Notes on Palm Wine and Palm Oil

My two contributions to the “[James] Olney” African dinner on 11 Feb, 2023:

Nkulenu’s Palm Wine


West Africanish Peanut Soup


Alas, palm wine is not readily available in the US, so I had planned to make do with a modified version of the palm wine gin fizz and prosecco cocktail proposed by Zoe Anjonyoh in her cookbook, Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen, using Nkulenu’s Palm Wine, an Accra-produced beer-strength drink made from the sap of palm trees. I got lazy and just offered chilled bottles of it.

Coincidentally, the first African novel published outside of Africa was Amos Tutuola’s The Palm Wine Drinkard (1952). Written in Nigerian English (aka “Pidgin English”), it is a reworking of Yoruba folk tales. After being praised by Dylan Thomas, it had an interesting reception: 

A personal note: after I caught hepatitis (A) in Liberia in 1968 I was forbidden alcohol for three months. No problem, there was s lot of “Cairo” available — Liberian for cannabis, the substance being attributed to the Islamic population and to the trans-Saharan trade. Actually, we acquired our cairo from a local store front pharmacist by the name of Dominique, his French name betokening his Mandingo ethnicity, itself associated, in Liberian eyes, with Islam. He did in fact speak French.    

My first drink after abstinence from alcohol was a ceremonial “mid-afternoon” palm wine. The modifier expressses the style of wine. The wine is traditionally tapped in the early morning when it is fizzy and light. By afternoon it is more substantial, richer and less sweet. Evening wine is considered the connaisseur’s delight. Liberians compare the style to the age of women and the effects they produce.


Peanut “soup” is usually a stew containing, when affordable, meat often chicken, served over rice, a West African stable. I have devised a “soupy” vegan version from onions softened in palm oil, broth, tomato paste and organic peanut butter, itself based in palm oil. For the record, the palm oil used is marketed as sustainable and is produced on small farms in coastal Ecuador.

Given the devastating effect of its industrial production since the 19th century, palm oil is often disparaged by Western ecologists. It can be found is in many comestible and cosmetic products. “Palmolive soap” just scratches the surface.


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