Soup thickeners are nothing new. Globally, they have been used for centuries to provide certain textures to our meals. Popular thickeners are corn flour, corn starch, cream, yogurt, white flour, blended rice and so on.
In Africa, using soup thickeners in cooking many African delicacies is a part of our food culture. In Nigeria, particularly in the South-eastern part of Nigeria, one of the most popular traditional soup thickeners is the Cocoyam (Ede) which is a starchy root.
However, there are a good number of traditional soup thickeners that are lesser-known and that offer much more than just providing texture to our foods. They also contain a lot of dietary fibre. This is not surprising because they belong to the family of legumes (like beans) which are known for their high dietary fibre content.
Dietary fibre has beneficial effects on blood glucose and insulin levels in the body. They help to lower blood sugar as well as cholesterol levels. Diets high in dietary fibre reduce the risks of obesity and non-communicable diseases such as Diabetes Mellitus, heart diseases and cancer.
Dietary fibre helps to normalize bowel movement by adding bulk to stools thus preventing constipation. They also help in achieving a healthy weight.
These Traditional soup thickeners are:
Achi is the Igbo name for Brachystegia eurycoma. It is called Akolodo in Yoruba, Ukung in Efik and Okwen in Bini. Achi is a lesser-known legume seed used as Soup thickeners in the South of Nigeria. You will find the Achi tree in the South of Nigeria and the West of Cameroon.
Apart from the seeds, the stem is also used traditionally in the healing of wounds and treatment of infection.
100g edible portion of Achi provides 70.2g of dietary fibre. It also includes 13.9g of protein, 11.5g of fat, and 2.6g of available carbohydrate. For mineral content, they contain 13.7mg of calcium, 10.5mg of iron, 250mg of phosphorus and 1.9mg of zinc.
Ofo (Igbo), Detarium microcarpum, is known as sweet Dattock or sweet detar. It is an African food crop tree belonging to the legume family. Ofo is often made into flour and used as thickener and flavouring for soup. It can be eaten raw or cooked. Ofo is known to be high in antioxidants.
100g edible portion of raw Ofo provides 19.6g of dietary fibre.
It also includes 10.6g of protein, 17.2 of fat, and 33.9g of available carbohydrate. For mineral content, they contain 300mg of calcium, 7.5mg of iron, 154mg of phosphorus, 3.6mg of zinc, magnesium 206mg and potassium 1460mg. The dietary fibre content reduces significantly when cooked.
Apart from the seeds, the Sweet Dattock tree has other benefits. The fruit is sweet and eaten fresh while the pulp has been used in making cakes. The leaves, bark and roots have also been used traditionally to treat a wide range of ailments from malaria, venereal diseases, intestinal worms and other digestive problems like diarrhoea.
Akparata is Ibo name for the seeds of the Counterwood tree, Afzelia africana. In Yoruba, it is called Apa, and Kawo in Hausa. The counter wood tree is a drought-resistant leguminous tree crop found in Nigeria, Senegal, Sudan, Uganda, Tanzania and India. Apart from the seeds, the leaves are also edible and eaten as cooked vegetables and the flowers as condiments. The plant has also been used as traditional remedies for constipation, vomiting, internal bleeding and as pain relief.
100g edible portion of roasted and milled Akparata provides 32.2g of dietary fibre. It also includes 18g of protein, 25.1g of fat, and 7.5g of available carbohydrate. For mineral content, they contain 291mg of calcium, 9.6mg of iron, 421mg of phosphorus and 3.7mg of zinc.
They have been experimented on as local stabilizers for yoghurt production as well as a substitute for wheat flour in biscuit production. The seeds can be stored for about 33 months under ambient conditions.
Ukpo is the Igbo traditional name for the Horse eye beans, Mucuna Sloanei/Mucuna urens. It is also called Apon in Yoruba. The seeds are cracked, boiled, dehulled and ground to make powder as a soup thickener.
They contain a lot of antinutrients such as phytate, tannins, lectins, cyanogenic glycosides(that interfere with the digestion of protein and carbohydrates) but when cooked (90 minutes) or toasted (60 minutes), these antinutrients reduce significantly. When not properly processed, it can interfere with the digestion of important nutrients.
Ukpo contains 51.1g of dietary fibre in 100g of edible portion. It also includes 21.2g of protein, 17.8g of fat, and 7.5g of available carbohydrate. For micronutrient content, it has 14.2mg of iron, 3.3mg of zinc, 26.5mg of calcium and 271mg of phosphorus.
Apart from being used as a soup thickener, the leaves of the tree are used as animal feed in the north of Nigeria.
Agbara which is the Igbo name for Mucuna pruriens, Velvet beans. Other names include Mauritius velvet bean, Bengal bean, cowhage, cowitch, lacuna bean, Lyon bean, itchy bean to mention a few. It belongs to the same family as Horse-eye beans. It is cultivated in Africa, Asia, America and the Pacific and it is used for both food for man and feed for animals. The seeds, leaves, pods and roots have been used for the treatment of a wide range of ailments. Velvet beans have been used traditionally to treat Parkinson’s diseases, control blood pressure, treat male infertility and the pods have been used to eliminate intestinal worms from the body. In the Plateau State of Nigeria, the seed is used as a prophylactic anti-snake bite remedy by traditional healers and beans paste have been used on scorpion stings to absorb the poison.
100g edible portion of raw Agbara contains 20.4g of dietary fibre. It also includes 28.8g of protein, 4.7g of fat, and 33.9g of available carbohydrate. For mineral content, they contain 96mg of calcium, 5.4mg of iron, 401mg of phosphorus and 3.1mg of zinc.
Like many legumes, it contains antinutrients that can interfere with the digestion of nutrients. So, the seeds must be well processed before consumption.
In a Nutshell
These 5 Soup thickeners are rich in dietary fibre which are very important in promoting health and preventing diseases. Because the are legumes, which are known to contain chemicals that interfere with the digestion of important nutrients, it is best to ensure that they are well-processed before consumption.
- FAO/INFOODS Food Composition Table for West Africa 2019 http://www.fao.org/3/ca7779b/CA7779B.PDF
- Ene-Obong. 2008. Nutrition Science and Practice: Emerging problems and issues in Food Consumption, diet quality and health. https://www.unn.edu.ng/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/35th-Lecture.pdf
- Ene-Obong, H.N. and E. Carnovale, 1992. Nigerian soup condiments: Traditional processing and potential as dietary fibre sources. Food Chem., 43: 29-34.
- Mbaeyi-Nwaoha Ifeoma Elizabeth and E.T. Odo, 2019. Influence of Afzelia africana (‘Akparata’) and Mucuna flagellipes (‘Ukpo’) on the Quality of Set Yoghurt. American Journal of Food Technology, 14: 1-10. https://scialert.net/abstract/?doi=ajft.2019.1.10
- Uhegbu, F.O., Onwuchekwa, C.C., Iweala, E.E. & Kanu, I. 2009. Effect of processing methods on nutritive and antinutritive properties of seeds of Brachystegia eurycoma and Detarium microcarpum from Nigeria. Pakistan Journal of Nutrition, 8(4): 316–320.
- Umoren E. Umoren, Okokon O. Effiong, Joseph C. Onyilagha, Enefiok D. Ekpe & Shadrach O. Okiror (2008) Changes in Nutritional Characteristics of the Horse-Eye Bean [Mucuna Urens (L.) Medik] Subjected to Different Processing Methods, International Journal of Food Properties, 11:4, 901-909, DOI: 10.1080/10942910701673493