DawaDawa: Africa’s rich locust bean….

Balls of DawaDawa

Dawdawa also known as Parkia biglobosa is a seasoning native to West Africa, Its seeds are from a very common large and tall tree and it is related to the legume family. The flavoring seeds are rich in protein and add an unmistakable flavor to a meal. It stimulates the umami (Japanese word for savory) taste on the tongue. The seeds are contained in a relatively large fruit that is very sweet.

Geography and History:

The African locust bean tree is native to Africa and can be found on the Atlantic coast of Senegal, through Ghana, Cote D’Ivoire, Benin, Nigeria, to some regions in Southern Sudan and Northern Uganda. The fermenting of the seeds to make Dawadawa has been traced back to the 14th century, and today Dawadawa is still prepared by individual families, found at local markets in sub-Saharan Africa.

Processing:

A native woman processing DawaDawa

The seeds which are contained are in rows, are extracted by removing the surrounding fleshy parts of the fruit and boiling the seed for up to 24 hours – to soften the outer shell of the seed. The cooked seeds are then transferred into a mortar and pounded to break open the seeds from its tough shells. The shelled seeds are then slowly boiled again for a few hours until a paste is formed and set aside to ferment for up to 72 hours. It is then formed into little cakes and stored. Once fermented, Dawadawa has a very pungent smell likened to stinky cheese and offers a musky, umami flavor with hints of cocoa.

Appearance:

Flat moulded DawaDawa

DawaDawa has a paste like consistency with some the seeds present. It has a black appearance and a strong pungent smell. The smell can be reduced by cooking it. DawaDawa is best used in the preparation of traditional West African Savory stews/soups like Okra or Ogbono soups.

Seasons/Availability:

Dawadawa is available year-round.

Nutritional Value:

Groundnut soup, a special Ghanian delicacy

African locust bean seeds are a good source of calcium, fats, and protein, and also contain some vitamin C, phosphorus, and potassium. Recently there has been some news about the African locust bean. It has gained some interest in the pharmaceutical market as being able to slow the rate of food digestion and improving insulin response in people with diabetes.

Applications:

Palm oil rice seasoned with DawaDawa

Dawadawa is used as a seasoning to enhance the flavor of cooked dishes. The black cakes or spheres can easily be separated into pieces and tossed into soups or stews for added flavor. They can also be used to flavor rice dishes, curries, or casseroles. In Western Africa, Dawadawa is traditionally used to flavor okra soup, palm nut soup, bitter-leaf soup, melon soup, and alefu soup. It is also used in fakoye, which is a braised chicken dish and jollof, which is a rice dish cooked with minced beef, tomatoes, bell pepper, garlic, and ginger. In addition to finding Dawadawa in patties and spheres, it can also be found in dried form and sprinkled onto dishes for flavour. Dawadawa pairs well with meats such as lamb, beef, and poultry, fried rice, cinnamon, rosemary, nutmeg, cloves, tomatoes, garlic, onions, and ginger. DawaDawa whether flattened or rolled into balls will keep for several months when stored in a cool and dry place.

Ethnic/Cultural Information:

Parkia biglobosa (The locust bean tree)

While not commonly found outside of Africa, Dawadawa is an integral part of local and regional trade within Africa as it is predominately prepared by women to provide a source of income for their families. Dawadawa is mostly used in northern Ghana, but as merchants travelled south and to the east to sell the flavouring, more families in other regions also began to produce the spheres, spreading the popularity of Dawadawa. The flavour is so valued that when transporting it to market, a red chile pepper and local herb known as nuha nua are placed on top of the Dawadawa to protect it from spirits. It is believed that spirits dislike spicy peppers, so the Dawadawa will remain undisturbed and fit for selling. In addition to Dawadawa, the entire African locust bean tree is valued in Ghana for its many medicinal uses. The bark of the tree is boiled and is believed to help heal wounds, reduce toothaches and ear aches, and act as a mouthwash.

Have you tried using DawaDawa before in preparing a dish? If no, this is the best time to try. If you have used/use Dawadawa to sason your meals, kindly share your recipe with us in the comment section.

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