Yaji Spice (pronounced “yaa-gee"), is also called yaji, suya yaji, or suya seasoning is nutty, spicy, and smoky, with onion and garlic undertones..
Yaji Spice is a dry peanut-based spice rub used to season beef before grilling. Suya (pronounced "sue-ya"), a beef kabob, is one of the most popular Nigerian street foods, and the famous blend that goes on it can be called either yaji or suya.
In Nigeria, you're likely to find as many suya stands on the corners as you would find Starbucks shops in the United States. Suya is a cheap, accessible food, even for the poorest citizens of Nigeria, meaning its popularity hasn't waned much since it showed up on the scene, and every day more stands, or mai suya, are popping up. This food is often cited as a unifying part of Nigerian culture, which is otherwise often quite tumultuous and divided. Suya is the national dish of Nigeria, and while different regions of the country claim to have the original recipe, it is most likely that this dish began in the northern part of the country.
You can use Yaji Spice on suya of course, or kebabs of any kind really, but it is also useful for adding a peanutty, smoky flavor to sauces, soups, and stews.
Add this spice blend to softened butter to make a yaji butter that can be spread on toast, muffins, baked potatoes, or butternut squash. It can also be used for grilled shrimp or sturdy vegetables, like cauliflower, corn, or zucchini. This blend goes beautifully with roasted Brussels sprouts; dust them lightly with Yaji Spice and roast until crisp and brown. Add to a batter for fried food; try it on fried pickles! Toss it over plantains fresh out of the grill pan. Mix this into waffle batter, particularly if you’re making a savory dish like chicken and waffles. It’s a great garnish for pureed soups, like butternut squash. The smokiness of this blend is especially delicious with grilled pineapple or grilled peaches, and it makes out-of-this-world popcorn.
Most food historians attribute the origination of Suya to pastoral nomads such as the Hausa tribes of northern Nigeria, Cameroon, southern Niger, Ghana, and Sudan. Spiced meat was grilled on bamboo skewers or their daggers over a campfire to make the first versions of Suya. In Hausa, Suya means to fry.
In Nigeria, it is called Suya. In Cameroon, it is called Soya. In Ghana, it is called Chinchinga or Sitsinga. Yaji refers to the seasoning mix, which typically includes ground peanuts, salt, pepper, paprika, and chili pepper. The flavor is complex, and the aroma is strong but pleasant. Heat levels vary depending on the cook, but the depth of flavor is consistent.
Like Mole in Mexico, Suya has been called a unifying factor in Nigeria and has become the national dish with different regions claiming that their recipes and preparation methods are superior.
While some restaurants offer Suya on the menu, nothing beats the taste of Suya from a Mai Suya (a Suya seller) as throughout Nigeria, Suya has been a favorite street food for decades. The Suya men, rarely is it done by women, are called Mallams and these men are skillful in the art and spice of meat preparation and they are typically Hausas from Northern Nigeria. There is no standard recipe to produce the complex mixture of spices which make up the Suya and the spice mix served with it6. The flavor is complex, and the aroma pleasant, but strong. Heat levels and spiciness vary depending on the cook, but the flavor is the draw that will make you overeat if you’re not careful7. The meat is often marinated for several hours and seems to be one of the best-kept secrets of Hausas Mallams.
In Nigerian households it is not uncommon to have two different versions of this blend - one for the parents and a second, milder version for the children and guests to eat. When ordering Suya, those who crave extra spice will ask for some Yaji on the side. This side of Yaji is extra helpings of dried pepper mixed with spices and sliced onions. It is an excellent condiment and goes well with rice noodles and anything that needs a kick10.