This pungent, fishy flavor accompanies fish and rice dishes as well as stews.

4. Egusi

You will love egusi if you snack on pumpkin seeds in the autumn. Egusi are the edible seeds from a melon-like gourd. The seeds resemble small pumpkins seeds but taste somehow creamier. The small seeds are high in protein and can be a substitute for meats or even pressed to produce oil. By far, egusi is lovely as a seasoning, a snack, or to thicken a soup.

5. Plantains

Dedicated cooks in African and Caribbean cuisine know you simply cannot use banana as a substitute for plantain. This thick, sturdy cousin of the slim, popular dessert banana is not edible when raw. Plantains must be cooked or processed to make the low-sugar, high starch fruit taste delicious.

Treat plantains similar to potatoes and eat them fried, mashed, grilled, baked, boiled, or steamed.

Hungry yet? Skip your chain supermarket and visit a reputable African store with Caribbean foods and other staples.