Jollof rice
Jollof Rice with Stew.jpg
Jollof rice with stew and garnish
Alternative namesBenachin, riz au gras, ceebu jën, zaamè
TypeRice dish
Region or stateWest Africa[1][2]
Main ingredientsRice, tomatoes and tomato paste, onions, cooking oil, fish, lamb, goat meat, chicken, or beef

Jollof (/əˈlɒf/), or jollof rice, is a rice dish from West Africa. The dish is typically made with long-grain rice, tomatoes, onions, spices, vegetables and meat in a single pot, although its ingredients and preparation methods vary across different regions.

History and origin

The origins of jollof rice can be traced to the Senegambian region that was ruled by the Wolof or Jolof Empire in the 14th century, spanning parts of today's Senegal, The Gambia and Mauritania, where rice was grown.[citation needed] The dish has its roots in a traditional dish called thieboudienne, containing rice, fish, shellfish and vegetables.[3]

Food and agriculture historian James C. McCann considers this claim plausible given the popularity of rice in the upper Niger valley, but considers it unlikely that the dish could have spread from Senegal to its current range since such a diffusion is not seen in "linguistic, historical or political patterns". Instead he proposes that the dish spread with the Mali empire, especially the Djula tradespeople who dispersed widely to the regional commercial and urban centers, taking with them economic arts of "blacksmithing, small-scale marketing, and rice agronomy" as well as the religion of Islam.[2]

Marc Dufumier, an emeritus professor of agronomy, proposes a more recent origin for the dish, which may only have appeared as a consequence of the colonial promotion of intensive peanut cropping in central Senegal for the French oil industry, and where commensurate reduction in the planted area of traditional millet and sorghum staples was compensated by forced imports of broken rice from Southeast Asia.[4]

The use of New World tomatoes, tomato paste, Capsicum peppers (Bell, Chili, Paprika), Indian Curry powder, Mediterranean Thyme, Asian rice varieties, and European stock cubes, may limit the origin of the current dish to no earlier than the 19th century, there being no evidence of the ingredients being locally cultivated or imported before this period;[5][6] Penda Mbaye, a local hairdresser of Terenga, Senegal, being the first to document the dish in the 19th century.[6]

It may then have spread throughout the region through the historical commercial, cultural and religious channels linking Senegal with Ghana, Nigeria and beyond, many of which continue to thrive today, such as the Tijāniyyah Sufi brotherhood bringing thousands of West African pilgrims to Senegal annually.[7]

Geographical range and variants

Jollof rice is one of the most common dishes in West Africa. There are several regional variations in name and ingredients;[1] for example, in Mali it is called zaamè in Bamanankan. The dish's most common name of Jollof derives from the name of the Wolof people,[8] though in Senegal and Gambia the dish is referred to in Wolof as ceebu jën or benachin. In French-speaking areas, it is called riz au gras. Despite the variations, the dish is "mutually intelligible" across the regions and has become the best known African dish outside the continent.[2][9][10][11][12]


Jollof rice with fish, plantains, cucumber, and tomatoes.
Jollof rice with fish, plantains, cucumber, and tomatoes.

Jollof rice traditionally consists of rice, cooking oil, and vegetables such as tomato, onion, red pepper, garlic, ginger and Scotch bonnet chili peppers. To enhance the colour of the dish, tomato paste (purée) is added. As seasoning, spices, salt, stock cubes (a blend of flavour enhancers, salt, nutmeg and herbs), curry powder and dried thyme are used. To complement the dish, chicken, turkey, beef or fish are often served with the dish.[13][14][3]

Regional variations and rivalry

Jollof rice
Jollof rice

Each West African country has at least one variant form of the dish, with Ghana, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Cameroon particularly competitive as to which country makes the best jollof.[3] This is especially prominent between Nigeria and Ghana,[15] in a rivalry dubbed the "Jollof Wars".[16][17]

Nigerian jollof

Although considerable variation exists, the basic profile for Nigerian jollof rice includes long-grain parboiled rice, tomatoes and tomato paste, pepper, vegetable oil, onions, and stock cubes. Most of the ingredients are cooked in one pot, of which a rich meat stock and a fried tomato and pepper puree characteristically forms the base. Rice is then added and left to cook in the liquid. The dish is then served with the protein of choice and very often with fried plantains, moi moi, steamed vegetables, coleslaw, salad, etc.[18] In the riverine areas of Nigeria where seafood is the main source of protein, seafood often takes the place of chicken or meat as the protein of choice.[citation needed]

Ghanaian jollof

Ghanaian jollof rice is made of vegetable oil, onion, ginger, pressed garlic cloves, chillies, tomato paste, beef or goat meat or chicken (some times alternated with mixed vegetables), local or refined rice, typically jasmine rice and black pepper. The method of cooking jollof begins with first preparing the beef or chicken by seasoning and steaming it with a pureé of ginger, onions and garlic and frying it until it is well-cooked.[19] The rest of the ingredients are then fried all together, starting from onions, pepper, tomato paste, tomatoes and spices in that order. After all the ingredients have been fried, rice is then added and cooked until the meal is prepared. Ghanaian jollof is typically served with side dishes of beef, chicken, well-seasoned fried fish, or mixed vegetables.[20][21]

Jollof in Ghana is also served alongside shito, a popular type of pepper which originates from Ghana, and salad during parties and other ceremonies.[22]

Bissau-Guinean jollof

Jollof rice made in Guinea-Bissau is prepared with ingredients such as tomatoes, onions, tomato paste, red bell peppers, yellow bell peppers, garlic and bay leaves. These ingredients are slowly cooked with vegetable oil and spices to enhance the common jollof flavor. Typically this dish incorporates ginger to bring a spicy flavor to the white rice. In the end, this dish is usually served on its own but sometimes it is served with chicken, okra and/or fried plantains.[citation needed]

Worldwide popularity

Since the 2010s there has been increasing interest in West African foods in the western world. Jollof food festivals have been held in Washington, DC, in the US, and Toronto, Canada. "World Jollof Day" has been celebrated since 2015 on 22 August, gaining traction on social media.[3] On 3 November 2022, the dish was honoured with a Google Doodle.[23]

See also


  1. ^ a b Ayto, John (2012). "Jollof rice". The Diner's Dictionary: Word Origins of Food and Drink (2nd ed.). Oxford University Press. p. 188. ISBN 978-0199640249.
  2. ^ a b c McCann, James C. (2009). A west African culinary grammar". Stirring the Pot: A History of African Cuisine. Ohio University Press. pp. 133–135. ISBN 978-0896802728.
  3. ^ a b c d Sloley, Patti (7 June 2021). "Jollof Wars: Who does West Africa's iconic rice dish best?". BBC Travel. Retrieved 16 July 2021.
  4. ^ Dufumier, Marc (30 March 2018). "Recette : le thiéboudiène de Marc Dufumier". Le Monde. Retrieved 27 October 2018.
  5. ^ Alpern, Stanley B. (1992). "The European Introduction of Crops into West Africa in Precolonial Times". History in Africa. 19: 13–43. doi:10.2307/3171994. ISSN 0361-5413. JSTOR 3171994. S2CID 163106670.
  6. ^ a b Vegan, Best of (18 March 2021). "The History of Jollof Rice". Best of Vegan. Retrieved 15 May 2023.
  7. ^ Kokayi, Saqera. "Know Your History: Jollof Is An Indigenous African Dish And Was Named After The Wolof Tribe Of West Africa". RiddimsGhana. Retrieved 22 January 2022.
  8. ^ Osseo-Asare, Fran (1 January 2005). Food Culture in Sub-Saharan Africa. Greenwood Publishing Group. pp. 33, 162. ISBN 978-0-313-32488-8.
  9. ^ Davidson, Alan (11 August 2014). "Jollof rice". The Oxford Companion to Food. Oxford University Press. p. 434. ISBN 978-0-19-967733-7.
  10. ^ Brasseaux, Ryan A.; Brasseaux, Carl A. (1 February 2014). "Jambalaya". In Edge, John T. (ed.). The New Encyclopedia of Southern Culture: Volume 7: Foodways. University of North Carolina Press. p. 188. ISBN 978-1-4696-1652-0.
  11. ^ Anderson, E. N. (7 February 2014). Everyone Eats: Understanding Food and Culture, Second Edition. NYU Press. p. 106. ISBN 978-0-8147-8916-2.
  12. ^ "Ghana Jollof Recipe: Steps To Preparing Jollof Rice The Ghanaian Way". BuzzGhana. 5 September 2017. Retrieved 16 January 2020.
  13. ^ "Classic Nigerian Jollof Rice Recipe on Food52". Food52. Retrieved 27 February 2021.
  14. ^ "Ghana Jollof Recipe: Steps To Preparing Jollof Rice The Ghanaian Way". BuzzGhana. 5 September 2017. Retrieved 16 January 2020.
  15. ^ Oderinde, Busayo (5 July 2015). "Busayo Oderinde: The Nigerian Versus Ghanaian Jollof Rice Debate". Bella Naija. Retrieved 15 November 2016.
  16. ^ "Know the Differences Between Nigerian and Ghanaian Jollof Rice". Demand Africa. 4 July 2018. Retrieved 11 July 2021.
  17. ^ Adam, Hakeem (20 January 2017). "A Brief History of Jollof Rice, a West African Favourite". Culture Trip. Retrieved 16 January 2020.
  18. ^ "How to cook Nigerian Jollof Rice". All Nigerian Recipes. Retrieved 16 January 2020.
  19. ^ "Ghana: Jollof Rice". The African Food Map. Retrieved 15 November 2016.
  20. ^ Sekibo, Kojo (14 January 2020). "Traditional Ghanaian Jollof Rice Recipe". Retrieved 16 January 2020.
  21. ^ "Ghana Jollof Recipe: Steps To Preparing Jollof Rice The Ghanaian Way". BuzzGhana. 5 September 2017. Retrieved 18 May 2021.
  22. ^ Sekibo, Kojo (14 January 2020). "Traditional Ghanaian Jollof Rice Recipe". Retrieved 16 January 2020.
  23. ^ Musil, Steven (3 November 2022). "Google Doodle Celebrates West Africa's Jollof Rice". CNET. Retrieved 4 November 2022.

Further reading