If you’re from West Africa, chances are you have strong opinions about how your fufu should look and taste. The much-loved springy porridge made by pounding starchy foods like cassava and plantain together is a regional mainstay, traditionally served with fragrant soups. But today’s busy lifestyles are at odds with the traditional way of preparing fufu. This involves boiling the tubers, mashing them, and pounding them into a smooth springy paste using a large wooden pestle and mortar, which can take a lot of time. As a result, there is a growing demand for fufumaking shortcuts. Supermarkets already stock so-called ‘neat’ fufu a dry, pre-milled mixture, to which you add boiling water before serving. But for fufu connoisseurs, it just doesn’t taste as good as the real thing. And because plantain browns when exposed to air for long, these premixes often contain chemical dyes to mask their unappetising color.
One of the additives is yellow tartrazine, which some studies have linked to hyperactivity in children. But now a group of Ghanaian scientists is working on a way to make premixed dry fufu powder that tastes and feels more like traditional fufu. They also want to develop ways so it doesn’t brown, eliminating the need for potentially harmful additives. And it might have health other health benefits: By using cassava-derived starch powder instead of milled cassava, and adding it to plantain puree which they late will dry, they hope to reduce the amount of cassava, which has a high glycemic index and is therefore not suitable for diabetics who need to keep their blood sugar levels down.
Traditionally made Ghanaian fufu can have cassava levels as high as 90% say Gifty Serwaa Otoo, a food scientist at Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology in Kumasi, and the lead author on the paper. “My work was to find out if fufu could be prepared in different ways where the proportion of cassava and plantain could be varied with low cassava content, and at the same time achieve that viscoelastic texture that makes the Ghanaian love his or her fufu,” she says.
In their article in Scientific African the four scientists describe how they settled on an ideal ratio of 20% cassava starch to 80% plantain puree. Made in the microwave in five minutes, this formulation could be consumers’ answer to quick fufu. Regular fufu-eaters rated it higher than ‘neat’ fufu. Of the 30 testers, 22 said they preferred the scientists’ fufu in terms of its softness, smoothness, smell and taste.
Beating the browning Getting the texture right was an important first step says Edward Essuman from the Department of Nutrition and Dietetics at the University of Health and Allied Sciences in Ho. Now, he and his colleagues will work on perfecting their recipe. The next step in their research will be perfecting their fufu’s colour.
According to their data, color was the only category in which the testers preferred the ‘neat’ fufu. To prevent the plantain from going brown, Essuman and his colleagues will pre-treat it with lime water, or saltwater, before drying and milling it. “We want to try and see if we can use natural means to mask the color,” he says. If they manage to do this, their product could make a big difference to busy Ghanaians hankering for a plate of fufu and soup, says Vida Gyimah, a co-author, who is base at the Department of Hospitality and Tourism Education at the University of Education, Winneba.
“This modern method saves time and energy because it makes use of a microwave. It can be done by one person, compared to the traditional method that needs two people: one turning the fufu in the mortar and other one pounding the fufu with a pestle,” she says. Gyimah says it could also prove popular with hotel and catering industries since the traditional way of preparing fufu is sometimes considered unhygienic.
“This new method will encourage customers to patronage fufu outside home especially when prepared by commercial food vendors,” she says. Microwave preparation is another advantage that their fufu has over other varieties, both modern and traditional: It allows for speed and economies of scale. ”This will be very convenient for the hospitality industry,” Gyimah says. To Essuman, the work on fufu is a small but notable step towards a future where traditional Ghanaian food is served and enjoyed in modern, hygienic, but above all delicious ways. “Our local food needs to be standardized,” he says.