Soul food is very aptly named. It is food that is so tasty and filled with love that makes you feel good all the way down into your soul. It tends to be very satisfying and hearty, although not necessarily healthy. However, many modern chefs are trying to serve soul food that still has the soul but not the fat. The term soul food carries the connotation of the American dishes that you find in the southern United States, but its origins go back to before America existed. It has since become a staple of the South and a comfort to millions of people and an embodiment of the American melting pot.
While it is hard to pin down the exact roots of any food, culinary historians believe that soul food originated with a couple important events. First, in the 14th century, many American foods were introduced into African diets during the beginning of Euro-African exploration. The next was the beginning of the slave trade in the beginning of the 15th century.
Some of the crops from Africa ended up being planted in the Americas. The European slave masters would only feed their slaves with the cheapest food possible, which was generally leftovers from the plantations. Because they had so few options available to them, the slaves had to get creative with their cooking. They invented dishes made from new greens and used the cuts of meat that were, at the time, discarded.
After this beginning, the dishes continued to increase and evolve into an entire culinary genre which plays a huge part in America today, although it wasn’t until the 1960s that the phrase soul food came into use to describe it. The traditional preparation of soul food generally involves lot of starch, grease, salt, cholesterol, and calories. This was intentional during the days of slavery because it provided the slaves with enough sustenance to survive their grueling lives. However, in modern days, that unhealthy nature has caused much criticism.
Soul food has been blamed for the unusually high rates of various diet related ailments suffered by African Americans living in the areas where soul food is popular. Because of the health trend, many chefs are trying to find ways to update soul food that keeps the flavor without the unhealthiness. This is being done by using vegetable oil instead of lard or butter, leaner types and cuts of meat, and even vegetarian alternatives to many classic ingredients. However, there are many critics of this attempt to make soul food healthy who say that what is really being cut down is the flavor.
Soul food has become a culinary treat that has migrated throughout and beyond the United States. It is the quintessential comfort food. While it was a cuisine borne out of extreme hardship, it has become a cultural staple. Many millions of Americans remember soul food as what their mother made for them and what they want to serve to their children to create the same memories and warm feelings.