Food creators are redefining the palate of Nigerians

One afternoon in 2018, Tosin Samuel, popularly known as TSpices, posted a step-by-step photo recipe for vegetable soup (Efo Riro) on Instagram. She had no idea that the single decision would forever change her social media experience and, consequently, her life. In a matter of hours, DMs and notifications poured in, with hundreds of people leaving messages and comments about how useful and amazing the food and recipe were. In three days, the number of followers she had on the app climbed from 100 to 5,000. 

TSpices, whose demeanour is cheerful and bright, continued posting food recipes, photos and then videos, growing her audience. She’s now one of the most followed food creators in the country, with about 1.1 million combined followers on Instagram, Twitter and TikTok.

If you’re active on social media, you probably already know that Nigerians are one of the biggest content consumers on the internet. According to this report by the World Economic Forum, Nigerians spend the longest time per day on social media, with the average user logged in for four hours —two hours more than the global average of two hours and twenty-seven minutes.

This data represents a lot of things to different categories of people. For vendors, it means a large number of people are increasingly using social media platforms to shop; and for Nigerian food creators, it means an even larger number of people are enthusiastic about learning new recipes. 

Fareedah, a social media food creator, was diagnosed with an ulcer in 2019. This came with dietary restrictions, so she had to make a lot of adjustments to her diet. After signing up for an online nutrition class, Fareedah decided to make efforts to create healthy meals for herself, despite not being great at cooking.

She started sharing food content on her Instagram, and soon began to receive a lot of comments about how good and healthy they looked. In no time, Fareedah built a community of about 14,000 followers on the app that revolved around healthy home-cooked meals. Her followers consist mainly of young people who are committed to eating well whilst exploring more ways to be creative with food.

“People started to ask me for recipes and were recreating my meals,” she shared with TechCabal over a call. “It became some sort of accountability group for people who wanted to commit to eating more healthy foods.” 

Making a salad

Making a smoothie

Fareedah’s food

One of Fareedah’s recipes

Culinary schools in Nigeria typically cost upwards of ₦50,000, which is almost twice the minimum wage. This means that the most efficient way to learn how to make a great amuse-bouche is via the Internet. For Nigerians, it makes better sense to learn to cook from other Nigerians, as there are certain cultural nuances that these creators have. 

For example, Omuah Bello, a 27-year-old stylist who likes to cook, didn’t understand why she and her family didn’t enjoy the creamy pasta that she prepared. She tried different recipes from different creators on Instagram and YouTube until she eventually found one customized for the Nigerian palate by former Nigerian chef, Chef Obubu. This recipe had a lot less cream and a lot more seasoning, which made more sense to the Nigerian palate.

While TSpices started with local Nigerian dishes, she has since moved and now incorporates food from different cultures around the world, which her audience loves. According to her, one of the most noteworthy things is that she makes these meals more accessible to the average Nigerian in terms of ingredients used and processes.

When she started, one of the biggest challenges for her was her location. Residing in a small city like Lokoja means that she doesn’t have access to certain ingredients that can only be found in large stores. She had to make good use of the ingredients she had available at the time or use substitutes for some parts of the recipes, and so far, it has worked for her. TSpices’ ability to adapt and create alternatives with locally available ingredients resonates with the belief that everyone, regardless of location or resources, can embark on a flavorful culinary journey.

“One of the biggest misconceptions is that certain foods are too fancy and people can’t prepare them [at home],” she told TechCabal. “If certain ingredients or tools are too difficult to source here, I find alternatives that work just as well for my audience, so they know that you can cook these nice meals from anywhere.”

Food content on social media blew up in 2020 during the Covid-19 pandemic. Millions of people worldwide who were constrained to their homes started cooking to pass the time or spark joy, with nearly all of their favourite food spots closed down. Since then, food has become one of the most popular content categories on social media. Sharing videos, pictures and recipes of food has become a growing trend on social media, with the food hashtag on Instagram having about 519 million posts. On TikTok, #food has amassed over 555 billion views. The fusion of technology, creativity, and a genuine passion for food has democratized culinary knowledge.

Juliet, a social media vendor, has learned to cook a lot of meals from Instagram. Before coming across a recipe on TSpice’s page, she only ate her white rice the Nigerian way; with stew. Now, she makes a mean stir-fry sauce, which she got right on her first attempt and is now one of her favourite things to eat. 

Since then, she has been able to replicate a wide variety of the foods and drinks she’s seen online. She now runs an online food business in her city, where she sells various meals ranging from stir-fry sauces to ramen noodles — all of which she learned to prepare from Instagram. According to her, the popularity of Asian mukbangs on TikTok, which are videos of people eating large quantities of food, typically Asian food, has helped her business. 

Juliet, a social media vendor, has learned to cook a lot of meals from Instagram. Before coming across a recipe on TSpice’s page, she only ate her white rice the Nigerian way; with stew. Now, she makes a mean stir-fry sauce, which she got right on her first attempt and is now one of her favourite things to eat. 

Influence and consumption have now become indistinguishable from each other, and the culinary revolution has spilled over into real-life dining experiences. Kizito, a chef at an Abuja restaurant, shared that social media food content has influenced the kind of meals people order at his restaurant, with millennials and Gen Z skipping the jollof rice for ragu pasta. 

“When the waiters inform me that someone ordered a Nigerian dish like rice and plantain, I can already tell that they’re an older person, or a foreigner looking to try Nigerian food,” he shared. “The younger people want food they see creators cook or eat on social media.”

Replicating foreign dishes means that some knowledge might be lost. In December 2023, Twitter went abuzz with conversations around fake products and dupes, with ingredients like soy and Chinese sauces being the most popular. People like Judith have unknowingly used the dupe for years as they weren’t familiar with what the original product looked like, or even what it was made up of.

“No one told us what original soy sauce looks like, and so we just go to stores and buy anything that has soy sauce written on it,” she shared.

Fareedah understands the influence that creators have, and she believes that it is important to use their platforms responsibly. Before she shares recipes, she does a lot of research and test recipes before sharing them. 

“People watching things on the internet will replicate new stuff as long as it looks good and so you have to make sure that you know what you’re sharing,” she shared. “For example, what are the health implications of certain ingredients? We don’t want to encourage overconsumption of unhealthy foods and ingredients.”

Fareedah understands the influence that creators have, and she believes that it is important to use their platforms responsibly. Before she shares recipes, she does a lot of research and test recipes before sharing them. 

Food creators have emphasized the evolving role of social media in shaping culinary norms and preferences, especially in a country like Nigeria where the love for food and community runs deep. From TSpices’ affordable recipes to Fareedah’s journey towards healthy cooking, these creators have built communities and contributed to a cultural shift in culinary exploration: challenging the notion that certain dishes are reserved for specific culinary schools or expensive ingredients.

In a world where a single Instagram post can spark a culinary movement, these creators remind us that the kitchen is not just a physical space but a vibrant, evolving community where flavours, cultures, and stories converge.

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