I have eaten my fair share of many foods, both modern and traditional, but I won’t dare to call myself a food expect. This is because there is a lot more food waiting to grace our stomachs out there. The food comes in all forms, it can be frozen, solid or liquid. And it can also look gooey, disgusting, appealing or delicious. Some food is scary and makes you cry like the harurwa of Masvingo, some of it bites hard before you can eat the delicacy like the termites of the dusty anthills. For the wild fruits, you have to risk being stung by furious wasps, or being bitten by the silent snakes. I want to discuss the top common traditional foods in Zimbabwe.
But first you need to understand that, real traditional foods must take your maximum effort before you enjoy them. It might be travelling a very long distance for a treat, a lengthy preparation process, or just a bite from the likely food source. However, this is what makes most traditional foods tastier and healthy, it’s a unique feature that you can rarely find in the unhealthy processed or fast foods.
Common traditional foods in Zimbabwe
There are many common traditional foods in Zimbabwe, and this list is just a mere representation of the real traditional foods that we eat in the country.
Here are some of the common traditional foods eaten by Zimbabweans
Wild vegetables are among the top common traditional foods in Zimbabwe. And unlike grown, vegetables are a bit unique in several ways. Most of the time, they are loaded with health promoting phytochemicals and nutrients. And additionally, they are less likely to be contaminated by fertilizer and pesticide residues than other vegetables, unless you get them from your crop fields. Thus, they give all of us a chance to eat healthier food that have not been sprayed by pesticides and herbicides to remove pests or to get rid of weeds. Also, with wild vegetables, your currency is your currency, there is rarely need to buy, especially if you visit the rural areas. Sometimes, you actually remove them as weeds from your vegetable garden.
Mowa (Amaranthus spinosus)
Amaranth, popularly known by the Shona people as mowa or bonongwe is a weed that usually grows wherever there is a high organic matter content, especially near cattle kraals or wherever cattle manure has been applied. Whilst there are different varieties with different cooking methods, they all have one thing in common. That is their high nutrients density as well as phytochemical content which promote good health. On these varieties, those with greener leaves are preferred than those with purplish leaves. Some of these varieties have narrower leaves while others have broader leaves, but they are still amaranth. There are several proven health benefits to eating mowa or amaranth. These include:
- Helping to reduce weight gain, organ weight gains as well as abdominal fat deposition.
- Providing you with a good healthy source of minerals like sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, iron and copper.
- It is also a good source of provitamin A carotenoids and vitamin C.
- Amaranth has a high concentration of phytochemicals with health promoting properties.
Nyevhe/ Tsunha/ Cat’s whiskers
Spider plant/ cat’s whiskers or tsuna is a common traditional wild vegetable in many parts of Zimbabwe and Southern Africa. In many areas the vegetable grows as a weed in the wild, however, many people selectively grow it in their gardens or field. Usually there are known patches in the fields where the vegetable grows. And I have realized that if you don’t take care of your cleome plants, they won’t grow well and the taste won’t be so good.
Spider plant/ tsunha grows well in areas where there are high levels of organic material and near nutritious anthills in the field. Usually the plant grows where other plants grew the previous season. And these plants usually drop their seeds where they grow, this becomes a foundation of growth for the next season.
A super delicious and super health vegetable
Cleome is, by far, one of my most favourite wild vegetables. Not only does it taste so good with goat meat in a stew, it also super healthy, soft and highly palatable. Some people love its slightly bitter taste. Whilst the vegetable only grows in the rain season, you can still grow it in your backyard garden or dry it for when it is out of season. The good thing is that there is only a slight difference between the taste of the fresh and dried vegetable. The only bad thing about this awesome vegetable is that it takes too long to cook. And I have to wait for a few hours before eating.
Health benefits of munyevhe, cat’s whiskers or spider plant
- Leaves are rich sources of health promoting phytochemicals.
- Nyevhe is a rich natural source of essential nutrients such as vitamins, minerals and proteins.
- It is a rich source of vitamin A and C, proteins, fibre and minerals.
- Studies show that it contains higher concentrations of minerals like calcium, iron, phosphorus and potassium when compared to conventional vegetables like swiss chard and cabbage.
Mabumbe (a meat like form of processed pumpkin seeds.)
This is a delicacy that is made from roasted pumpkin seeds. Mabumbe belong to the less common group of traditional foods in Zimbabwe. To make mabumbe you must roast the pumpkin seeds and then pound them into a fine meal in a pestle and mortar. You must then take this powdered meal and then sieve the bigger solids. Warm water is then used to shape the powder into round balls with a meat like texture when cooked. The process is best done in the mortar using a pestle, and the warm water is added in small quantities. You must not add too much water or too little to the powder when shape it into the meat like texture. The meat like balls are taste and can be cooked separately or with vegetables.
The health benefits of mabumbe
The health benefits of mabumbe are mainly owed to pumpkin seeds because it is a derivation of roasted pumpkin seeds.
- Mabumbe have many bioactive compounds with strong nutraceutical and health promoting properties. This means that when eat mabumbe you also eat these health promoting substances and they will promote good health.
- Pumpkin seeds are a rich source of the mineral elements phosphorous, magnesium, zinc and selenium.
- Eating mabumbe greatly contributes in fighting inflammatory diseases such as arthritis, chronic inflammation and prostate cancer.
- The oil that comes from mabumbe is rich in healthy fatty acids that help to retard the progression of hypertension.
- Pumpkin seeds have protective effects against atherosclerosis and other hear diseases.
- Eating mabumbe can help you in reducing cholesterol levels in your body.
- A rich source of healthful polyunsaturated fatty acids.
- May also have blood sugar lowering activities.
Sadza rezviyo is a thick porridge or pap from finger millet flour. This is one of the most satiating and healthy foods in the country. That is the reason why the price of finger millet is much higher than that of maize. I remember a time I used to take finger millet porridge with no sugar and with a little bit of lemon in the morning. Believe me, it was tasty and so satiating, I wouldn’t be able to eat anything for a few hours. One advantage of finger millet meal over mealie meal pap is that finger millet has much less starch and is much more satiating. With finger millet in the correct proportions, you don’t have to worry about eight gain.
Health benefits of sadza rezviyo
- Improves your gastrointestinal health.
- Can improve your blood glucose profile.
- Improves your body’s ability to clear blood glucose.
- It has a large percentage of non-starch polysaccharides than maize which makes it healthy.
- Sadza rezviyo has less starch than maize meal, therefore, it enables better blood sugar control especially for those who are diabetic.
- It has a high calcium, dietary fibre and phenolic content than many other grains and this is good for your health.
- Can help your fight type 2 diabetes.
- Can help in preventing and fighting tumors.
- Can help you prevent and reduce atherosclerosis
- Can help your body fight oxidative stress.
This is one controversially delicious food in the world. In many parts of the world, insects are deemed, crawly and disgusting but in the vast plains of Africa, we treat them differently. They are part of our everyday life, especially in the rural areas. The common insects eaten in Zimbabwe include harurwa, magandari, nyenze, crickets, locusts, termites and flying ants.
Some of the insects are only found during the rainy season, whilst others are preset throughout the year. And when you go to the Masvingo area, you find people tearing up from eating the tasty harurwa. However, I never eaten them, so I have no freaking idea why harurwa makes people tear up as they eat them.
Health benefits of eating insects
- Insects are usually very tasty and delicious when prepared well. I stopped eating locusts after I ate some badly prepared once, I haven’t found my way back to eating them ever since that day.
- They are a healthy source of proteins.
- Can give you a tasty break from unhealthy processed foods and protein sources.
- They have a low carbohydrate content.
- Are good sources pf zinc, calcium and magnesium.
- Eating insects can help improve your heart health.
The rainy season is always a happy season for me. This is mainly due to the availability of a wide variety of colourful mushrooms that sprout everywhere, littering floors. Some of the mushrooms grow on and around anthills in the fields. Some of these mushrooms can be as tasty as they are colourful. On the other end, some of the mushrooms can be as deadly as they are beautiful and colourful looking. This is no joke! Several people get mushroom poisoning or even die every year, so unless you absolutely know what you are doing, don’t you dare go foraging.
Mushrooms can be so deadly that they can wipe out a whole family in a breath, I do not recommend foraging if you don’t know what to pick. Some perfectly edible mushrooms can also become deadly if you pick them from near gumtree plantations, I haven’t found the reason why till now. However, a lot of people have been poisoned or even died from eating edible mushrooms picked from gumtree plantations.
There are many different wild mushrooms that are edible in Zimbabwe. However, I only eat 3 types that I know very well. Here is a list of some edible mushrooms as they are commonly known:
- Mapuna ebveni
- Ndebvu dzasekuru
- Huvhe kuvhe
While the wild mushrooms only grow during the rainy season, they can be dried for later. And believe me the taste of dried wild mushrooms is out of this world!
Benefits of eating wild mushrooms
- They are usually chewy, tasty and delicious which can help you raise your spirits.
- Wild mushrooms can provide you with a healthy protein content.
- They have a wide variety of healthy promoting factors that help in fighting or preventing disease.
- They have powerful antioxidant properties that can help you fight oxidative stress.
- Can help you in preventing and alleviating inflammation.
- They have different cancer fighting and preventing properties.
- Eating mushrooms can help you boost and modulate your immune system.
- Have liver protective properties.
- Can help you fight and prevent some cancers.
- Some have the ability to alleviate the effects or prevent type 2 diabetes.
To be frank, I am a huge fan of wild teas. I have a personal feeling that they are pure and less tainted by the chemicals of modern farming. I have written several articles about one of the most popular wild teas since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. One of the most common herbal teas in Zimbabwe is zumbani/ mosukudu/ umsuzwane/ fever bush. This tea has a healing, soothing and calming effect on the consumer while lacking the tars and other chemicals found in conventional tea plants. We cannot talk about common traditional foods in Zimbabwe without the traditional teas.
Benefits of Zumbani tea
- Has a calming and soothing effect.
- Can help treat several health problems like respiratory problems and malaria among others.
- Can help you fight inflammation and oxidative stress.
- For coughs and chest pains.
Other herbal teas
In Zimbabwe there are many other herbal teas that are also good for your health. These include:
- Mbudzi mbudzi or makoni tea
- Mufandichimuka tea
- Muonde tea
All these teas are super healthy and rich in nutraceuticals with good health promoting properties.
Health benefits of makoni/ mbudzi mbudzi tea
- Can help treat pneumonia and colds.
- Good for treating abdominal pain.
- Reduces constipation
- Help in treating oedema and swelling in the body
- Rich in health promoting compounds
Benefits of drinking mufandichimuka/ rufandichimuka/ resurrection bush tea
- Regular drinking can promote good health.
- Treatment of respiratory problems.
- Treatment of colds, headaches and backaches
- Bad breath
There are many common traditional foods in Zimbabwe, ad these are only but a few options. We haven’t talked about the wild fruits like tsvanzva, tsubvu or nzvirumombe. Or the tubers like tsenza and manyanya. So, if you really want to know about the traditional foods in Zimbabwe or the indigenous foods of Zimbabwe, then please leave a comment below. I hope you find your way into trying these tasty, delicious and highly nutritious indigenous foods from Zimbabwe.