Smoked foods: a historical overview
Smoked foods have been a crowd-pleaser for centuries as people began to realize that smoked foods carried an authentic flavor compared to non-smoked food. Cooking over fire has become a part of many gastronomies, and has found its way into many cultures across various continents.
Amoking is the world’s oldest cooking method dating back to the era of primitive cavemen who hung meat over the fire to dry. It was soon realized that the smoke gives the meat a different flavor and helped preserve the meat better.
According to historians, the modern-day practice of smoked meat began in Turkey and was introduced to Romania by Turkish forces that invaded the country. Jewish butchers from Romania perfected the curing method, producing an exceptionally soft delicacy
The smoky technique has evolved over the years moving from community smoking and huge smokehouses to having a compact food smoker or a small, improvised smokehouse positioned at the back of a house.
The benefits of smoking foods include flavor enhancement, a great perseveration technique, reduces rate of food poisoning, and provides better food color and texture.
Smoke Acceptance in Africa
The smoke taste is taking foods to a whole new level. The incorporation of smoky flavor into African cuisine has been met with wide acceptance across the African continent. Africans have a bubbly smoke and grilled culture which makes smoking a traditional way of preserving food products. This preservation technique gives food a longer shelf life while creating a unique flavor and aroma.
An authentic African dish is incomplete without adding a smoky component as it adds layers of flavor and taste to the meal. The continent has a pervasive meat culture, with barbequed or grilled meat cultures. Whether Braai/Shisa Nyama in South Africa, Suya/Chinginga in West Africa, or Mushkaki/Nyama Choma in East Africa, the roasted and grilled meat culture is a pervasive one across the continent.
The wide acceptance of the smoke flavor prompted food manufacturers to develop smoky grill spices for people who want an elevated meal profile or don’t have access to smoky food components. Increasingly, these grilled spices have found their way into other applications.
Nigeria’s suya spices have become a popular seasoning for meals such as noodles, pasta, and commercial snacks (extruded corn, and potato chips).
Aome other smoky spices include – smoky BBQ seasonings for snacks and marinades; smoky chicken bouillon seasoning to enhance soups, stews, and sauces, and BBQ beef flavor for noodles application amongst others.
The Grill and BBQ trends seen in African restaurants, from high-end to low-end, reflects the love for the smoky flavor profile. Most menus have smoked or grilled meat, seasoned with smoky seasonings to deliver delicious cuisines.
Traditional foods associated with smoke
Africans have vibrant smoke and grilled cultures as smoking was a form of food preservation for most parts of the continent. In West Africa, eighty percent of fresh fish undergo a smoking process before consumption.
Most of the continent’s staples such as meat, fish, plantain, sweet potato, corn and yam are roasted as street food and other snacks, to create smoking signature profiles.
From Western Africa, the Nigerian Suya is made from beef, ram, offal, and chicken. It is marinated in dehydrated peanut cookies, ginger, salt, pepper, vegetable oil, and other spices before going over the fire – which adds complexity to the overall flavor while prolonging the shelf life, the Suya is dried further and is popularly known as Kilishi.
Dried fish is an important part of the region’s cuisine, acting as a flavor enhancer for soups and stews. Some of the dry fish popularly eaten within the region include stockfish, panla, bonga, adwene, agbodo, and koobi.
From Eastern Africa, Nyama Choma, a national dish of the Kenyan and Tanzania people, is prepared using preferably goat meat. The marinade includes salt, pepper, onions, garlic, ground ginger, and lemon juice.
From Southern Africa, the South African braai is made from game meat, goat and mutton prepared with Peri-Peri sauce, which is a combination of crushed chiles, lemon, pepper, garlic, salt, onion, bay leaves, vinegar, and oil. The braai forms a fundamental part of the South African culture as family and friends gather around a wood fire in a celebratory mood.
From Northern Africa, Méchoui is a whole sheep or lamb spit-roasted on a barbecue in Maghrebi cuisine. Méchoui is seasoned with garlic, onion, carrot, cumin, coriander, other spices, and butter. Méchoui is commonly prepared in Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia.
Cooking methods delivering specific smoke profiles
The popular smoke party Jollof rice in West Africa got its name from the authentic smoke it delivers during the cooking process. The party Jollof rice delivers a different flavor when cooked on firewood, charcoal, and other forms of wood – Mahogany, Odum, and Wawa wood types in Africa.
In other parts of the world, woods like hickory, mesquite, apple, and beech woods are used to create smoke tonalities. Initially, this cooking process was most common among Jollof prepared at parties with firewood but now, people have found a way to incorporate the smoky flavor without necessarily cooking with firewood.
The latter could be achieved either by roasting the tomatoes, pepper, and onions and/or adding smoky seasonings. This gives the dish that smoky flavor and delivers the same taste as when cooked on firewood.
My daughter, Kayla, loves the rich creamy taste of roasted peanut butter soup, a local delicacy of roasted peanuts made into a paste and added to soup. The roasted peanut soup, which has a rich history, is a protein-rich meal that can be enjoyed with a vegetarian or chicken dish, and served with omotuo (rice balls), fufu or rice.
In South Africa, meat prepared on a gas grill can never be considered Braai. The most important component of the braai cook is the wood fire and cooking is done at a slow pace.
A traditional braai is cooked on local wood such as kameeldoring wood which burns slowly and gives good heat and coals, and wingerd wood burns very fast and doesn’t give lasting coals, but is great for giving aroma and flavor. A modern-day braai is cooked using charcoal.
A grill is placed over very hot coals and the meat is perfectly barbecued on the grill. Once the meal is cooked, the fire is fed throughout the braai. Either traditional or modern, both give the braai a distinctive flavor.
My friend, Sean Ryan, the Director of Commercial and Business Development Taste, Smoke and Grill at Kerry ingredients, corroborates this. According to him, cooking on smoke and fire is a flavor profile that is highly desirable and associated with some fantastic cuisine from Africa.
“As more people move away from this and cook with electric or gas coolers they will miss this taste profile in their products and they will want it put back in through seasonings and condiments.”
Symrise and Freddy Hirsch Smoke Platform: Creating specific profiles for the African market
To relieve the stress of having to smoke ingredients for meals, Symrise and Freddy Hirsch’s partnership has used its innovative platform and expertise in production and smoke technology to develop various authentic smoky and grill seasonings targeted at the West African market. The grill-type flavors are designed to recreate the “fresh-from-the-grill-without-an-actual-grill” taste.
Symrise and Freddy Hirsch Nigeria have invested in consumer research to understand the smoke patterns that are preferred by African consumers. The key objective was able to understand the customer-preferred attributes, create authentic smoke profiles that are accepted by the consumers, and meet the nostalgic needs of consumers when they eat.
The companies created a smoke toolbox for all savory applications – bouillon, snacks, marinades, noodles, pasta, and meat applications. In addition to the smoke flavor profiles, we were able to create authentic smoked African foods such as stockfish, crayfish, African chilli, and paprika.
Technology has made it easier for people to incorporate smoky flavors into their cuisine. The traditional smoking process has been modernized by creating taste molecules that capture the taste of smoking. The wood compositions used enables mild, savory or sweet notes. The flavors are available in African firewood seasoning, hickory seasoning, campfire seasoning, and flame-grilled seasoning.
The Freddy Hirsch and Symrise AG partnership is a marriage between a leading West African flavor manufacturer with local insights and a key player in the global flavor market, respectively. Together, we deliver effective solutions and improve taste perception through enhanced salivating properties in West Africa Foods. In addition, our collaboration continues to improve food innovation, ensures deep market penetration in West Africa and harnesses our joint flavor technology platforms to deliver authentic African flavors and enhancers.
Fresh from the grill without the grill
There is something quite primal about smoking food. The aromatic and pleasant smell of delicious food instantly puts a smile on your face and can trigger thoughts, experiences, and even emotions of hunger. Such smells bring us into a place of anticipation and happiness and connect us to memories of a time when humans only ate fresh from the fire.
It is hard to perceive smoky food and not feel like you should be eating it. Sometimes without looking for it, the smell comes evading your space, escaping from a neighbor’s kitchen or from that local bukka driving along the road. You can get the same incredible smell and flavor in your kitchen using the new range of authentic smoky and grill seasonings from Symrise and Freddy Hirsch Nigeria.
Having mastered the art and use of flavors and seasonings that exude the rich smoky grill flavor into food, the partnership has launched its grill-type flavors, which are designed to recreate the fresh-from-the-grill-without-an-actual-grill taste.
Africa has several opportunities for smoke profiles seeing that the smoke opportunities on the continent grow as grill and BBQ trends are increasingly becoming more popular among African restaurants. A popular African export is the smoky jollof rice, which is a ubiquitous staple in Nigeria’s quick-service restaurants.
Written by Kojo Brifo, Managing Director, Freddy Hirsch Nigeria, and Sofiane Berrahmoune, Sub Regional Director, Flavor, Africa Middle East, Taste, Nutrition & Health, Symrise.