Mojisola Karigidi, Founder and Product Developer, Moepelorse Bio Resources

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Subjects of Interest

  • Food Security
  • Governance
  • Health
  • Sustainable Development

Some research recommendations for indigenous snacks 17 Jun 2022

The notion that Nigerian indigenous snacks made from locally grown food crops are unhealthy and meant for the poor is misleading and derogatory. It has not only deprived the younger generation of the cultural values and heritage associated with the production and consumption of these snacks which vary from one ethnic or cultural group to another, but also ensured that the shelves of retail outlets in the country display mostly snacks of foreign origins that have been domesticated for consumption. This wrong perception must stop.

Snacks are usually taken between meals by both children and adults. The most consumed snacks in Nigeria are made from wheat flour, meanwhile there are several other crunchy, delicious, and healthy snacks made from maize, yam, plantain, coconut, groundnut, melon, and other crops widely grown locally. The snacks produced from these crops include ‘kokoro’ and ‘aadun’ from maize; ‘ojojo’ from yam; ‘kulikuli’ and groundnut candy from groundnut or peanut; ‘donkwa’ from a mixture of maize and groundnut; ‘robo’ from a mixture of melon and groundnut; ‘ikpekere’ from plantain; ‘baba dudu’ (coconut candy) from grated coconut; ‘ofio’ from tiger nut and many others.

Many of these indigenous snacks are prepared with spices and herbs to enrich and enhance their taste. Animal products are not left out: ‘kilishi’ is made from fermented meat, ‘wara’ popularly called the Nigerian cheese curd is made from fresh cow milk, among others.

When food industries in the country produce a wider range of indigenous snacks, more markets will be created for local farmers. Attractive packaging and branding of indigenous snacks will increase their competitiveness with other snacks and the possibility of having them on shelves in supermarkets and other retail outlets in the country. It will also open doors for the entry of these snacks into foreign markets.

Packaging and branding of indigenous snacks could make locally grown food crops that do not meet up to export requirements due to size or other inherent properties to be processed and made available as snacks. Apart from the economic benefits of increased income and employment opportunities, having products of this kind within the reach of Nigerians in Diaspora, especially the young ones, could ensure that they don’t miss out on the cultural identities associated with these snacks.

Indigenous snacks are nutritious and do not fall into the category of junk foods which are usually high in sugar and salt content, saturated fat and contain very little or no nutritional value. Regular consumption of unhealthy snacks have been linked to the onset of several disease conditions including obesity, high blood pressure, and type 2 diabetes. Over the years, Nigerian scientists have assessed the nutritional status of several indigenous snacks and made new products using locally grown crops. Much work has also been done by these researchers to enhance the nutritional and health benefits of these products. And several of such outputs have been published in reputable journals. To increase the production and consumption of indigenous snacks, food industries in the country need to partner directly with researchers or academic institutions to make enriched and high value snacks available.

In a study by Matthew Oluwamukomi, Professor of Food Science and Technology, and his team of food scientists at the Federal University of Technology, Akure, on the nutritional composition, antioxidant and sensory properties of maize-based snack (kokoro) enriched with defatted sesame and moringa seed flour, published in the Asian Food Science Journal, showed improvements that could make the snack more nutritious and marketable.

Enriching “kokoro” with 6.25 percent of moringa seed flour and 17.5 percent of defatted sesame flour had favourable acceptance upon sensory evaluation when compared with the control (kokoro without supplementation), according to the study. The enriched product was significantly higher in protein, energy value and minerals such as potassium and calcium. Essential amino acid index, predicted biological value, protein efficiency ratio, and nutritional index of the supplemented kokoro were also higher. On the other hand, supplementation reduced moisture content, which is an important factor in food preservation.

Lowering or getting rid of moisture in indigenous snacks is essential to prevent early spoilage and improve shelf-life. Collaborative efforts between researchers and industries can lead to the discovery of new agents or modifications to already existing substances to prolong shelf-life and birth the discovery of new techniques to overcome other challenges in the marketing of local snacks for both new and existing markets.

In another study, tiger nut popularly called ‘ofio’ and pigeon pea flours were mixed in varying proportions for the formulation of biscuit, which was compared to biscuit made from wheat flour (control), by a team of scientists in the Department of Food Science and Nutrition, Federal University of Technology, Minna, Nigeria, and led by Professor C.E. Chinma. The study was published some years ago in the Nigerian Journal of Nutritional Sciences.

Sensory properties, digestibility, physical and chemical properties of the tiger nut and pigeon pea biscuit showed higher protein digestibility, protein, fat and mineral content compared to control. The appearance, flavour, crust colour and acceptability of the formulated biscuit were not significantly different from the wheat-based control. The study showed that the composite biscuit could be taken up by industries as healthy alternative (low starch and high protein digestibility) to conventional biscuit.

Cakes are usually made from wheat flour but an interesting study by Prof. O.S. Omoba and her team at the Federal University of Technology, Akure, formulated cakes using varying blends of orange-fleshed sweet potatoes (a special type of sweet potatoes biofortified with high amounts of beta-carotene) and tiger nuts. Based on the findings, as reported in the Journal of Culinary Science and Technology, a well acceptable cake can be made from 95 percent orange-fleshed sweet potatoes and 5 percent tiger nut. The researchers affirmed that two to three servings of the formulated cake have the potential to help children and adults meet the daily vitamin A requirement. The latter example shows the possibility of mimicking snacks of other origins using nutrient dense food crops.

A recently published article in the Journal of Food Processing and Preservation by a team of scientists and researchers from Olusegun Agagu University of Science and Technology and the Nigerian Stored Products Research Institute, led by Kayode O. Karigidi, demonstrated the supplementation of ‘kulikuli’ with varying amounts of ginger powder. They showed that inclusion of ginger into the production of the groundnut-based snack improved the antioxidant status of the snack.

Antioxidants are important agents that prevent the build-up of toxic substances in the body. The findings also showed increased capacity of the supplemented snack to inhibit α-amylase and α-glucosidase enzymes whose excessive activities are prominent in diabetes mellitus. The glycemic index was also decreased. This means that the ginger supplementation of ‘kulikuli’ has antihyperglycemic effects, making it a healthy snack option in the management of diabetes.

Other researchers in the life sciences in various institutions in Nigeria have enriched indigenous snacks and assessed the ability of improved products to support the prevention of certain induced conditions in rodents, especially those triggered by oxidative stress, and the outcomes are similar to what could be obtainable in humans. Although there’s need for clinical trials to ascertain response outcomes in humans if a particular fortified snack would be recommended to manage specific health conditions.

These kinds of findings highlight the possibility of producing and marketing snacks that could be consumed by people who are predisposed to, or living with, one health condition or another in an attempt to enhance their recovery or make alternatives that will not constitute more damage to their health.  

Variety is the spice of life. Making various indigenous snacks available in new and attractive forms will create exciting experiences for consumers, erasing the notion that Nigerian indigenous snacks are lacking in nutrients and only for the poor.

Mojisola Karigidi, PhD, a Financial Nigeria Columnist, is a Nigerian biochemist and the founder and product developer at Moepelorse Bio Resources. She is also a Global Innovation Through Science and Technology (GIST) awardee, and an Aspen New Voices fellow.