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the red oil and pulp from the fruit of the African oil palm (Elaesis guineensis)

Red Palm Oil

The fruit of the African oil palm (Elaesis guineensis), which grows throughout tropical Africa, is used in many African dishes.  making palm oil from palm nuts, congoPalm nuts, the fruit of the African oil palm, are not much bigger than grapes and grow in large bunches. They are orange-red in color, and their pulp and oil give a distinctive color and taste to many African soups and stews. Palm oil is to tropical African cooking what olive oil is to Mediterranean cooking and butter is to northern European cooking.

Moambé sauce and Palm Butter Soup are recipes that start with the palm nuts and make use of both their pulp and oil. Canned cream of palm fruit or sauce graine can be used if fresh palm fruits are not available.

Other recipes use just the oil from the fleshy pulp of the African oil palm fruit. Traditionally the red palm oil is refined at home; today it is also produced commercially, bottled, and is available the world over.

Other oil can be substituted, but palm oil (or at least a mix of palm oil and some other cooking oil) gives the most authentic results.

The red palm oil, which is easily extracted from the pulp of the fruit of the African oil palm, should not be confused with the oil which can be obtained by crushing the hard inner kernel.

Palm trees are not only a source of cooking oil; palm tree sap is used to make palm wine.

Chicken with Egusi
Muamba Nsusu
Muamba de Galinha
Poulet Moambé / Poulet Nyembwe
Capitaine & Pili-Pili in Palm Oil
Dahomey Fish Stew
Fish & Greens
Fish with Sorrel
Fried Fish in Peanut Sauce
Sardines & Greens Stew
Beef & Greens in Peanut Sauce
Beef in Wild Mango Kernel Sauce
Mbika with Meat
Moambé Stew
Afang Soup
Egusi Soup
Mbanga Soup
Ndolé Soup
Ogbono Soup
Palaver 'Sauce'
Palm Butter Soup
Palm-Oil Chop
Pepper Soup
Egusi Sauce
Moambé Sauce / Nyembwe Sauce
Tomato Sauce
Feuilles de Manioc
Gari Foto
Okra & Greens
Plantains in Palm Oil

Richard Francis Burton

The Elaeis Guiniensis . . . springs apparently uncultivated in large dark groves on the shores of the Tanganyika

Palm oil is usually associated with Central and Western Africa, where a commercial trade developed in the 19th century. But the African Oil Palm grows all over tropical Africa. Richard Francis Burton described it in The Lake Regions of Central Africa: A Picture of Exploration (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1860; reprinted by Dover Publications, and by Scholarly Press).

The Elaeis Guiniensis, locally called mchikichi, which is known by the Arabs to grow in the Islands of Zanzibar and Pemba and more rarely in the mountains of Usagara, springs apparently uncultivated in large dark groves on the shores of the Tanganyika, where it hugs the margin, rarely growing at any distance inland. The bright-yellow drupe, with shiny purple-black point, though nauseous to the taste, is eaten by the people. The Mawezi, or palm-oil, of the consistency of honey, rudely extracted, forms an article of considerable traffic in the regions about the lake. The is the celebrated extract whose various officinal uses in Europe have already begun to work a social transformation in W. Africa. The people of Ujiji separate by pounding the oily sarcocarpium from the one seed of the drupe, boil it for some hours, allow the floating substance to coagulate, and collect it in large earthen pots. The price is usually about one doti of white cotton for thirty-five pounds, and the people generally demand salt in exchange for it from caravans. This is the "oil of a red color" which, according to Mr. Cooley, is brought by the Wanyamwezi "from the opposite of southwestern side of the lake." Despite its sickly flavor, it is universally used in cooking, and forms the only unguent and lamp-oil in the country. This fine Guinea-palm is also tapped, as the date palm in Western India, for toddy; and the cheapness of this tembo--the sura of West Africa--accounts of the prevalence of intoxication, and the consequent demoralization of the lakist tribes.
(Chapter XIII -- At Length We Sight the Lake Tanganyika, The "Sea of Ujiji")

Other African gastronomical excerpts

The Ghana Government

Palm Oil

Ghana Nutrition and Cookery was published by the government of Ghana and Thomas Nelson and Sons (Edinburgh, 1953). It contains about 300 recipes, including these instructions for making Palm Oil from palm nuts.


Method I

1. Ferment the nuts in containers for about 3 days. If necessary sprinkle them with water.
2. Pound in a mortar till the fibres are removed.
3. Remove from mortar and mix with cold water.
4. Remove nuts and fibres.
5. Skim off oil from surface of the water.
6. Heat oil slowly to rid it of all water. Cool and store in bottles.

Method II
1. Dry the nuts in the sun for 2 days.
2. Boil the nuts in water until soft.
3. Pour off water and pound nuts in a mortar until the fibres are removed.
4. Remove from mortar and mix with warm water.
5. Remove nuts and fibres, and strain through a palm-nut sieve.
6. Boil liquid for 1 - 1 & 1/2 hours, and skim off oil.
7. Heat oil slowly to get rid of all water.
8. Cool and store in bottles.

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