This Is How Jollof Rice Became an Iconic West African Staple

Do you know about the Jollof Wars?
chapelle johnson the knot associate editor
Chapelle Johnson
chapelle johnson the knot associate editor
Chapelle Johnson
Associate Editor
  • Chapelle writes articles for The Knot Worldwide. She covers all things wedding-related and has a personal interest in covering celebrity engagements and fashion.
  • Before joining The Knot Worldwide, Chapelle was an editorial intern for Subvrt Magazine.
  • Chapelle has a degree in English writing from Loyola University New Orleans.
Updated Nov 07, 2023

No one can deny that food is the tastiest way to present one's heritage or favorite cuisine at a wedding. One of our favorite savory wedding traditions from around the world is jollof rice. Filled with flavor and history, this red West African rice is an essential celebratory meal for many African groups. Keep reading to learn what jollof rice is, its origin and why it's a classic dish. And for those who love to cook, we asked an expert for a simple yet yummy jollof rice recipe so you can eat well even if it's not your big day.

In this article:

What Is Jollof Rice? | History | How to Find Jollof Rice | Recipe | How to Incorporate Jollof Rice into Your Day

What Is Jollof Rice?

"Jollof rice is a tomato-stew-based delicacy that's a staple in every Nigerian home and most African communities. It's originally made with red bell peppers, onions, tomatoes, spices and meat/chicken stock," Abayomi (Mariam) Are, catering expert and Head Chef of Mariam's Kitchen, explains.

If you're wondering how jollof rice tastes, Are describes it as "very savory and rich...usually eaten with sweet plantains and a protein of choice." But the taste of this side or main dish depends on which version you're cooking (we will talk more about that later) because some jollofs are smoky, spicy and have a hint of sweetness. And if you're curious about how jollof rice gets its eye-catching red color, it's because of a combination of fresh tomatoes and tomato paste (or sometimes a puree).

History of Jollof Rice

Even though West African jollof rice originated in one place, its popularity has spread everywhere. Because of this, different African communities have added their own spin to the original recipe. "For example, Ghanaians use jasmine rice, Nigerians use parboiled rice and Senegalese use long grain rice," Are says. Are also want people to know how versatile jollof rice is. "Ghanaians make goat meat jollof, Senegalese add veggies and in our native [Nigerian] jollof we cook it with assorted meats and dry seafood."

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Jollof Rice Origin

Historians believe the dish originated in Senegal and Gambia during colonial rule in West Africa between 1860 and 1940. It's said that French colonizers brought broken rice from Indochina to replace current food crops in the region. Gradually, broken rice became more popular than whole rice grains, which led to the creation of jollof rice. And since it's thought the African rice was originally made by the Wolof people, a large ethnic group in Senegal and parts of the Gambia and Southern Mauritania, historians say the word "jollof" is based on the group's name.

Jollof Rice Tradition

The reason why this fare is commonplace at African events is because it's a cultural symbol of national pride, history and unity. Jollof rice is a celebratory food served at birthdays, graduations, baby naming ceremonies and much more. "Nigerians even have a specific type of jollof rice we cook for big parties and weddings. It's called 'Party Jollof.' It's very rich in flavor and has a smokey and semi-burnt taste. If you don't have party jollof rice at your birthday party or wedding, then we question if you're really having a Nigerian event in the first place," Are explains.

How to Find Jollof Rice Near You

"Couples can access ready-made jollof rice from West African and/or Nigerian restaurants in their local neighborhood. Many online service-based caterers like myself provide ready-made/made-to-order jollof rice and other Nigerian dishes via delivery, pickup or shipping via our website," Are suggests. You can also find highly-rated African caterers on The Knot Vendor Marketplace who'll cook the right cuisine for your wedding.

Jollof Rice Recipe

If all these food descriptions are making your mouth water, learn how to make jollof rice yourself. Below, Are provides everything you need to make a delicious Nigerian-style jollof rice. "The key to your having a perfectly cooked jollof rice is all in the base stew," Are explains.

Jollof Rice Ingredients

For the spices, measurements aren't provided because the amount depends on each person's preference—add what tastes delicious to you.

  • 2 red bell peppers
  • 2 cups of parboiled rice
  • 2 plum tomatoes
  • 1 onion (medium size)
  • 1 habanero pepper (optional)
  • 1 cup of tomato paste
  • 1 cup of neutral oil
  • 3 chicken bouillon cubes
  • all-purpose seasoning
  • salt
  • cayenne pepper
  • garlic powder
  • ginger powder
  • A few bay leaves

How to Make Jollof Rice

Follow these steps to make delicious jollof rice.

  1. Blend all your peppers and onions with two cups of water and add to a medium to large pot.
  2. Add your tomato paste and dry ingredients, and let it cook for about 15 minutes or until it starts bubbling. The stew base must be cooked well to give it a nice stovetop flavor. If you would like that smoky/charcoal flavor, you can roast your wet ingredients before blending.
  3. Add 2 cups of parboiled rice to the cooked stew and stir intermittently for 30 minutes on medium-high heat.
  4. Once your rice has cooked halfway, allow your rice to steam for 10 to 15 minutes, and you're all done. This recipe serves at least four people and can eaten immediately or stored for later.

How to Incorporate Jollof Rice into Your Day

No matter what West African country you ask, they will all agree that jollof rice is a flavor-packed dish that deserves to be highlighted because of its history and ability to bring everyone together. Whether you want to honor your African heritage or show appreciation for your favorite meal, we suggest serving large portions of jollof rice with coleslaw, fried plantains, meat, hard-boiled eggs and much more at your wedding. Jollof rice can be the best part of any wedding menu. "Jollof rice has helped reveal another huge part of our culture that we want many diverse groups to experience," Are exclaims.

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