Suya, the spicy skewered Meat, is one of the delicacies of West Africa. It can be made from beef, chicken, ram and innards of these animals such as gizzard, kidney, and liver.
Nigeria, Ghana, Cameroon, Niger partake in this delicious feast of meats and (sometimes vegetables) even if they are called by different names.
Suya is one delicacy that is part of our food culture and while it creates delight for so many, they are also a source of health risk, particularly cancer.
Suya, like all grilled meats heated at high temperatures over direct flame, produce a chemical called Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbon (PAH). PAH can change one’s DNA and it has been linked to higher risks of health issues like lung damage (especially for the Mai Suya), cancer, particularly breast and pancreatic cancer.
The longer the Suya stays on the direct flames and the more fat it contains, the more PAH is formed. The PAH is absorbed into your meat so as you enjoy them, you just might be causing some harm to your body.
Also, the more charred (black crust formation on meat) your meat is, the more the meat contains Heterocyclic Amines (HCAs). HCAs and Cancers are like best friends. The more you eat these Suya prepared this way, the more you increase cellular stress and aging of your body.
So, how can you make Suya safer for your consumption?
- Ensure a Clean environment and safe food materials
Ensure that the environment, equipment and hygiene of your Mai Suya is good. If you are making it yourself, you have more control over the quality of meat, cleanliness, and processing of the meats. There are a lot of studies spanning over 10 years looking at microbial and general safety of Suya from different parts of Nigeria and the conclusion is usually that they discovered lots of microorganisms at a level higher than recommended and that can be harmful to the body.
- Avoid fat/oil drippings when grilling
Tell the Mai Suya not to add fat/oil to your suya while grilling. Do not let drippings get into the burning charcoal or hot griddle. This alone can reduce PAH formation by up to 80% according to some studies.
- Select Lean Meat for your Suya
Select lean meat for your Suya. They should not have fatty parts on them.
- Avoid direct flame contact on Meats
You can use a Mai Suya that uses foil as a protective barrier separating meat from the direct flame/smoke. Of course, this might impact the flavor but its better to be safe. It is, however, best to do this yourself if you can.
- Pre-cook Meat before Grilling
If meat is precooked for grilling, it reduces the time on the fire and this means less PAH, AGEs and HCAs.
- Make Use of Herbs in Marinade
Use herbs such as thyme, rosemary etc. in your marinades. These herbs contain a lot of antioxidants that protect your body. Also, they significantly reduce the creation of some of these carcinogens. Most of the time, the Mai Suya uses the Yaji which is a combination of some spices. You can decide to use the herbs along with your Yaji if you are making it by yourself.
- Eat lots of Fruits and Vegetables
Eat lots of fruits and vegetables daily because they contain antioxidants which protect your body from damage by free radicals.
- Educate Your Mai Suya
Teach your Mai Suya these things so that we can all be healthy together.
In a Nutshell, let your health take first place before enjoying the pleasures that Suya can bring. Suya should be eaten in moderation and those times you choose to eat it, you can decide to make them safer for you.
Don’t forget to eat better and live better one day at a time.