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Food

Origin of Nigerian Foods: Ukwa

On our history segment today is ukwa, a delicacy that hails from Igboland. Ukwa is called African breadfruit in English because it is similar to the breadfruit eaten in the Caribbean and South Pacific. The African breadfruit is eaten by people of different ethnic groups in Nigeria. These ethnic groups not only have different ways of preparing it but they also have native names for this food. It is called Afon in Yoruba, Ize in Benin, Jekri/Sobo in Ijaw, Ediang in Efik and Bafafuta in Hausa. Also, the botanical name for this food is Treculia africana.

The ukwa tree is of the Moracene family; it is one of the four members of the genera. A pod/fruit is as large as a watermelon. It weighs as heavy as ten pounds or more. The fruits are huge, round and hard. One fruit can have hundreds of seeds inside. To extract the seed from the pod, it is allowed to ripen and fall on its own from the large trees. This, I believe, is the genesis of the saying, Ukwa ruo oge ya, o daa which literally means that the ukwa fruit falls at its appointed time. When the fruit falls from the tree, it is allowed to rot, then a machete is used to crack open the fruit to bring out the seeds.

Ukwa is a versatile, nutritious meal with a natural taste. The seeds can be roasted, fried and even boiled before consumption. It can also be ground to flour, pressed for oil and used as a flavouring in alcoholic drinks. In Igboland, when it is roasted and eaten with coconut or palm kernel, it is called aki na ukwa. When it is prepared as porridge, it is called ukwa porridge. Aki na ukwa and the porridge are the most popular meals prepared with the seed.

Ukwa porridge which is a ceremonial food in some parts of Igboland can be served as breakfast, lunch or dinner. There are different methods of preparing the porridge. It can be cooked plain without seasoning because fresh ukwa has a naturally delicious taste even without salt. It can also be prepared with dry fish, palm oil, fresh pepper, crayfish and salt. While some people add sweet corn to their porridge, others prefer to stir bitter leaf into it.

Regardless of the method of preparation used, it is a tough food to cook. It is either cooked with pressure pot or with the addition of certain ingredients like edible potash (akanwu) or ngor. These ingredients help to tenderize the food. Again, the water strained from boiling the seeds is usually set aside for drinking when the meal is done. Ukwa can be an alternative to Sunday rice. It is low in saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium.

Sources

Buzz Nigeria

The Guardian Online

V.N. Osabor, D.A. Ogar, P.C. Okafor and G.E. Egbung, “Profile of the African Bread Fruit (Treculia africana), Pakistan Journal of Nutrition 8 (7), 2009.

Featured image source: guardian.ng

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Obiamaka Angela Udevi

Udevi, Obiamaka Angela holds a Master of Arts degree in History & International Studies. She's a freelance writer with a passion for food and healthy living. She can be contacted through her email address, obiudevi@yahoo.com

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