Are you ready for a culinary adventure?

One that will take you back in time to discover the science behind the traditional African food preservation techniques?

From the use of ash to smoking, traditional food preservation methods have been passed from one generation to the next and are still in use today.

Let's explore some unique ways to preserve foods - secret methods to keep your food fresh, flavourful and nutritious for months or even years.

Sun Drying

Sun drying is one of the oldest known methods of food preservation, having been used for centuries. It is simple and cheap.

In most African homes, the method is used to preserve food products like grains, vegetables, fruits and meat. The tropical climate makes this possible because it relies on the sun's heat.

The heat removes moisture from the food, increasing its shelf life.

Sun-dried foods often have a unique flavour and texture and maintain their nutritional value.

Sun drying has been made easier by inventions such as solar driers, which dry food quickly and efficiently.

Use of honey to preserve meat

Using honey as a meat preservative is a natural and sustainable traditional method used for ages.

The high sugar content and low PH make it an ideal preservative as it creates a hostile environment for bacteria and other pests.

The meat is first cleaned and fat trimmed, then coated with honey.

Note:

You can add a mixture of herbs to the honey.

The honey-coated meat can be stored for several months without refrigeration.

The honey also provides a sweet and flavourful taste to the meat.

Using pure and natural honey is vital to avoid any chemical preservatives in processed honey.

Fermentation

The natural process uses microorganisms to convert starch and sugar in the food into alcohol and organic acids, creating an acidic environment which slows down spoilage.

Fermentation creates probiotic food items such as wine, yoghurt, cheese and Kombucha.

Probiotics help to improve digestion and enhance immunity.

In Kenya's Kalenjin community, fermentation is used to make Mursik, a delicacy in every household.

Did you know?

Kunu, a popular Nigerian non-alcoholic drink, is made from germinated grains of sorghum, millet or maize.

The grain is soaked in water for a few days, and the resulting liquid is mixed with sweet potatoes and spices such as ginger, gloves or garlic.

Smoking
It involves exposing food to smoke from burning firewood, which helps preserve the food by slowing down mould growth and killing bacteria that can cause food spoilage.

Commonly smoked foods include meat, fish and grains, mainly maize.

For small quantities, grains are put near the kitchen window or hand on the kitchen roof where heat and smoke from the fireplace keep the pests away.

When large quantities need to be preserved, specialized smoking barns are built, and a slow-burning fire is lit beneath, controlling hot hair to dry it out.

Some examples of smoked delicacies are Obambo(smoked fish) and Aliya (smoked beef) among the Luo.

Special Mentions

  📌 Agìkūyū Seed Preservation

  📌 Making of Dawadawa

Cowdung

This method of preservation works best for seeds meant for planting.

After properly drying the seed, they are placed on cow dung, shaped like a plate.

The cow dung is then left to sun dry for 2-3 days.

During the sun drying, the seeds stick to the cow dung; and are afterwards stored in the open or inside a wooden box, ready for the next planting season.

Cowdung has pesticidal properties that protect the seed from insect infestation. It also improves seed viability through its immunostimulant properties.

Use of Ash

Wood ash is used to preserve foods like eggs, meat, grains, fruits and vegetables.

The ash absorbs moisture keeping the food dry, and its basic properties inhibit the growth of bacteria and fungi, which are responsible for food spoilage.

Eggs can be preserved in a pot filled with ash for nearly a year.

Farmers also extend the shelf life of tomatoes by preserving them in wood ash.

Note
It is important to ensure the ash used is from natural plants and not any material containing harmful chemicals.

Salting

Salting is a simple yet effective way to preserve food.

Salt draws out moisture, slowing down the growth of bacteria and preventing spoilage.

It is instrumental in preserving protein-rich foods like meat.

The meat is cleaned, sliced, salted, and left to dry in the sun.

In Nigeria, salting is also used to preserve vegetables such as Okra and tomatoes in a process known as Kuka.

Food for thought

Should intellectual property (IP) extend to seeds?

Should we allow individuals and cooperations to dictate the type of seeds we use?

Seed sovereignty is more than just seeds. It is about culture, diversity, autonomy, cooperation and survival.

We are losing this silent war, and if we are not careful, the culture of seed preservation and selection, a skill that has been passed down for generations, will die a permanent death.

Special thanks to Stephanie for writing the issue.

Whenever you need translation for any African language, help is here.

Remember, it is time to tell our stories. Till next time.

Mike.

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