#JollofGate Scandal: Much Ado About Jollof Rice

In the wake of Jamie Oliver’s #JollofGate scandal, social media was abuzz with much talk about the origins of the recipe. The British Chef took artistic liberty in the preparation of the delicacy, adding ingredients such as lemon and parsley. Interestingly, Oliver posted his take on the recipe way back in June, however it was recently re-discovered by an apparently traditionalist African foodie who soon introduced the so called “abominable” recipe to worldwide twitter trend infamy.

Yes, it was pretty deep:

Jaime Oliver rejection

So why then are West Africans so fiercely protective of this dish? Obviously it carries a lot of weight for the region. To find out the origins of Jollof, we have to trace it back all the way to Sene-Gambia regions of West Africa. History has it that the Wolof people of the area originated the meal, which was originally called Benachin, which when translated means “One pot.” Since then, it has spread throughout the West African region through Ghana, Liberia, Nigeria, Mali, and Ivory Coast to name a few.

Ironically, West Africans do have variations on acceptable forms of Jollof rice despite their adamant rejection of Jamie Oliver’s decision to experiment with new ingredients. Many add in special ingredients and their favorite condiments. Some even go as far as adding vegetables to their Jollof recipe. It is mostly understood that as long as the basic ingredients remain the same, regional variations, or special ingredients are acceptable. The problem here was that an apparent “outsider” was appropriating and then redefining what many see as an invaluable cultural inheritance.

While we must assume Oliver featured the recipe with all the best intentions, this incident taught us that it is perhaps not a good idea to mess with cultural comfort foods.