The African Flavoring Series
African food preparation is not complete without the use of locally available seasonings. Just as salt is important in meal preparation, the addition or omission of some locally made seasoning can make or break a dish. The various seasonings are gotten from plant sources….it could be in form of seeds, roots, bark or flowers. These items follow various preparation procedures from drying and grinding to soaking and leaving whole. In this series, we will explore once a week, a seasoning from the beginning to end.
A seasoning native to Nigeria, West Africa, Ogiri is a paste of fermented oil seeds. There are many types of ogiri but the most common varieties are Ijebu, Igbo and Nwan. The names are derived from the region of origin.
Ogiri Ijebu is fermented Egusi seeds and is of Ijebu Yoruba origin – a south western Nigerian tribe. Popular all over West Africa, Egusi has many names from Agushi, Egushi to Egusi. Its seeds are from West African melons, whose fruit is bitter and inedible. The seeds are covered with a light brown shell which is removed prior to cooking. When de-shelled, the seeds have a creamy white appearance and it is ground into a powder that has a consistency of bread crumbs. They are then used to cook very savory stews and served with the staple fufu.
Ogiri Igbo is fermented castor oil seeds and is Igbo origin – a south easthern Nigerian tribe. Castor oil seeds are available in all parts of Africa. In old times, castor oil was valued for its laxative properties and it is used by many new parents in caring for their newborn children. Its seeds are grown fresh every year. The seeds are relatively large, black and glossy. These seeds are poisonous if ingested raw. The fermentation process eliminates the toxic quality of these seeds.
Ogiri Nwan is fermented fluted pumpkin seeds
The Egusi seeds are boiled until very soft. They are then wrapped tightly in banana leaves and left to ferment in large clay pots for five days. After fermentation is complete, it is smoked for 2 hours and mashed into an oily paste which is ogiri.
Ogiri igbo follow the same process but fermentation process can take three to five days. The longer the fermentation process, the stronger the flavor and value .
Ogiri has an oily gray pasty consistency and a very strong pungent smell. The smell is greatly reduced when frozen. Ogiri is best used in the preparation of Egusi soups….it lends a deeper richer flavor to the dish.