When it comes to grains‚ local is lekker
When last did you eat sorghum‚ millet or teff?
If you’re South African‚ possibly never. You won’t easily find these grains in products on sale in your local supermarket - those shelves are dominated by grain kings maize and wheat.
Yet the indigenous grains hold the potential to improve South African diets and‚ at the same time‚ help develop small businesses.
That’s according to Professor Gyebi Duodu of the University of Pretoria’s Department of Food Science‚ who conducts research on healthy foods made from indigenous grains.
“Rapid urbanisation in Africa has adversely affected people’s dietary choices; we are not eating that healthily any more‚” says Duodu‚ who is part of the Centre of Excellence (CoE) in Food Security’s programme on Food Processing.
“In the interest of convenience‚ people are eating less of indigenous whole grains and more of highly refined or energy-dense foods‚ which has brought about an increase in diet-related chronic disease‚ things like diabetes‚ cancer and so on.”
A story on his research appears in the CoE in Food Security’s March newsletter.
I confess to having to Google teff. And what a gem of a grain it appears to be - “native to Eritrea and Ethiopia‚ it’s high in dietary fibre and iron‚ and a source of protein and calcium.
As as the seed is much smaller than millet or quinoa‚ it cooks faster‚ thus using less fuel.”
Professor Duodu is also interested in the potential of legumes cowpea and Bambara groundnut‚ as well as orange-fleshed sweet potato.
Along with colleagues at Tshwane University of Technology‚ University of Limpopo and the North West University‚ Duodu is using these crops to develop ready-to-eat foods such as porridges‚ biscuits and beverages‚ which they then test for their health-promoting properties.
They’ve found the indigenous grains to be low GI‚ and have antioxidant properties‚ along with nutrients iron‚ zinc and vitamin A‚ which are commonly deficient in South African populations.
“We are trying to draw people’s attention back to the positive aspects of our indigenous grains‚” Duodu says.
The next phase is testing the health-promoting effects of these foods in animals and eventually‚ humans - that’s the more difficult‚ time-consuming and expensive phase.
But well worth it‚ Duodu says.
“With more research‚ these products could provide opportunities for small businesses looking for an innovative product that is proudly South African.”
It will require entrepreneurs to buy into the concept and learn how to process the grains into different forms. “This will introduce new skills into the sector and generate employment opportunities‚” he said.
“Another sector that could benefit is the small-scale crop producers that are already producing sorghum and other crops in South Africa‚ both independently and for larger food manufacturing companies.”