Although soul food is a well-loved staple of American cuisine with roots reaching to the earliest years of United States history, the term “soul food” itself is relatively new. It seems like traditional Americana, but the title was not used until the 1960s.
The key dishes of soul food are heavily associated with the rural South. Most people in the country would interchangeably refer to this cuisine as Southern food or barbecue. While that isn’t exactly incorrect, soul food is a term used specifically to describe the unique cuisine that developed through the resourcefulness of Southern cooks, mostly enslaved Africans, who combined their culinary and agricultural skills with limited resources.
The term became popular during the civil rights and Black nationalist movements of the 1960s to highlight and celebrate African heritage, although “soul” as a label emerged in the late 1940s jazz scene, spawning similar terms such as “soul music.”