“Soumbala”, an African mustard to the rescue of French gastronomy

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Soumbala sold at the Côte d'Ivoire Market, a shop in the Château-Rouge district, in Paris, on August 25, 2022.

It is a pillar of French gastronomy that is wavering. Mustard, the third most consumed condiment in France, behind salt and pepper, has disappeared from supermarkets. Victim, too, of global warming. The leading European producer and the world’s leading exporter of mustard, France imports 80% of its raw material from Canada, where the last drought devastated the crops of Brassica juncea and Brassica nigra, otherwise called brown or black mustard – a plant in the same family as rapeseed.

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Local production, in Burgundy, was not spared either, and the Russian-Ukrainian war deprived France of its potential relief suppliers. The producers promise a replenishment of stocks for the month of November, because the 2022 vintage has been good. But with worsening climate change, shortages are likely to multiply.

What if the solution was in the cupboards of West African cooks? From Niger to Guinea-Bissau, we know the “african mustard”a type of faba bean called soumbala in bambara, netetou in Wolof, afitin in background and dawadawa in Igbo. It is produced from seeds of néré, a nourishing tree of the Sudanese and Sahelian savannahs also known as purple mimosa. The yellow pulp of its fruit, sweet and carbohydrate, is used as flour, while its black seeds are either cooked, fermented and sold in the form of dumplings with a characteristic strong smell, or dried, roasted and pounded to be eaten in powder. .

Good paste and ointment

Used in this form, it tends towards nutmeg, observes Fousseyni Djikine, co-founder of Malian origin of the BMK canteens in Paris. In our restaurants, we use it for mafé. the soumbala brings a rather atypical flavor, which is difficult to describe, but which flavors the sauce. For connoisseurs, that’s what makes the country’s good mafé! » You can easily believe it, smelling the powerful aroma, slightly cocoa, which escapes from the open kitchen of his restaurant at 10e borough. But it’s not about strictly speaking a substitute for mustard, he adds, because mustard is ” characteristic of French cuisine. On the other hand, their common point is that, as for mustard, the soumbala radically transforms a dish! »

Unlike French mustard and its eastern cousins, horseradish and wasabi, soumbala don’t go up in the face. It is mainly used as a substitute for spices in countries that do not have it, explains the entrepreneur and chef of Cameroonian origin Nathalie Brigaud Ngoum, particularly in the Sahel region with its desert climate.

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As we have few trees, we use fermented ingredients to flavor the dishes, fish for the coastal countries or, precisely, soumbala “, she explains. But to transform néré seeds into an authentic African mustard, you have to roll up your sleeves. “If we want to go to the end of the experience, the soumbala should not be used in powder, like a spice, but in ointment, like a condiment. »

Good dough, Nathalie Brigaud agrees to give her recipe. “You buy the néré seeds prepared and fermented, and you mash them with oil, vinegar and lemon. You add cassava or sweet potato flour, for smoothness, and turmeric, to get a nice dark yellow paste. You can use it fresh to spice up meat or fish, or cook it and put it in a jar, to keep it a little longer. » If the scent of soumbala pure can put off sensitive noses, this homemade African mustard, promises the chef, is accessible even to neophytes. “In fact, it gives an almost classic mustard… but without mustard. It is a mixed condiment, at the crossroads of European and African cuisines! »


It remains to find suppliers. For that, only one destination: Château-Rouge, African district of 18e arrondissement of Paris where dozens of traditional ingredient shops line up. At the dapper Côte d’Ivoire market, a tiny family shop of barely 13 m2 in rue Doudeauville, owner Yohann Abbé sells his “soumara” in powder. ” When you buy it in balls on African markets, you then have to pound it yourself… We prefer to spare our customers this trouble”he explains, all smiles behind his cash register.

The teams of the BMK Paris-Bamako restaurant, in the 10th arrondissement of Paris, are preparing to use

He gets his supplies in Abidjan, from a producer in the large Adjamé market, and sells his imported product to consumers in West Africa: Côte d’Ivoire of course, but also Senegal, Mali and Guinea. “In addition to being a staple of African cuisine, it has interesting virtues for health, he boasts, to the point of being considered a superfood. It is particularly good for people who suffer from high blood pressure. »

Outside of Château-Rouge, difficult for the moment to get some in mainland France. But according to the latest projections from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), temperatures in the south of the country will approach 50°C by 2050: African mustard therefore seems to have a bright future.

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