Friday, June 18, 2010

Culinary Entrepreneurship in Ghana: Food Studies and Ice Kenkey

On Wed., June 16, Katie and I spent the day at the University of Ghana, Legon. We first met with with Rose Omari, a food scientist with the Science & Technology Policy Research Institute (STEPRI) of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) of Ghana. Rose is currently in Ghana doing research for her PhD from Wageningen University. Her interests range broadly from food science through policy research, and we only had time to scratch the surface. Her pioneering doctoral research focuses on characteristics of the indigenous fast food industry (within the formal sector, thus excluding street foods) in Accra and I'll be following it with great interest.

From there we stopped in at the Legon campus bookstore, where I was again saddened to see how the many imported food service and hospitality industry texts  are not contextualized for the African situation (foods and recipes, cooking techniques, equipment, technology, etc.). I am hopeful that as the hospitality industry grows in Ghana, there will be those who can make it truly Ghanaian with world class standards. Next week we plan to visit one positive example in the Akuapem Mountains.

We spent a couple of fascinating hours at the Department of Nutrition and Food Science with professors George Amponsah Annor, Kwaku Tano-Debrah, and Esther O. Sakyi-Dawson. The conversations ranged from why cassava flour is not used more to replace imported wheat flour (the answer that made the most sense is the counter-intuitive one that it is cheaper to buy imported wheat flour than locally produced cassava flour) to differences in Nigerian and Ghanaian gari to promotion of healthy indigenous products. Katie had a number of technical questions associated with the challenges of calculating fat adsorption in fried foods and effects of texture, temperature, density, etc. Prof. Annor has promised to provide us with an updated data base of information about West African ingredients and some common foods.

Ice kenkey: Pennsylvania has a large dairy industry and at Penn State University the College of Agriculture and the food science department stocks its own store, the Creamery, and supplies various restaurants and events on campus with PSU dairy products, from its famous ice creams to a variety of PSU cheeses, milk, and yogurt. The Department of Nutrition and Food Science at Legon seems to be embarking down a similar path of producing quality products that can be sold to a wide audience. The initial product now being test marketed is a refreshing traditional sweetened fermented corn and milk drink known as  ice kenkey. Incidentally, I have always called it "iced" kenkey, but that may be similar to the question of whether something is "ice" tea or "iced" tea in the U.S. At any rate, this is definitely a Ghanaian product. It is an acquired taste for Westerners, as you will note from Katie's June 16 blog posting  and also the comments at the Betumiblog posting linked to above). However, it did not surprise me to learn that it is a Japanese partner that is working with Legon on this venture: many Japanese food items are also acquired tastes for Westerners. The department plans to expand to other products and has many great ideas, such as how to ensure quality control. This is another venture to keep one's eyes on. I wish them every success.

After our morning meetings we met up with a number of faculty from the English Department and a history of science colleague of my daughter Abena, Laura  McGough, for lunch at the senior staff club at Commonwealth Hall, where I enjoyed tuo zaafe (tz) made from corn and ayoyo soup with fish.Katie had some omo tuo (rice balls) and groundnut soup with goat meat. I really enjoyed it: I haven't had soup made with the ayoyo leaves since I was in Northern Ghana several years ago. Over lunch I challenged a couple of the English faculty to begin looking at the portrayal and symbolism of food in African literature, a shockingly neglected area, and especially to examine any gender differences between men and women writers. My sense is that women are more intimately connected to food preparation and socializing around the cooking pot and hence their memories (especially when exiled from their homelands) may be different. I'm curious to see if Helen and Kari take up the challenge. I also have the exciting promise of receiving a 17th century translation (from German) of a document describing the preparation of kenkey. I'm still trying to track down dokono's origins and history. Suggestions made at the luncheon were that, unlike "dokono," "kenkey" is a Malay word, that Northerners have always fermented millet, so they just used the same technique on corn when it arrived in Ghana. I welcome anyone's comments on his subject.


SugarHeart said...

Hi Fran,It would have been great talking with these people! I am still interested in the Ghana bread. Is it possible to email me with email addresses..I would love to ask specific questions regarding making Ghana bread. My email is Thanks!

ibrasboo said...

I left a comment after the blog on Ghanian doughnuts, but I'm not sure if you look back on your older blogs. I think your blogs are awesome and so are you! I'm trying to read the entire thing, so it may take me a while to catch up, lol. I am Crystal, a black American married to a man from Guinea. I love researching global sweets and treats, that's how I found your blogspot. Would love any info on African cakes/cookies in future blogs. Thanks.

crystal said...

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maggieS said...

Hi Fran, I stumbled on your blog looking for the recipe for omo tuo (for a superbowl party!) yes, we're have omo tuo and groundnut soup, plantain and aboboi, among the usual fare. I'm a Ghananian living in NJ. But what excited me most about your blog was seeing you with my best friend from college, Esther! I'll be checking in regularly. What you're doing is great!