Thursday, 4 February 2010

African Food Tradition Revisited by Research

This FP7 research project intends to share knowledge on food technology and implementation in new markets for a range of traditional products both within Africa but also between Africa and the EU.
The research involves six African countries (Benin, Cameroon, Egypt, Madagascar, Senegal and South Africa) and three EU countries (France, Portugal and UK)

The project focuses on three main categories of traditional products:
  1. Fermented cereals-based product: Akpan, Kenkey, Gowé, Kishk
  2. Fermented - salted fish and meat: Lanhouin, Kitoza, Kong
  3. Vegetal extract for functional food: Adansonia digitata, Hibiscus sabdariffa, Ziziphus mauritiana
The research will directly contribute to improve the competitiveness of nine traditional products and facilitate their implementation by food companies and their marketing on the diverse types of markets reserved for these products. Beyond these direct results, the lessons learnt and the methodologies for traditional products and processes assessment will be shared with other group of countries (Asia, India, South America) in order to spread the results among the research community involved in food research in developing countries.

These products are described as follow:

Akpan is a yoghurt-like product prepared from a partially fermented cooked maize gruel, named ogi. It is usually mixed with condensed milk, ice and sugar by street vendors just before consumption. It is the most commonly consumed beverage in Benin. A similar product called Mahewu is produced in Southern Africa and is available on the supermarket shelves, but not consumed with condensed milk.
Kenkey is a popular traditional fermented food made from maize and is a staple for most of the peoples in the coastal regions of Ghana. It is a sour tasting cooked stiff porridge of elastic consistency made from fermented whole meal maize dough shaped into balls or cylindrical forms and wrapped in maize husks or plantain leaves. It has a moisture content of between 62--68 %, a pH of 3.7 and a shelf life of about 3 to 4 days. There are two main types of kenkey, the Ga kenkey originally made by the Ga ethnic group in the Greater Accra Region and Fanti kenkey 0riginally made by the Fanti ethnic group in the Central and Western Regions of Ghana. Their main differences are in the materials used for packaging the balls of kenkey and the addition of salt to Ga kenkey. Fanti kenkey is wrapped in several layers of plantain leaves, which gives it a longer shelf life than the Ga kenkey which is packaged in maize husks. There are also many other similar products such as Akporhe, Ntsewhu and Fomfom, which are made from dehulled fermented maize dough.

Gowé is a homogenous gelatinized, malted, fermented and cooked paste prepared from sorghum, millet or maize. It is consumed as a beverage after dilution in water and addition of ice, sugar and sometimes milk. It is the preferred beverage of children, pregnant women, sick and old people in Benin. All types of sorghum, millet and white maize can be used to make acceptable gowé but coloured sweet gowé is preferred.

kishkKishk Sa’eedi. The name "Kishk" refers to a group of popular fermented dairy cereal mix products common to Egypt and the Middle East. The product is made from a combination of wheat with natural local fermented buttermilk in the form of yoghourt or sour milk. On completion of fermentation, the mixture is shaped and sun dried. Kishk Sa'eedi production in Upper Egypt preserves the lengthy traditional process of initial buttermilk fermentation and uses parboiled and coarsely ground whole grain wheat. It is a low fat high fiber and nutrient rich product, that is a possible source of vitamins and micronutrients associated with the microbial fermentation processes. 

File:Biltong for sale.jpgLanhouin (Cassava Fish) is a salted/dried fish spontaneously fermented. It is widely used as condiment in Benin, Togo, and Ghana.

Kitoza (a traditional product of Madagascar) is a salted/dried meat, sometimes known as biltong. Depending on the process conditions the fermentation can be spontaneous. Sometimes, it is smoked in order to improve organoleptic and shelf-stability properties. Biltong is also a well known traditional product in South Africa, where the traditional processing methods do not include a fermentation step. It is sold in supermarkets in South Africa.

The « Kong », (catfish Arius heudelotii), is traditionally smoked in Senegal by Guineans for local and export markets. The smoking process is similar to the one used in several coastal African countries (« brochets », « machoirons », from Guinea, Ivory Coast, Togo, Ghana, Gabon, Benin, etc…). In some cases (like sardinella in Gabon) the end product is much dryer in order to get an extended shelf life (weeks or months) at room temperature. Such smoked fishes are not voluntarily fermented; however, a spontaneous fermentation step often takes place in the process of traditional dried fishes in Africa10 or Asia.

The baobab (Adansonia digitata L.) is a tree that grows wild in Senegal. It is also found in all semiarid and dry sub-humid areas throughout Africa and Madagascar. The fruit of the baobab or monkey bread, called "buy" in Senegal, is widely consumed in various forms. Biochemical characterization of the fruit is incomplete and the results are disparate. Only one reference, to our knowledge, covers the processing of the fruit or the impact of processing treatments on the quality of finished products.

Dry calyx of Hibiscus sabdariffa, known as bissap, is used in Senegal and other Western African countries for the preparation of beverages and other products. The anthocyanins of bissap (sambubioside of delphinidin and sambubioside of cyanidine) are quite unstable and discoloration phenomena are sometimes noted. Few studies have been conducted to solve this degradation that can occur through enzymatic or thermo-oxidative pathways.
Ziziphus mauritiana is the fruit of the jujube tree, widely spread in the Soudano-Sahelian savannas of Africa, particularly in Cameroon. The fruit is locally used fresh or dried for food purpose. Consumption in the dry state is most common. It is consumed as snack food or processed into flour for the preparation of pancakes, or also associated with pastry or drinks. The dried and processed fruit has a pleasant biscuit taste and a plain aromatic flavor. Different therapeutic properties are locally attributed to Ziziphus, which is particularly used for its anti-inflammatory effect.