Tales of the bambara beans
In Ghana, many people call it Aborboi. In other jurisdictions, it is called congo goober, ground bean, hog-peanut, earth pea, njugo bean, Bambarra groundnut, Congo earth pea, kaffir pea or Madagascar groundnut but it is the same bambara beans known to many with a botanical name Vigna subterranean.
It is an annual, creeping legume with glabrous, trifoliate leaves. In Ghana it is taken with some sugar to taste and goes with fried mashed ripe plantain spiced with some chilies or ginger. It has a deep taproot surrounded by lateral profuse roots bearing N-fixing nodules.
This bean grows well where groundnut does not. It is cultivated primarily for its seeds, which are used as human food.
According to Feedipedia, in Africa, it is the third most commonly eaten legume after groundnut and cowpea. The seeds are used in many types of foods, some of which are an important part of human diets.
Mature, dry seeds are boiled and eaten as a pulse. Seeds can be milled to make flour. Ripe seeds are very hard and must be cooked for longer than those of other legumes.
Because of their relatively high protein content, Vigna subterranea seeds are a potentially valuable protein source for all classes of livestock.
However, it has been recommended to use the shells and other by-products to feed animals and to use the seeds as food so that people can benefit from their protein and energy during the dry season. The essential amino acid profile of the seeds is comparable to that of soybean.
Processing of Vigna subterranea resultd in by-products (shells of offals), that can be fed to animals. Seeds can also be fed to animals if surplus to human requirements. The leafy shoots are used as fodder.
But in Ghana, mostly, the women cook it whole and serve without leaving any remnants.
How it is cooked
In spite of its nutritional value and the taste, bambara beans is one of the hardest beans to cook.
First, the beans has to be soaked for many hours, sometimes overnight to get a bit soft after which it is put on fire to cook.
The beans are allowed to boil for several hours before it softens. Even after it has been cooked, its serves and tastes best when a portion of the beans is mashed and poured back into the pot to give it some thickness.
Why it is expensive
The price of the beans on the market is expensive because it is not a common bean to find on the market.
Those who eat Aborboi are considered affluent because a small portion cost sometimes as much as three times the cost of the black eyed peas, commonly called Red Red.
According to one Red Red seller at Adabraka, popularly called Daavi Mansa, the Bambara beans is expensive because the beans itself does not sell cheap at the market.
“Apart from that, it takes a lot of time and energy to cook and takes a lot of charcoal to boil it”, she said.
She recommends that that variety of beans can be sold cheaper for all to enjoy if agricultural scientists can come out with a variety that cooks faster.
Some members of the public are also of the view that these are age old beans which have not seen any modification. They claim that with many other foods going through modification, it would be appropriate to have the country’s scientists do some work on the Bambara beans.
The world over, scientists are finding ways not only to reduce the gestation periods of plants but to make them easier to cook.
In Ghana, this practice is largely lacking because of the lack of funding from the government for research.
According to many agricultural scientists, their source of funding for research is borne by foreign organisations and should this continue, ordinary food such as the Bambara beans will continue to be one for the rich only.
Aside its nutritional value, many more people could find employment by going into its production for the local market and probably when the government is serious, it could be produced on a larger scale for the export market.
By Charles Benoni Okine/Graphic Business/Ghana
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