Tuesday, March 1, 2011

I Never Met a Ferment I Didn't Like...Except

…Kenkey. Which is a shame, because on paper this little cornball is so cool. Ghanaians make several types of this indigenous ferment depending on geography and ethnicity of the producer, each differing slightly in substrate and fermentation time. Essentially, Kenkey is fermented maize dough, which is rolled into a fist sized dumpling, wrapped in banana leaves, steamed, and sold on every street corner from Accra to Takoradi. Eaten with fried fish and a spicy sauce, the starchy nugget has a distinctly artichoke-like aroma, and a firmer consistency than its phlemier cousins, fufu and Banku. So what makes Kenkey so cool? Well, first it is nutritionally dense. Richer in protein than other staples like cocoyam, cassava, or plantain, maize dough also provides the bulk of many Ghanaian’s Calorie intake in the form of carbohydrates. Like oatmeal, a breakfast of Kenkey will keep you going right through to late lunch or dinner. For low-income workers in Ghana, this is an economical way to start the day. The economics of Kenkey are also beneficial on the supply side. Maize is the most commonly produced cereal in Ghana, and most maize is consumed as Kenkey. Kenkey producers are predominantly women, working on a cottage industry scale, which means that sales of this dough-ball go directly to supporting a systematically disadvantaged demographic. Finally, the microbial ecology of Kenkey fermentation lends itself to my geeky tendencies. Starting out with a veritable jungle of filamentous fungi, yeasts, molds, and bacteria, a selective process occurs by which yeasts and lactic-acid bacteria come to dominate the mix, becoming integral to the development of acceptable organoleptic qualities (how it tastes).

Unfortunately, for me, Kenkey’s taste is exactly what makes it unappealing. Perhaps with time I could develop my pallet to appreciate the Terroir of Ghanaian Kenkey. After all, I didn’t always appreciate wine either. What we need is a Robert Parker of fermented maize dough…or a Kenkey with high ABV. I will be looking forward to both…

My source for the information on the nutrition, economics, and biochemistry of Kenkey is the wonderful chapter: Kenkey: An African Fermented Maize Product, by Mary Halm, Wisdom Kofi Amoa-Awua, and Mogens Jakobsen in The Handbook of Food and Beverage Fermentation Technology, CRC Press, 2004.

1 comment:

  1. Hey! This was a lot of fun to read. I love seeing all the photos! So, Kenkey every night for dinner next year? No?