African oil bean seed: Rich food missing in menu of many homes

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Prepared Ugba
Prepared Ugba

By Benprince Ezeh

THE African oil bean seed is a rich source of nutrients that is missing in the diet of many families in the country. It is called Ukpaka or Ugba in Ibo language, while the Yorubas call it Apara and the Efiks call it Ukana.

It is a tropical tree crop that belongs to the Leguminoseae family and the mimosoideae sub-family and it is botanically known as Pentaclethra macrophylla. It is native to the tropical regions of Africa and has been cultivated since 1937. In height, It grows approximately 6 meters in girth and 21 meters height. The tree is low branched with low wide buttresses and an open crown that allows light to penetrate under its canopy. Its bark has a reddish brown to grey colour with irregular patches that usually flakes off while the leaves are characterised by a big angular stalk that measures about 20-45 centimetres long.

The most widely used part of the oil bean tree is the seeds, which serve as a traditional food condiment generally produced by natural (local) fermentation. It is an important and cheap source of protein for people, whose staple foods are deficient in proteins. The seeds are excellent source of energy, protein, amino acids, phosphorus, magnesium, iron, vitamins, calcium, manganese and copper and it is also eaten as a delicacy and can also be used as flavour for soup.

The glossy brown seeds, which are the most widely used part of the African oil bean are about eight in number and are contained in a flattened pod that explodes when ripe, dispersing the seeds all over the area close to where the tree is situated. The pods are brown in colour, quite hard and woody in appearance.

Ukpaka Seeds
Ukpaka Seeds

Studies have revealed that the unfermented African oil bean seeds contain traces of a poisonous alkaloid known as Paucine, small amounts of Caffeoylputrescine, a growth, depressant bacteria such as E. coli and Staphylococcus aureus, as well as molds that can produce mycotoxins in foods. Hence, before it becomes fit for consumption, it must undergo a thorough fermentation process to remove any unwanted toxins.

Even though the African oil bean seed is a proven source of energy, protein, amino acids (44 percent protein, with all 20 essential amino acids), phosphorus, magnesium, iron, vitamins, calcium, manganese and copper, as well as excellent source of phytonutrients such as tannins, alkaloids, flavonoids, sterols, glycosides and saponins, studies have revealed that the fermentation process which they undergo before consumption usually removes most of these minerals and vitamins such as phosphorus.

Jennifer Ani
Jennifer Ani

“I usually prepare mine by myself because I find it difficult to cook with the ones sold in the market due to lack of trust on how it is cooked,” said Jennifer Ani, a nutritionist.

She prepares her oil bean before using it to prepare food. “I boil the seeds with the shell for about 18 hours, then remove the seeds from the shell, slice it into thin strips, soaked in water for a day and washed before being wrapped in waterproof or green leaves for three to four days for fermentation to take place. Once that is done it can be used for preparing your dishes,” Ani said.

Rita Ezeh
Rita Ezeh

Rita Ezeh, a mother, who loves eating oil bean seed, said that it is one of the most proteinus food one can eat it. “Most times when I am unable to cook, I go to restaurant where they sell ugba and order for a plate with abacha (African salad). It sells for about N600 a plate,” she said.

It controls obesity the doctor advised me to be taking it often because of my health and I have been light in terms of weight. Oil bean has a rich source of protein and can be taken as a nutritional and vitamin supplement for controlling overweight. The leaves are used for the treatment of feverish condition.

Purity Chanumuya
Purity Chanumuya

Purity Chamunuya, a health and food nutritionist said that oil bean seed are essential for the wellbeing of anybody. “Due to the anti-inflammatory properties of the African oil bean, both the bark and seeds can be used for the production of local ointment for treating itches, insect’s bites, cuts and wounds.

“The rich mineral composition of fermented seed makes it a good, low-cost source of protein. According to Chamunuya, about 87% of working-class people are suffering from insomnia. “Insomnia can cause excessive daytime sleepiness and lack of energy. It can make one feel anxious, depressed, or irritable. Oil bean seed can also be used in preparing herbal medicine for treating infertility,” she said.

On her part, Kingsley Enenta, a dietarian said that eating African Oil bean seed reduces the likelihood of developing cataracts. “A cataract is a clouding of the eye’s natural lens, which lies behind the iris and the pupil, varying in degree from slight to complete opacity and obstructing the passage of light. In addition, it relieves the impaired vision that comes with the eye disease, good amount of oil bean seed can be helpful too.

Kingsley Enenta
Kingsley Enenta

“Studies have shown that African oil bean seed has the capability of reducing cancer growth. A comparative study carried out in Nigeria revealed that cancer patients who ate fermented African oil bean seeds during the research period recorded a reduction in cancer risks unlike those who did not.

According to him, researchers in Africa discovered that the fermented seed of oil bean could be used to prevent and cure heart failure. “So, it has both preventive and curative ability,” Enenta said.

– May 29, 2020 @ 20:20 GMT /

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