Soul food

From Academic Kids

For the movie, see Soul Food

Soul food is an ethnic cuisine, food traditionally eaten by African Americans of the Southern United States. Many of the various dishes and ingredients included in "soul food" are also regional fare and comprise a part of white Southern U.S. cuisine, as well.



The style of cooking originated during slavery, when slaves were generally given only the "leftover" and "undesirable" cuts of meat (after the slaveowners had taken the choicest cuts), and had only the vegetables they grew for themselves. After slavery ended, many former slaves, being poor, could afford only off-cuts of meat, along with offal. Farming, hunting and fishing provided fresh vegetables, fish and wild game, such as possum, rabbit, squirrel and sometimes waterfowl.

While soul food originated in the South, soul food restaurants – from fried chicken and fish "shacks" to upscale dining establishments – are in virtually every African-American community in the nation, especially in cities with large African American populations, such as Chicago, New York, New Orleans, Los Angeles and Washington, DC.

Soul food has a mainly oral history. Most recipes were handed down through families without writing them down. Poor whites and blacks in the South ate many of the same dishes, but styles of preparation sometimes varied. African-American soul food generally tends to be spicier than Anglo-American cuisine. source Soul Food Online (

Dishes and ingredients

Soul food uses a great variety of dishes and ingredients, some unique, some shared with other cuisines.


  • Chicken fried steak (beef deep fried in flour or batter, usually served with gravy)
  • Chicken (often fried with cornmeal breading or seasoned flour)
  • Chicken gizzards
  • Chicken livers
  • Chitterlings, or chitlins (the cleaned and prepared intestines of hogs, slow-cooked and often eaten with vinegar and hot sauce; sometimes parboiled, then battered and fried)
  • Cracklins (commonly known as pork rinds and sometimes added to cornbread batter)
  • Fatback (fatty, cured, salted pork used to season meats and vegetables)
  • Fried fish (any of several varieties of fish – especially catfish but also whiting fish, porgies, bluegills – dredged in seasoned cornmeal and deep fried)
  • Ham hocks (smoked, used to flavor vegetables and legumes)
  • Hog maws (or hog jowls, sliced and usually cooked with chitterlings)
  • Hoghead cheese (made primarily from pig snouts, lips, and ears and frequently also referred to as "souse meat" or simply "souse")
  • Meatloaf (typically with a brown gravy)
  • Neckbones (beef neckbones seasoned and slow cooked)
  • Pigs' feet (slow-cooked like chitterlings, sometimes pickled and, like chitterlings, often eaten with vinegar and hot sauce)
  • Ribs (usually pork, but can also be beef ribs)


  • Black-eyed peas (cooked separately or with rice, as hoppin' john)
  • Greens (usually cooked with ham hocks; especially collard greens, mustard greens, turnip greens, or a combination thereof)
  • Lima beans (see butter beans)
  • Butter beans (immature lima beans, usually cooked in butter)
  • Mashed potatoes (usually with butter and condensed milk)
  • Okra (African vegetable eaten fried in cornmeal or stewed, often with tomatoes, corn, onions and hot pepers; Bantu for okra is ngombo, which gives its name to the Creole/soul food dish "gumbo")
  • Red beans
  • Succotash (originally, a Native American dish of yellow corn and butter beans, usually cooked in butter)
  • Sweet potatoes (often parboiled, sliced and then baked, using sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and butter or margarine, commonly called "candied yams"; also boiled, then pureed and baked into pies)
  • Yams (not the botanical yam, but the sweet potato)

Other items

  • Biscuits (a shortbread similar to scones, commonly served with butter, jam, jelly, sorghum or cane syrup, or gravy; used to wipe up, or "sop," liquids from a dish)
  • Chow-chow (a spicy, homemade pickle relish sometimes made with okra, corn, cabbage, green tomatoes and other vegetables; commonly used to top black-eyed peas and otherwise as a condiment and side dish)
  • Cornbread (a short bread often baked in an iron skillet, sometimes seasoned with bacon fat)
  • Fried ice cream (Ice Cream deep frozen coated with cookies and fried)
  • Grits, often served with fish
  • Hot sauce (a condiment of cayenne peppers, vinegar, salt, garlic and other spices often used on chitterlings, fried chicken and fish – not the same as "Tabasco sauce", which has heat, but little flavor)
  • Macaroni and cheese (always prepared from scratch and then baked)
  • Milk and bread (a "po' folks' dessert-in-a-glass" of slightly crumbled cornbread, buttermilk and sugar)
  • Rice (ususally served with red beans)
  • Sorghum syrup (from sorghum, or "Guinea corn," a sweet grain indigenous to Africa introduced into the U.S. by African slaves in the early 17th century; see biscuits); frequently referred to as "sorghum molasses"
  • Watermelon (brought to the New World by African slaves)


Traditionally, as noted above, soul food is cooked and seasoned with pork products, and fried dishes are usually cooked with either lard or hydrogenated vegetable oil, which is high in trans fats. Unfortunately, frequent consumption of these ingredients without significant exercise or actvity to work the calories off often contributes to disproportionately high occurrences of obesity, hypertension, cardiac/circulatory problems and/or diabetes in African-Americans, often resulting in a shortened lifespan. More modern methods of cooking soul food include using more healthful alternatives for frying (liquid vegetable oil or canola oil) and cooking/stewing using smoked turkey instead of pork.

See also


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