HOW IRU (FERMENTED LOCUST BEANS) IS MADE
I love Iru so much.
One main Nigerian food I would always order for, living in the diaspora, is Iru. Known as Locust Beans in English, Iru is one of the main foods that make Nigerian food Nigerian indeed. I love the way it changes the taste of my vegetables and have it smell like Heaven to me😂😂😂 (This is a highly contentious statement for many, I know. Haha)
Some people are so addicted to Iru to the extent that they can add it to their fried eggs, jollof rice, fried pepper sauce, fried rice, noodles-just name it! I once visited my aunt who prepared scrambled eggs for us to eat with some bread. I tell you, I couldn’t help but reject the meal. Hahaha, I am not an Iru extremist. Are you? Or perhaps a regular lover, an indifferent lover, or a hater? Haha.
While so many people love it, a majority do not know how it is made. So, in this blog, I will be walking you through the methods by which this delicious local spice is made. Before then, let's know more about locust beans.READ DELICIOUSLY HEALTHY MEALS YOU CAN MAKE WITH BEANS
WHAT ARE LOCUST BEANS?
Iru, or fermented locust bean, is a popular condiment in West African cooking. Iru is so healthy, flavourful, and rich in protein and fats, and it imparts a deep umami flavor to savory and sweet dishes.
When I say umami flavor, what do I mean? Umami is one of the core fifth tastes that include sweet, sour, bitter, and salty. This is the best way the taste of locust beans can be described. Trying to compare locust beans to another taste will be difficult just like it is nearly impossible to have a substitute for Iru. Nigerians in the diaspora can substitute kale or spinach for ugwu which is a staple vegetable type in Nigeria but when it comes to locust beans, it is nearly irreplaceable!
This ingredient goes by a variety of names depending on the region, but it is called Iru by the Yorubas, in the northern part of Nigeria, it is called Dawadawa, in some parts, it is called Ogiri or Okpei and in some parts of Edo state, it is called Ugba. It has been used for centuries across West Africa for its delicious and healthful properties.
Before the invention of all these MSG seasonings, Iru has been used for centuries across West Africa for its delicious and healthful properties. It was the major seasoning for (and still is though) native meals, stews, and sauces.
Today, however, Locust beans are at risk of disappearing from kitchens due to neo-colonialism. It is being displaced from kitchens, dining tables, recipes, and dishes by-products from global brands. Also, the primitive, local way of preparation and the fermented smell that it gives could be a cause of the gradual extinction. It needs to be preserved because the fruits, seeds, leaves, nuts, pods, and essential oils of the African locust beans are highly valuable to the economy, health, and culture of our nation.
HOW ARE IRU (LOCUST BEANS) MADE?
So, let me explain to you this way so it doesn’t get complicated and I lose you along the line. So, there is a tree called the Parkia Biglobosa tree. You can see the tree below to get what I am saying better:
This tree produces some long, green pods from its branches. It is in these pods that locust beans are found. Is that clear? Now, let me describe how the inside of the pod is:
The inside of the pods contains fresh locust beans which are surrounded by yellow pulp. The pulp is sweet and tart and is an important source of Vitamin C. People in the village harvest the pods just to suck out the pulp at times.
Step 1: The ripe, dry pods are collected so that they can be decoded in order to extract the seeds from the yellowish pulp.
Step 2: Afterward, the seeds are then collected and selected to remove the seed coats.
Step 3: The seeds are boiled till they become soft. Wood ash can be added to the iru seeds to fasten the boiling process.
Step 4: The boiled seeds are pounded to remove the husks (In some places, to remove the husks, the boiled seeds are trampled on with feet in a large bowl or designated area)
Step 5: The dehusked beans are repeatedly rinsed in cold water with a basket and thereafter sorted.
Step 6: The boiling and the pounding processes are repeated till all the husks are removed, rinsed, and sorted.
Step 7: The seeds are drained with a local sieve and then spread in a fermenting perforated calabash (lined with wood ash) known as nkata or ajere. The calabash is then wrapped with leaves and placed at room temperature to ferment for 2-5 days.
Step 8: Once the locust beans are fermented, a large quantity of salt is added to preserve the shelf life.
After fermentation, two types of the final product (iru, dawadawa) can be obtained. There is a style called iru woro, where the fermented beans are sun-dried as loose beans. This type of Iru is used mostly in vegetable soups like Efo Riro, Egusi soup, Ofada sauce, Ila Asepo e.t.c
Then, there is another style of further wet preparation and mashing the beans into cakes. This is known as Iru Pete. To make Iru Pete, during the boiling process, an extract said to be derived from the Roselle (zobo) plant -Hibiscus sabdariffa- is added. This helps the Iru soften, break down and turn mushy. It is also scooped into a calabash basin and left to ferment for 3 days before salt its added. Iru Pete is mostly used to cook Ewedu. However it can be used in Efo riro, egusi and for people who don’t like seeing whole Iru seeds in their soups.
NEW VARIATIONS OF THE FERMENTED LOCUST BEANS
There are two new variations of Iru coming up these days:
- The Dried Iru discs
- The powdered iru
The Dried Iru discs: These are made by molding the fermented locust beans into thin patty-like discs which are then either sundried or smoked over an open fire. To use this, you soak in warm water till the seeds are loose and use.
The Powdered Iru: This is especially for family and friends in the diaspora as well as people who like Iru and its benefits but would prefer not to see the seeds in their foods as they eat. It is derived by blending dried fermented locust beans into powder. It is easier to store.
I hope that with this blog post, I have been able to explain in clear terms how one of the most beloved cooking condiments of Nigerians and fellow West Africans, Fermented Locust beans is made. Do well to leave me a comment below so that I can hear from you. Tchau!