The term soul food became popular in the 1960s. The origins of soul food, however, are much older and can be traced back to Africa. Foods such as rice, sorghum (known by Europeans as "guinea corn"), and okra — all common elements in West African cuisine — were introduced to the Americas as a result of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, and became dietary staples among enslaved Africans. They also comprise an important part of American southern cooking. Many culinary historians believe that in the beginning of the 14th century, around the time of early African exploration, European explorers brought their own food supplies and introduced them into the African diet. Foods such as corn and cassava from the Americas, turnips from Morocco and cabbage from Portugal would play an important part in the history of African American cuisine.
When the European slave trade began in the early 1400s, the diet of newly enslaved Africans changed on the long journeys from their homeland. It was during this time that some of the indigenous crops of Africa began showing up in the Americas.
Enslavers fed their captives as cheaply as possible, often with throwaway foods from the plantation, forcing slaves to make do with the ingredients at hand. In slave households, vegetables were the tops of turnips and beets and dandelions. Soon, slaves were cooking with new types of greens: collards, kale, cress, mustard, and pokeweed. They also developed recipes which used lard; cornmeal; and offal, discarded cuts of meat such as pigs' feet, oxtail, ham hocks, chitterlings (pig small intestines), pig ears, hog jowls, tripe and skin. Cooks added onions, garlic, thyme, and bay leaf to enhance the flavors. Some slaves supplemented their meager diets by maintaining small plots made available to them to grow their own vegetables, and many engaged in subsistence fishing and hunting, which yielded wild game for the table. Foods such as raccoon, squirrel, opossum, turtle, and rabbit were, until the 1950s, very common fare among the still predominantly rural and southern African American population.