By Mary Hearty

The African porridge- made from cereal grains – is one of the staple African foods as it is consumed in most households as a weaning food for infants, nourishment for nursing mothers, the elderly and patients; a go-to breakfast, refreshment, and for some, a main meal.

However, scientists observe that it is extremely low in energy and nutrient densities because they contain anti–nutrient compounds that block the absorption of certain essential nutrients in the body.

Due to this, research institutions in Africa are putting in effort to enhance its nutritional value using local and underutilized crops and animal species, which have great potential to influence and improve food security for African nations in order to promote sustainable development.

Masinde Muliro University for instance, has come up with a highly nutritious porridge made from oyster mushroom, sweet potato and millet.

The mushroom porridge flour from Masinde Muliro University

Prof Asenath Sigot, Professor of Nutritional Sciences at Masinde Muliro University, Kenya, during the 2022 Innovation Week held at the Nairobi University said they developed the mushroom-fortified porridge in an effort to add more value to porridge; and to encourage people to adopt eating healthy food.

“We came up with the idea of combining mushroom powder, sweet potatoes and millet to make a highly nutritious porridge, as mushroom is very high in protein,” Prof Sigot stated, “When we combine these three products, it forms a synergy, and having this at the beginning of the day is very healthy.”

Similarly, she explained that the project also aims to help farmers add value to their mushrooms by preserving it through sun drying and processing it, noting that the underutilized crop is highly perishable.

According to the Professor of Nutritional Sciences, the product has already been standardized by the Kenya Bureau of Standards as safe for human consumption.

Prof. Sigot displaying her products during the Nairobi Innovation week exhibition

A similar project was undertaken by scientists from the International Centre of Insect Physiology (icipe) where they used crickets  and the grain of amaranth, an indigenous vegetable to add value to the African porridge.

They noted that cricket consumption could be an immediate solution to many of the nutrient deficiency issues and could be both an inexpensive and effective option, especially in low- and middle- income countries.

Nelly Maiyo, student at University of Nairobi,  who was involved in the research as part of her graduate studies at icipe, said the fortified porridge flour has twice as much protein, three to four times more crude fat and double the amount of iron and zinc.

According to the researcher, protein-energy malnutrition; the lack of enough calories or proteins in the body, is the most common form of malnutrition in Africa, especially in children and women. Less than five out of ten children in Africa die from this serious health concern.

The scientists call for focusing and devoting more attention to the underutilized crops and animal species which can help improve food security in Africa.

Read also: icipe’s Insect-Fortified Porridge to Boost Africa’s Food, Nutritional Security