Soul food: what is it and what are its characteristics?

Have you heard about soul food? This time we will tell you what it consists of and how to adapt the recipes to healthy versions.

Last update: September 07, 2021

The soul food refers to a type of American gastronomy typical of African-American culture. It is a food that has its origins in slavery. Its base is almost always meat, cornmeal and molasses.

Specifically, the meat is usually pork and molasses a by-product of sugar cane. What are their characteristics? Keep reading to know more!

Origins of soul food

The origins are unclear. It is only known that it was developed by slaves. Most of the ingredients came from what was left over from the whites. So that, this type of gastronomy arose from the lifestyle that the slaves led. Some worked in harvesting fields and others in family homes.

Those who had housework had to adapt their conventional cuisine to American ingredients. Meanwhile, those who worked in harvesting fields became accustomed to a more rudimentary lifestyle, such as catching barbel at night and cooking corn bread in a pan.

Between 1865 and 1910 the food among poor whites and blacks was the same. Until in 1910 the emancipated slaves migrated north. There, Food establishments originate that made African Americans long for their culture and the South. At that moment the soul food as a label.

Although they adopt American dishes, they always include southern dishes on their menus. They are reminiscent of southern origins mixed with Africans.

The soul food It involves the consumption of fried and high-fat foods. Therefore, it is recommended to limit your intake and opt for healthy versions of the recipes.

Common ingredients in soul food

There is a long list of ingredients that make up the recipes of the soul food. The base is usually rice, sorghum and gombo, typical of Africa. When they arrived in America, the masters used to feed the slaves whatever it was. Then, they ate remains of the plantation, such as turnips, beets and dandelions.

They also integrated discarded viscera and cuts into their diet, such as pig's trotters, oxtail, intestines, ears, guts and skin. They added onion, garlic, thyme, and bay leaf. Nothing was wasted. With the leftover fish they made croquettes, with the stale bread pudding and sauce with the water from the cooked vegetables. The use of cornmeal and lard in recipes was common.

Soul food and health

By having a lot of fatty foods, fried foods, sweetened drinks, and processed meats, most dishes are unhealthy. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) says that African Americans between the ages of 18 and 49 are more likely to die from heart disease than whites.

Black people ages 35 to 54 have a 50% chance of developing high blood pressure. However, this does not mean that these types of meals cannot become healthy.

Nor does it refer to the fact that it is necessary to abandon the origins and tradition of the Afro-descendant culture. Conversely, it is about looking for food alternatives that are healthier for consumers.

Eat more plant-based foods

Diets that include green foods are associated with moderate body weights and lower risk of heart disease. In particular, the consumption of foods such as:

  • Kale.
  • Turnips
  • Cabbage.
  • Okra.
  • Carrots
  • Tomatoes.
  • Cucumbers
  • Lentils.
  • Beans.
  • Peanut.
  • Yams.
  • Bananas
  • Pumpkins.

Using whole grains

Some dishes from the soul food they include flours, such as macaroni and cheese or cornbread. It is recommended to change them for whole grains because help control weight and gut health.

Whole grains are whole wheat, brown rice, oats, sorghum, fonio, and barley. To make a healthier dish, you can substitute white rice for brown rice. When baking, use whole grain flours and avoid commercial or packaged foods.

Season with vegetables, herbs and spices

High sodium use is associated with the risk of high blood pressure, stroke, and heart disease. The meals of the soul food they are usually high in salt, garlic, and seasonings.

Seasoning foods with onion, garlic, herbs, and spices reduces sodium content and enhances flavor. Add fresh herbs at the end of cooking and dried herbs at the beginning.

Change cooking methods

High temperatures such as frying, baking, broiling, and grilling can introduce chemicals such as heterocyclic acrylamide amines and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. These are carcinogenic substances.

It is recommended to remove visible fat and charred parts of food before eating. Steam or sauté vegetables instead of frying them. Marinate meats in fruits, citrus juices, vinegar, onions, herbs, and spices. If you must fry, choose an oil like canola, peanut, or avocado.

Steaming is one of the most recommended methods to maintain the properties of food.

Baked chicken

Enjoy this classic recipe from the soul food without fat and oil. We explain how it is done.


  • All-purpose flour.
  • Peppers.
  • Salt.
  • Fresh black pepper ground.
  • Chicken With bone.
  • Butter.


  • To start, heat the oven to 220 degrees Celsius. Use a bowl and combine the flour, paprika, salt, and pepper.
  • Put the chicken pieces in the flour mixture and cover completely. Put the quarter cup of butter in a baking dish and put in the hot oven.
  • When melted, put the chicken and bake for 30 minutes. Flip every 15 minutes to cook on both sides.

As you can see, there are healthy methods to enjoy the soul food. It's all about knowing how to cook the ingredients, change the recipe a bit, and use healthier ingredients.