If you don’t live near an African market, or you find the prices at the niche, culture-specific stores too pricey, there’s another place you can find Africa-inspired foods: Trader Joe’s.
Trader Joe’s is a U.S. private chain and market leader of organic and fresh food grocery stores based in California with about 460 stores — half of them in California.
Part of the Trader Joe’s business model that makes it so unique is that it aspires to create an exotic shopping experience without charging exotic prices. This strategy has earned the store an impressive number of sales per square foot — a popular sales metric used in retail.
Businesses and analysts use sales per square foot to measure the efficiency of a store’s management in creating revenue. The higher the sales per square foot, the better job management is doing marketing and displaying the products, according to Investopedia.
Here are 8 Africa-inspired products sold at Trader Joe’s. Most of them are private label and some may bear little resemblance to African foods.
This spicy seasoning blend consists of smoked paprika, sea salt, garlic and basil and gives any food a smoky flavor and aroma. One jar costs just $2.29, and it tastes good on just about anything from meat to vegetables, according to Traderjoesrants.wordpresss.com. The paprika is Africa-grown, and slow smoked for 48 hours over sustainable African hardwood called acacia saligna. This wood is sometimes used in place of barbecue coals in Africa, and this process brings out the South African flavor of braai or barbecue.
Rooibos is a medicinal herb that comes from a bush growing in South Africa, but it’s popular throughout Africa and the world for its healing benefits. Trader Joe’s has combined it with comforting chai tea for a beverage with a “lively fragrance of ginger, cloves, allspice, cardamom, nutmeg and cinnamon” says Steepster.com. It has a gorgeous red hue from the rooibos and a lot a big caffeine kick.
Couscous is a signature dish from Morocco and at Trader Joe’s you can pick up a package of whole-wheat instant couscous. All you need to do to prepare it is bring some salted water to a boil (you can add butter or olive oil to keep the couscous from sticking to the pot), add the dry couscous, cover and let it stand for five minutes. It will come out nice and fluffy. Trader Joe’s also sells chickpeas, which you can put on top with tomato sauce for an authentic Moroccan dish. It’s so popular that it’s available on Amazon too.
The South African Smoke Seasoning made its way onto several products at Trader Joe’s including South African Style potato chips. The chips have a little something extra with the added parsley, plus they are light and crunchy, gluten free and kosher. They’ll compliment a burger that you’ve seasoned with the original seasoning very nicely, according to Traderjoes.com.
Red palm oil is popular throughout West Africa and often used in place of coconut oil when cooking. The oil boasts carotene, which is good for vision and eye health, so it’s worth switching from vegetable oil to this stuff. Trader Joe’s sells organic red palm oil. If you want to use it in traditional West African fashion, try it with spinach, cassava and potato leaves. It also makes a good base for vegetable soups. Trader Joe’s has received some criticism from food bloggers because it will not reveal its source for the product, according to Alternet.org. There is some controversy around how red palm oil is made. It is contributing to deforestation in parts of the world.
Anyone who teethed on South African biltong knows that it is nothing like U.S.-style beef jerky. In fact seeing them in the same sentence is an oxymoron. A madly popular delicacy inside and outside South Africa, biltong is a traditional dried meat treat flavored with a special blend of spices. You have to give Trader Joe’s credit for slapping their own private label on something they call biltong beef jerky. The snack packs a lot of protein in a resealable bag and it’s portable. U.S.-style jerky is meat cut into clean strips, mostly from the rump of the cow. It has significantly less fat than most styles of jerky, according to Whatsgoodattraderjoes.com. It’s also generously coated in a pepper, garlic, and seasoning similar to the South African Smoke seasoning.
This almost instant meal combines the cuisines of several West African countries. It has a peanut sauce reminiscent of Nigerian peanut soup, kale that’s been flavored and cooked to resemble African collard greens and garbanzo beans, all over Moroccan style couscous. The vegetables have been simmered in a West African style sauce loaded with spices popular in Africa including coriander, caraway, and cumin. The dish is only available at Trader Joe’s physical locations, according to TraderJoes.com.
Medjool dates are native to North Africa and didn’t find their way to the U.S. until the 20th century. These dates are known for being extra sticky and sweet, with flavors of caramel, honey, and cinnamon. You can stew them and combine them with the Moroccan couscous for an authentic North African dish. Trader Joe’s sells them in a one-pound container for under $5, and according to Traderjoes.com. They mix perfectly with vanilla ice cream for a date shake.