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Benin Traditional Fast Food

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By Ekaiwe-Iginua Osemwenkha (Last update 25/09/2017/)

In retrospect and till date, we had varieties of fast foods. These fast foods are called “Ekusun” which is seasonal and made from fresh maize “moin-moin” made from beans. “Akasan” made from strong-corn. “Emieki” made from plantain flour and beans etc all wrapped up in fresh leaves. The leaves are capable of protecting these foods without loosing taste.

It is a common scenario to find young boys, girls and mature ladies hawking these food products in the streets and market places across the metropolice.

These are health foods in their natural state devoid of excessive sugar which is the primary cause of diabetes, excessive salt which act as a booster to hypertension and animal fats which also accelerate collesterol consumption in human diet. But what we see these days are youths patronizing refined fast foods that contain a lot of sugar, excessive salt and animal fats which is detrimental to human health in our modern fast foods centers.

However, at home or bukateria, the average Benin man who knows the natural flavour in our traditional fast food still savoured the instinctively palatable diet and refreshing informality of leaf wrapped food. The leaves frequently used for packaging food items included those of thespesia, opulneam.

Aran spp and the lantain leaf (musa paradisiacal) as well as the sheathe of maize amongst others. To some farmers, these leaves are so desirable. They fetched tidy sum and precipitated a micro industry. But it is a different story these days Mrs. Owie who manages a restaurant at Okhoro area describes the development as an index of a new era.

The modern retail fast food indicates that cellophane packaging is more popular and preferred to leaves or plastic because they are more presentable and by far economical. It has been proven by scientist that nylon is also much more stable to eat than plastic because it is known that chemicals could leach from plastic bows and other plastic containers into food.

Mrs. Ode who sells moin-moin” at New Benin Market says cooking with leaves is more laborious than cellophane or plastic. She believes it is not really about minimizing cost and maximizing profit, but essentially a matter of convenience.

In most cases, leaves could be more expensive, but the reason I have changed is due to convenience “I observed that when I prepared “moin-moin” with leaves, my kids love to eat more. But it is a different story when the “moin-moin” is cooked with plastic containers or cellophane wrappers.

A retail food trader Mrs. Adodo said that usually, food items are packaged raw in leaves before cooking. “The food could also be wrapped in the leaves immediately after cooking while still hot. You cannot do that easily with nylon or polythene.

An advantage I know of is that boiling, baking or steaming which sterilizes food when it is pre-package din leaves “Akasan” for example has a shelf life of several days when wrapped in leaves but most other food products store for only one or two days presumably due to incomplete wrapping which results in re-contamination and spillage nylon and polythene, or the other hands, have tendency to be better or making food keep longer, provided the pack is completely sealed”.

Food and nutrition experts agree that food wrapped in leaves after cooking generally do not keep very long. They talk about other coins with leaves for food packaging that have to do with handling and transportation sometimes the leaves are unhygienically kept in the open with little or no provision for washing before use.

Consequently, leaves may be a source of microbial contamination of food.
A mid-wife Miss Ogundele who used to cook with cellophane wrapping and eat plastic wrapped food, when she became pregnant with her first child stopped the practice “there are so much out there that I can’t protect my children from, but at least their home and the food they eat should be as safe as I can make it”. But the difficulty for the average consumer is knowing which if any, changes to make it what they buy and consume.

It’s hard to say something is dangerous” Emohimi a school teacher “there are so many unanswered questions regarding safety of the food one eats less of the wrappings one does not even know what to take or what not to take even water is toxic if you drink a lot of it too fast. However, the question one tends to ask is that is nylon safer than leaves.

A respondent form Environmental Protection Agency stated that an estimated 80, 000 synthetic chemicals are registered for consumer use but just a handful have been adequately tested for their effects on people health.

For instance, it is a fact that some cellophane materials contain additives like Bisphemol A. (BPA) and phthalates. These have been found to be harmful because BPA is approved by the food and Drug Administration for use in polycarbonate packaging for all types of food based on numerous safety tests.

Cellophane is thin, transparent sheet made of processed cellulose.
Cellulose fibres from wood or cotton are dissolved in Alkali to make a solution called viscose, which is then extruded through a slit into an acid bath to reconvert the viscose into cellulose.

A similar process, using a hole instead of a slit, is used to make a fibre called rayon. Cellophane’s impermeability to air grease and bacteria makes it useful for food packaging. The cellulose film has been manufactured continuously since the mid-1940’s and still sued till date.

An industrial scientists, Mr. Ajabor said that transparent plastic film particularly the low density polythene is becoming increasingly important in food packaging.

He says while adoption of these bags in packaging has significantly improved the display of traditional fast foods. But Mrs. Otote a retailer of the fast food averred that the taste and aroma in “moin-moin” prepared with leaves is by far better and more patronized by the consumers of traditional fast foods.

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